Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: TicketGuardian 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 TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): Last year, what was formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway transitioned into its current name of ISM Raceway. But no matter what company may have its name on the track, you know its true owner is Kevin Harvick.
Harvick has won in Phoenix nine times in his career. All other active drivers have combined to do so 11 times. Seven of those wins have come in the past 13 races here, and his last finish worse than sixth came in 2013. He may have swept both races here last year after winning in the spring, but a cut tire in the fall forced him to settle for just a fifth-place finish with 73 laps led.
Harvick's first two non-plate races in 2019 have ended in frustrating fashion as he has finished fourth both times, fading a bit at the end. But his average running position has been in the top four in each race, and he has led a combined 133 laps. This allows us to feel good enough about Harvick's current speed to put stock in what he has done here historically.
Kyle Busch ($14,200): If not for Harvick's exploits here and some bad luck for Kyle Busch, we'd likely view Busch as being the top dog at this track. But Busch finally broke through with a win in last year's fall race, something long in the works.
Prior to the win, Busch had finished fourth or better in five of the previous six races at Phoenix, the lone exception being a seventh in 2017. That included plenty of laps at the front as Busch had led 75 or more laps in five previous Phoenix races but had failed to reach victory lane each time. Busch once again racked up 117 laps led in the fall en route to victory.
It also doesn't hurt Busch's candidacy for being the favorite that he has mopped up at other short, flat tracks recently. Over the past four races at Richmond and New Hampshire, Busch has won three times and finished runner-up the other, leading 347 laps in that span. Harvick seems likely to get more pub for his dominance here, so if the two are comparable in practice and qualifying, Busch could be a high-quality tournament pivot.
Chase Elliott ($11,500): With Busch, we discussed performance at tracks similar to Phoenix as being a key in analyzing drivers for this weekend. Not many drivers performed better at those spots last year than Chase Elliott.
In total, there were five races between Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire last year. Elliott got four top-five finishes in that span, and he was in line to potentially go a perfect five-for-five before a late-race wreck -- not of his own doing -- ended that pursuit prematurely.
Elliott still managed to have a seventh-place average running position in that one, and his average running position has been eighth or better in all six career Phoenix races.
Hendrick Motorsports has struggled early in 2019, and that includes Elliott. But those struggles were present last year, as well, and Elliott still managed to post great finishes at this track type. As such, we should be giving Elliott a boost in our mind entering Phoenix.
William Byron ($7,100): Sticking with the "Hendrick-on-flat-tracks" connection, William Byron seemed to follow in Elliott's footsteps last year at places like Phoenix.
The impressive runs for Byron actually started at Phoenix itself in the spring. There, he finished 12th and led 15 laps while posting a 13th-place average running position. He improved in the fall by finishing 9th with a 12th-place average running position.
Byron coupled those finishes with a 14th in New Hampshire and a 12th in Richmond, meaning 4 of his 10 top-15 finishes as a rookie came in five races at these tracks. Byron is yet to get one of those top-15 finishes in 2019, but it shouldn't be a shock if Phoenix changes that trend.
Ty Dillon ($6,500): As mentioned in the track preview, punt plays generally don't perform well in Phoenix. Ty Dillon may be one of the exceptions.
Although Dillon has never been in the top 10 here, he has been close a number of times. He has finished in the top 16 three times, including an 11th in 2017. When your salary is this low, and you're generally starting toward the back, that can work.
Given the lack of place-differential upside that's generally available at the track, finishing points are important. We need to find drivers who are capable of logging a top-10 finish. That means Byron should likely be one of the lower-salaried drivers we should be willing to trust. But if we do need a bit extra salary wiggle room, and Dillon is starting outside the top 25, he could be a potential option at $6,500.
Erik Jones ($10,400): With this being Erik Jones' age-23 season and his third in the Cup Series, it was fair to expect some progress early on. That seems to be coming through in reality.
In three races, Jones has racked up a top-five finish and a pair of top-10s. His average running position has been 13th or better in all three races. He now carries that momentum into a track where he has had success already in his young career.
In four races at Phoenix, Jones has finished ninth or better three times. In the one exception, he had a 10th-place average running position before falling off at the end of the race.
Despite the strong finishes, Jones is yet to show that he's someone who can jump out and dominate a race. He hasn't led a lap yet this year, and he led less than 100 in 2018. That means Jones' upside will be capped if he qualifies at the front of the pack, limiting his appeal in that scenario. But if Jones doesn't sit directly at the front, he'll be a driver we can count on for a solid finish and place-differential points.
Kurt Busch ($10,000): The past two weeks have been tremendous for Kurt Busch. He has back-to-back top-five finishes at tracks where his team struggled last year. They don't seem entirely fluky, either.
In Atlanta, Busch had a sixth-place average running position that he turned into a third-place finish. Last week in Las Vegas didn't start nearly as well as he qualified 28th, but he quickly worked his way through the pack, led 23 laps, and finished fifth. He led more laps in that race than Jamie McMurray led in the 1 car all of last season, potentially signaling a turnaround for the team.
McMurray did, though, finish sixth in Phoenix last year in the fall, his third-best finish of the season, meaning this car can compete here. Busch has finished outside the top 20 in three of the past four races at Phoenix, but with how the season has started, we shouldn't allow that to push us completely off him.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,700): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters Phoenix off a sixth-place finish in Las Vegas, his best finish outside of Talladega since April of 2018. You could chalk that up to the new package just suiting his aggressive driving style, but Stenhouse may be able to keep up the strong start this weekend.
In his time at Roush Fenway Racing, Stenhouse's biggest struggles have always come on 1.5-mile tracks. This is an issue given how prominent they are on the schedule, but in a one-week sample, it meant he'd be a much stronger contender when they left those venues, specifically to go to restrictor plates or short tracks. Phoenix -- though it's not categorized as such -- is essentially a short track.
That's why it should come as no surprise that Stenhouse finished in the top 10 in both 2017 races at this track. Last year didn't go as well as Stenhouse's best finish at a short, flat track was 13th in Richmond, but he is at least better here than he is on the speedways.
This is Stenhouse's age-31 season. Roush Fenway Racing seemed to make strides toward the end of 2018, setting Stenhouse up to potentially take a step forward this year. It's too soon to say if that's happening given how well the Las Vegas package fits the way he drives, but he's at least someone worth monitoring in practices over the weekend.
Alex Bowman ($7,500): Alex Bowman could have gone in the track history section given that he is a Hendrick driver and led 194 laps in a race here before even holding a full-time gig. He's worth discussing in current form, too, though, because his start to 2019 hasn't been too shabby.
A quick glance at Bowman's scoresheet will show you that he's yet to take home a single top-10 finish. But he was 11th in both Daytona and Las Vegas, and he was 15th in Atlanta. He has been the highest- or second-highest finisher among the Hendrick cars in all three races, meaning if we're high on the team here, we should be high on him, too.
We saw a similar trend out of Bowman last year at these short, flat tracks: decent finishes without flashiness. He was 11th in New Hampshire, and in Richmond during the fall, he turned a 10th-place average running position into a 12th-place finish. He's not posting good enough finishes for us to trust Bowman if he starts toward the front, but he'd be a cheaper place-differential option if he were to start outside the top 15.
Daniel Suarez ($7,400): Despite just one top-15 finish through three races, Daniel Suarez has had some impressive runs early in 2019. Given his team change during the offseason, we likely shouldn't ignore that.
Suarez's poor finishes seem to largely be the product of bad luck and late-race flukiness. He was involved in a wreck in Daytona, and he finished 17th in Las Vegas despite a 13th-place average running position. In fact, Suarez has had a top-15 average running position in each of the first three races, something only six other drivers can claim, and none of the others have salaries lower than $10,400.
This will be Suarez's first Phoenix race as a member of Stewart Haas Racing, a program that notched a win in Phoenix last year with Harvick and had all four of its drivers in the top 10 in the spring race. Phoenix was a decent track for Suarez even before making the switch as he has two top-10s here in the Cup Series along with three top-fives in the Xfinity Series. He may be a solid way to save some salary without depriving yourself of ever-valuable finishing points on Sunday.