Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Daytona 500
Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week's track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That's what we're going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form. The current form section will be a hair different than usual given that this is the first official race of the season, but we can still draw some conclusions from the end of 2018.
Clearly, this isn't to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week's track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we'll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let's check it out. Here are drivers we should monitor for the Daytona 500.
Joey Logano (FanDuel Price: $12,500): Plenty of focus this week will revolve around Penske Racing, and it's for good reason: all three of their drivers can mop up at this track. That very much includes Joey Logano.
Logano has crashed in each of the past two July races in Daytona, but that's an assumed risk. In the other four races he has finished the past three years, Logano has finished sixth or better each time. That span doesn't even include his win in the 2015 Daytona 500.
As mentioned in our track preview, you have some leeway to target drivers starting closer to the front if you operate under the assumption they will win the race. For Logano, that's a fair assumption as he's +850 to win on FanDuel Sportsbook, the second-shortest odds in the field. As such, Logano's one of the few drivers in play for tournaments no matter where he starts.
Ryan Blaney ($10,700): Ryan Blaney's win odds aren't as short as Logano's or those of his other teammate -- Brad Keselowski ($12,200) at +700 -- but Blaney has shown in his short time in the Cup Series that he needs to be viewed on a similar level.
Blaney's prowess at Daytona started before he was officially part of Penske Racing (though his Wood Brothers Racing car did get Penske support). Back in the 2017 Daytona 500 with the Wood Brothers, Blaney turned a ninth-place average running position into a second-place finish. He has had a top-12 average running position in five of the past six Daytona races with the lone exception being due to a crash in July.
Blaney is another driver -- like Logano -- worthy of consideration in tournaments no matter where he starts. He led 118 laps in last year's Daytona 500, and as we saw in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, the package in place for this year could allow for a bit of follow-the-leader. Blaney's got the requisite skills to be that car pulling the train around the track.
Austin Dillon ($8,600): Austin Dillon's the defending champion of this event, winning last year's Daytona 500 on a last-lap pass. It continued a string of strong races for Dillon at Daytona that spans his entire career.
This Sunday will be Dillon's 12th career race in Daytona. In his first 11, he has seven top-10 finishes and a pair of top-fives. He followed up his 500 win with a ninth-place finish last July that included a 12th-place average running position, the second-best mark of his career at the track.
Toward the stretch run of last year, Dillon and his team seemed to unlock something. His average driver rating over the final 12 races was 77.5, up from 67.5 over the first 12 races and 70.9 over the middle 12. He didn't necessarily need improvements to be a contender at Daytona, but they certainly can't hurt. Dillon would be an easy pick for cash games if he were to start deep in the pack.
Ryan Newman ($6,700): Dillon's old teammate, Ryan Newman, comes in a similar mold to Dillon. He's a former Daytona 500 winner, and his results recently have been about as consistent as you can get. We shouldn't expect that to change even though Newman is now with Roush Fenway Racing.
Newman's Daytona win was all the way back in 2008, and with that being three team changes ago, we can fully ignore it. But even recently, he has finished 11th or better in five of his past seven races here, including an active string of three straight top-10s. Newman seems to find a way to be running at the finish each time, something he has done in 16 straight Daytona races.
Roush Fenway Racing is a weaker team in general, but that doesn't matter much at Daytona. His teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($9,800) -- more on him in a bit -- is always running at the front, and Newman's predecessor in this car, Trevor Bayne, finished third at Daytona with Roush in 2016. Newman should fit in well here, and his driving style would make him a tremendous option in all formats if he were to start deep in the order.
Chris Buescher ($6,600): There are certain drivers whom you want to target more liberally at tracks where talent matters more than equipment. Daytona is one of those tracks, and Chris Buescher is one of those drivers.
Buescher has eight career top-10 finishes in the Cup Series. Three of them have come in the past three Daytona races, including a pair of fifth-place finishes last year. He added a runner-up finish at Daytona in the Xfinity Series back in 2015, a year after he had another runner-up finish in Talladega. The dude can wheel it when his equipment isn't putting him at a disadvantage.
There are several other drivers in this salary tier who fit a similar mold. In addition to Buescher, the Front Row Motorsports veterans of Michael McDowell ($6,200) and David Ragan ($6,000) can save you salary while still giving you the upside of a top-10 finish. Take advantage of drivers who are more in play than usual due to the nature of the racing at Daytona.
Matt DiBenedetto ($4,500): Given the way Daytona works, the salary cap likely will not be an issue this weekend. In fact, you should probably leave a good chunk of salary on the table for most of your lineups. But if qualifying works out in a way where you need some savings, and Matt DiBenedetto is starting toward the back, you can absolutely turn his direction.
DiBenedetto has a strong track record at Daytona even before you account for his bargain-bin salary. He was ninth in the 2017 Daytona 500 and seventh last July. It certainly doesn't hurt that he may now get an equipment upgrade in a new alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
DiBenedetto definitely needs to start toward the back in order to be viable. If he doesn't, then drivers like Ryan Preece ($5,000) and Tyler Reddick ($4,000) could be alternatives, assuming they start poorly. But if DiBenedetto does start toward the back, he'd easily be the top option among the drivers priced below $5,000.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($9,800): As mentioned, Stenhouse is a constant threat to win on restrictor plates, something he did twice in 2017. On top of that, the performance of his team seemed to tick up overall toward the end of 2018, which could help him get off to a fast start this year.
Stenhouse finished 2018 with just five top-10 finishes, which is a wholly disappointing number. But over the final seven races, he did finish 11th or better three times at three entirely different tracks (Talladega, Dover, and Texas). He showed speed in practice at Texas, too, giving a bit extra legitimacy to his finishing position.
This could lead to our buying Stenhouse in general early in the season. The one caveat is that he takes some serious risks, which can sometimes end poorly. All three of those words are links to three separate crashes Stenhouse was involved in during last year's July Daytona race alone. As long as you're willing to accept that risk, Stenhouse is another driver who could be worth consideration in tournaments even if he starts toward the front.
Aric Almirola ($9,100): Aric Almirola's a beast at restrictor-plate tracks, so he very well could have been included in the track history section. He showed last year, though, that he's much more than just a one-trick pony.
Almirola finished his first season with Stewart Haas Racing with 17 top-10 finishes, up from a previous career high of seven. Two of those were on restrictor plates, including a win in Talladega, and he almost had a win earlier in the season at Daytona.
Instead, Almirola finished 11th there, just a half lap away from victory. He did finish the job at Daytona in the 2014 July race for his first career Cup Series victory, allowing us to give Almirola a sniff as our anchor in tournaments even if he does qualify well. He's likely one of the lowest-salaried drivers for which that would be the case.
Jimmie Johnson ($8,200): This past weekend, Jimmie Johnson showed us that even the drivers with the most dreadful recent history at Daytona can be logical DFS options if they start in the back.
Prior to Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, Johnson had wrecked in four of his past five Daytona regular-season races and each of his past seven Clash events. But Johnson was starting 13th in a field of 20, putting him on the DFS radar. And Johnson wound up winning the race and being the highest-scoring driver in the field from a FanDuel-point perspective.
We saw something similar last year with Martin Truex Jr. ($9,500), who had a poor record at Daytona but nearly won the July race, finishing second behind Erik Jones ($8,800). It's fair to view drivers who have historically struggled here with some amount of skepticism, but if they start toward the back of the pack and are in position to get place-differential points, they need to be on our list.
Tyler Reddick ($4,000): Reddick was mentioned in passing earlier, but he's likely worthy of an expanded explanation for why he could be interesting this weekend.
Reddick is running in a third entry for Richard Childress Racing, meaning he's the teammate of Dillon and Daniel Hemric ($7,000). Hemric ran in a similar role for two races last year, and he showed good speed in practice at the Charlotte road course. The equipment seems competitive, which could bode well for Reddick, who locked himself into the 500 thanks to a quality qualifying time on Sunday.
Reddick's likely getting the nod here despite being just 23 years old because of what he did in the Xfinity Series last year. He kicked the year off with a bang, winning at Daytona and eventually also winning the championship race at Homestead. He wasn't as consistent as Hemric for the full season, which is why this isn't a full-time ride for Reddick, but he showed he can win at this track. As such, Reddick deserves to be on our radar if he starts somewhere toward the back.