Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Pennzoil 400
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.
Brad Keselowski (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): Whenever a driver has strong history at a track, it's important to ensure they're still performing at a similar level. Track history matters only if that driver is currently in equipment good enough to support another strong run.
That's not a concern for Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski enters Las Vegas having won last weekend in Atlanta, his second win at a 1.5-mile track in the past five such races. His other win at a 1.5-mile track just so happened to be last year's fall race at this very venue when he led 75 laps and nabbed his second Vegas checkered flag in the past four races.
Keselowski hasn't dominated these races -- he hasn't led more than 100 laps in a race since last year's spring affair at Dover -- but his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, is able to get him out front when it matters. Because of that, we can be a bit more lenient with Keselowski and still consider him even when he's not topping the charts in practice.
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,500): The guy who finished runner-up to Keselowski last week, Martin Truex Jr., also happens to be good at Las Vegas. That certainly shouldn't surprise us, but it's noteworthy given his strong run last week.
Over the past three races at Las Vegas, Truex has led at least 96 laps twice, including the 150 laps he led in a win in 2017. The track can also receive partial credit for Truex's breakout 2015 campaign as he finished second here, his first of what was at the time a career-high eight top-fives that season. Even before Truex became the Cup Series champion he is now, he ran well at this track.
You can make a case for any of the studs this week. Kevin Harvick ($14,500) won here last spring and was strong in Atlanta, Joey Logano ($13,000) has the most impressive recent history at 1.5-mile tracks, Kyle Larson ($12,800) led 142 laps last week, and Kyle Busch ($13,200) is a card-carrying member of #TeamNarrative this week in his hometown of Las Vegas. Just don't overlook Truex when diving into the appeals of those other studs.
Ryan Blaney ($12,000): This Sunday will be Ryan Blaney's fifth race at Las Vegas since joining the Cup Series full time. He has finished seventh or better in each of the previous four, and those finishes are far from fluky.
In all four of those races, Blaney's average running position has been ninth or better. Keselowski and Logano -- Blaney's teammates -- are the only other drivers to have a top-nine average running position each of the past four races here. Blaney's average running position was third last spring, though it resulted in just a fifth-place finish.
Blaney's 22nd-place finish last week was disappointing, but it shows the flukiness in looking at finishes. He started 26th, led 41 laps, and had an eighth-place average running position before running into some bad luck at the end of the race. Blaney's likely to find victory lane soon if he can get things to finally break his way down the stretch.
Ryan Newman ($8,400): Ryan Newman finished better than 13th at a 1.5-mile track just twice in 11 races last year. Both of those came in Las Vegas as he was 11th in the spring race and ninth in the fall.
Newman's with a new team now, having joined Roush Fenway Racing during the offseason. His first go at a 1.5-mile track with the team went well as he finished 13th last week with a 14th-place average running position. Newman also had some speed in practice, posting the ninth-best single-lap speed in the final session.
Roush drivers didn't necessarily feast at Las Vegas last year, but they also weren't terrible. Trevor Bayne finished 13th in the fall, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,800) was 14th in the spring. Stenhouse and Newman have both done well at restrictor plates recently, potentially allowing them to act as sleepers in the first race under the new rules.
Paul Menard ($7,500): Las Vegas has always been one of Paul Menard's better tracks, one he has competed at even with mid-level equipment. The new rules package may further boost him here.
Two of Menard's three top-10 finishes at 1.5-mile tracks last year came in Las Vegas (9th in the spring and 10th in the fall). He has finished in the top 15 in eight of the past nine races here, including five top-10s in that time. That'll absolutely work for someone in this salary range.
Menard has also shown skills on restrictor plates in the past, which could play well with the rule changes. Three of his past four top-five finishes have come at either Daytona or Talladega, and he finished in the top 10 in five of the final nine traditional restrictor-plate races. Menard seems to be a solid high-floor value play as long as he doesn't start within the top 15 spots.
Kurt Busch ($9,600): Entering the year, there was cause for legit pessimism around Kurt Busch. He was moving to a team with lesser equipment, which can often lead to a driver being overpriced in DFS. But Busch seemed to lessen the concerns around his new gig this past week.
Busch's third-place finish was impressive enough on its own. Then you toss in that Busch also had a sixth-place average running position and was sixth or better in both practice sessions, and it starts to look even better. Busch's teammate, Larson, also ran well, making it look like Chip Ganassi Racing could be in for a revival season.
Busch's history at his home track is disappointing as he hasn't logged a top-five finish since 2005. He did, though, have a seventh-place average running position in last year's fall race before fading at the end. Given how strong Busch looked in Atlanta, we'd be wise to monitor him again in practice to see if he can maintain the speed in the new aero package.
Daniel Suarez ($8,000): Daniel Suarez is in Busch's old seat with Stewart-Haas Racing, meaning we could have expected some steps forward in his third season in the Cup Series. He seems to be following through on that potential.
Suarez qualified 5th in Atlanta, had a 12th-place average running position, and finished 10th. That 10th-place finish was just his second top-10 at a 1.5-mile track since the start of last year, and it carries more weight given the team change.
The other top-10 for Suarez in that span happened to come last fall at Las Vegas when he finished eighth. He also finished second here in the Xfinity Series in 2016 on his way to winning the championship, so you know Suarez has talent. It's possible the experience he gained the past two years and his new team will allow him to tap into that a bit more in 2019.
Alex Bowman ($7,200): Given how poorly the Hendrick Motorsports cars performed in Atlanta, it can be a bit tough to build a case around any of them prior to practice in Las Vegas. Alex Bowman's salary may be low enough, though, to warrant at least a brief discussion.
The race did go poorly for the team as Chase Elliott's ($11,000) 14th-place average running position was best among the four drivers. But Bowman wasn't too far behind with a 17th-place average running position; he just didn't convert it into as good of a finish.
Even with Hendrick cars also struggling at 1.5-mile tracks last year, Bowman was at least respectable down the stretch. He had an 11th-place average running position in Las Vegas, Kansas, and Texas, three of the final four races at these venues. We should be highly skeptical of the Hendrick cars with what happened last weekend, but we don't necessarily need to write them off with Bowman's salary being this low.
Daniel Hemric ($7,000): In the first two full-time rides for Daniel Hemric with Richard Childress Racing, he has finished 34th and 20th, even getting parked in the former for driving around during a red flag. He has done a bit better than those finishes would indicate, though.
Specifically looking at Atlanta, Hemric had worked his way up into the top five after starting 28th. But a flat tire brought him to pit road, ending the solid run prematurely. His 16th-place average running position was eight spots better than his teammate, Austin Dillon ($7,400), even though the two finished just one spot apart. Hemric also flashed speed in practice with the fifth-best 10-lap average during the final session.
Hemric has decent equipment, and he showed last year in the Xfinity Series that he has talent, as well. We should likely continue to buy him as a value play unless he starts all the way at the front.
Chris Buescher ($6,000): With all the changes taking place to the NASCAR rules package this year, we have to be vigilant about drivers making strides from where they've been in previous years. The new rules will cater to the strengths of some drivers over others, and we need to recognize when a driver may be on the verge of major improvement.
Sunday in Atlanta, Chris Buescher logged only his second career top-10 finish at a 1.5-mile track and his first since 2017. He also checks some of the boxes we could have been looking for in a breakout.
The new package will have some overlap with the lower-horsepower cars the Xfinity Series has been running the past few years. Back in 2015, Buescher was the Xfinity Series champion before making the jump to the Cup Series.
He has also been a skilled racer on restrictor-plate tracks, and there is likely to be drafting and modified pack racing in Las Vegas on Sunday. Buescher's not someone we should feel safe using if he starts up front yet, but he's worthy of our attention, and we can start to feel pretty good about him if he's in position to get place-differential points.