Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 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.
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 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in Atlanta.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Price: $14,000): Over the past five races at Atlanta, there have been 1,640 total laps run.
Kevin Harvick has led 915 of them. That's 55.8%. There's dominance, and then there's Harvick at Atlanta.
This has translated into just one win for Harvick in this time, but his average running position has been fourth or better in each race. When you do that, you expect to get more than one win in a five-race span, meaning Harvick has likely run into a bit of bad luck. There's no question he has been the clear-cut top stud here for the past half decade.
Things will be a bit different for Harvick and the entire Cup Series this week as they debut a new aero package that will decrease the horsepower in the cars. That's going to have a pretty dramatic effect on the racing, meaning we need to view all track history with some degree of skepticism.
The Cup Series has run a package similar to this just once in its history. That was during last year's All-Star race. And who won that one? Our guy Harvick, leading a race-high 36 of 93 laps. Unless Harvick struggles in practice, we should enter the weekend viewing him as the favorite to get the first official win under NASCAR's new rules package.
Brad Keselowski ($13,000): Brad Keselowski hasn't had nearly the same laps-led profile as Harvick in recent years at Atlanta. But his finishes have been impressive enough to be noteworthy here.
Keselowski enters this weekend riding a string of four straight top-10s at Atlanta. That includes a runner-up finish last year and a win in 2017, races in which his average running positions were third and fourth, respectively. Again, it's not Harvick, but nobody's quite going to match that level of dominance here.
Keselowski and Penske Racing in general also showed a good level of progress on 1.5-mile tracks as 2018 progressed. Keselowski finished sixth or better in five of the final seven races at these tracks last year, including a win in Las Vegas to kick off the playoffs. This will be the first non-restrictor-plate race for Keselowski, Harvick, and all the other Fords in the Mustang, putting extra emphasis on what they do in practice, but Keselowski should be positioned well to get things cranking on the right foot if the car allows.
Kurt Busch ($9,600): If you look at what drivers have done at Atlanta, Kurt Busch's name is likely to pop. He's a three-time winner here and has rattled off three straight top-10 finishes. That can be a bit deceptive given his new team.
This year, Busch is driving for Chip Ganassi Racing rather than Stewart-Haas Racing, a significant move as it takes him from one of the sport's top stables to one that logged just 14 total top-five finishes last year.
It's worth noting that 12 of those 14 top-fives were by Kyle Larson, which could imply that his old teammate, Jamie McMurray, wasn't squeezing the most out of the equipment. But with McMurray logging just two top-10s in 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks, it's a legit concern that Busch is getting a major downgrade in equipment.
For every driver, it's important to be reactive to what they do in practice early in the year. Drivers and teams both improve over the offseason, and we want to be able to capitalize early when that happens. But with Busch, we'll likely want to ignore any track history he does carry for the time being until he proves he can compete in a lesser ride.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,600): In general, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a driver we target at only restrictor plates and short tracks. Atlanta is neither of those. But it hasn't stopped Stenhouse from having some decent runs here in the past.
Specifically, the up-tick for Stenhouse has come over the past three races here. In those three, Stenhouse has just one top-10 finish. But he was 13th and 16th in the other two, and Stenhouse had a top-10 average running position twice. That's very much respectable for a driver in this salary tier.
Stenhouse logged just one top-10 finish at a 1.5-mile track last year, finishing exactly 10th at Charlotte in May. He did, though, have an impressive showing at Texas in the third-to-last race of the year, showing good speed in practice before finishing the race in 11th spot. Stenhouse will be interesting to monitor early this year given the minor late-season gains Roush Fenway Racing showed in 2018.
Joey Logano ($13,200): Keselowski is the Penske Racing driver who has had more success at Atlanta. But at 1.5-mile tracks late last year, it was Joey Logano who was putting the rest of Cup Series on ice.
Logano was good on these track types all year long, finishing outside the top 10 just once. But in the four 1.5-mile tracks during the playoffs, Logano finished fourth, eighth, third, and first, respectively. That win was in the finale at Homestead, netting him his first ever Cup Series championship. Logano led 46 or more laps in each of those final four races at 1.5-mile tracks.
Logano's long-term history at Atlanta is underwhelming with just 4 top-10 finishes in 12 races. But that does include back-to-back sixth-place finishes, meaning our most relevant data on him here is very passable. Add in how good he was at tracks similar to this down the stretch last year, and you can see why he'd be near the top of our list entering the weekend.
Ryan Blaney ($10,500): Sometimes, describing someone as "volatile" can be a compliment. Ryan Blaney is a volatile driver from a results perspective. And that can be a great thing for DFS.
Last year at 1.5-mile tracks, Blaney logged five top-five finishes, tied for fifth among all drivers and equal to or better than his two teammates, Logano and Keselowski. But he also finished outside the top 35 twice and had just one top-10 that wasn't a top-five. It was pretty boom or bust.
But down the stretch, there were more booms. He finished runner-up in two of the final five races at these similar tracks, including a race in Texas where he also led 40 laps. This is still Blaney's age-25 season, he's in baller equipment, and he has shown big upside in the past. We should be willing to buy in quickly -- despite the volatility -- if he shows speed in practice.
Erik Jones ($8,800): A lot of the points driving optimism around Blaney are in place with Erik Jones, too: he's young, in good equipment, and has showed strength. With Jones, though, you're getting it at just $8,800.
Jones finished last year with seven top-10 finishes at 1.5-mile tracks, which was tied for seventh-most in the Cup Series. He didn't get as many top-fives as Blaney, but he also flexed a bit down the stretch with fourth-place finishes in both Kansas and Texas.
It doesn't hurt Jones that he has recently raced in both the Xfinity Series and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, where the cars were more similar to what the Cup Series drivers will likely be driving this weekend. Jones won 3 of 18 races in the Xfinity Series as recently as 2017 and could be positioned well for another strong year if the package has its intended consequences.
Austin Dillon ($7,300): How you view Austin Dillon's late-season performance at 1.5-mile tracks will depend on what metric you view. If you look at just top-10 finishes, you'll see that he had just one in four playoff races at these venues.
By most other metrics, though, Dillon looks like a driver who made big-time improvements down the stretch.
Prior to the playoffs, Dillon's best finish at a 1.5-mile track was 13th at Las Vegas. He beat that in all four of the playoff races, finishing 11th three times and 10th once. That included a 12th-place average running position in Texas, his best at a 1.5-mile track the entire season.
Dillon is entering his age-29 season and his sixth full-time season in the Cup Series. It's hard to bank on drastic improvements for someone of that profile, especially without a change in his equipment. But he's still another driver worth tracking in the early races to see how the rule changes alter his effectiveness.
Daniel Hemric ($5,000): Among Xfinity Series regulars, no driver led more laps at 1.5-mile tracks last year than Daniel Hemric. None of those top-10s came in Atlanta, but Hemric knows how to get around these tracks, and those skills should translate well to the Cup Series.
In 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks in the Xfinity Series last year, Hemric churned out five top-five finishes and eight top-10s. He didn't turn any of those into a win, but he was runner-up in both Kentucky and Kansas, and he took home a third-place finish in Texas, one of Atlanta's sister tracks. There's a reason he earned this promotion to the big series with Richard Childress Racing.
As mentioned earlier with Dillon, these RCR cars picked up toward the tail end of 2018, bringing some optimism for what they'll do this year. If you want to bank on that optimism, Hemric is a bargain way to do so at just $5,000, and he figures to be tempting as long as he doesn't start at the front of the field.
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,000): Based on the way Daytona works, it's pretty easy to dismiss Matt DiBenedetto's near-win last week as being a fluke. Underfunded cars -- including DiBenedetto himself -- have competed there in the past only to flounder as the Cup Series moved elsewhere.
That very well could be the case here. But there's still reason to keep an eye on DiBenedetto in practice this week.
This is DiBenedetto's first season with Leavine Family Racing, a team that struggled last year but is now in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. That alliance opened up when Martin Truex Jr.'s old team of Furniture Row Racing closed its doors after 2018. The alliance with JGR was huge for Truex and his team, and it could provide a boost for DiBenedetto's equipment now.
It's worth noting that Truex's breakout came the year before the alliance began, meaning not all of Furniture Row Racing's success can be chalked up to being tied to Gibbs. But it's enough to justify keeping tabs on DiBenedetto as the season progresses just in case the alliance does spark improved performance.