Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Auto Club 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 Auto Club 400 in Fontana.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $13,700): All track history discussions will have to be conducted delicately this week with the new rules package figuring to dramatically alter racing at Fontana. But when the new package was used in Las Vegas, the usual suspects were running up at the front when it mattered. That would seem to bode well for Martin Truex Jr. this weekend.
Truex completed an absolute romp in this event last year, leading 125 of 200 laps en route to victory. That came a year after he led 73 laps in a fourth-place run in 2017, and Truex had a second-place average running position in both races.
Truex ran well in Atlanta, the first race with the 550-horsepower package, finishing second with a fourth-place average running position. In Las Vegas -- running the same package that will be in place this weekend -- Truex started 23rd but finished 8th with an 11th-place average running position. It hasn't been a bad start to the season even with Truex having led just four laps thus far. Still, as with everybody else in the field, we'll want to see how Truex performs in Saturday's practices before buying into what he has done at California in the past.
Kyle Larson ($12,400): There are only two tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit that are exactly two miles in length: Fontana and Michigan. Kyle Larson has won in Michigan three times and Fontana once; at all other tracks, he has a grand total of one win.
There was a stretch from the end of 2016 through 2017 in which Larson won four straight races at these two tracks, including the 2017 race in Fontana. He led 110 laps in that one and had a pristine first-place average running position. In addition to that win, Larson has two other runner-up finishes in five career races at Fontana, meaning he knows how to boogie around this track.
Larson performed well in Atlanta, leading 142 laps with a sixth-place average running position before sliding to 12th at the end. But his average running positions in Daytona and Las Vegas were 19th and 18th, respectively, meaning his success has been a hair lower at the two races that could bear the closest resemblance to this weekend's race. We should put stock in how Larson has performed at this track type in the past, but if he struggles to post quality speeds in practice, we'll need to be extra wary given the change in the rules package.
Erik Jones ($9,800): Erik Jones' two finishes in his career in California -- 12th and 7th -- certainly don't blow you away. But they also don't truly illustrate how strong his cars were in those outings.
In both races, Jones managed a seventh-place average running position, tremendous marks for someone in this salary tier. The only other drivers with consecutive top-seven average running positions in California are Truex, Larson, and Kyle Busch ($14,800).
Jones had trouble early last week in Phoenix, leading to a disappointing 29th-place finish. But in the three races before that this year, Jones had a top-13 average running position each time, churning out a pair of top-10 finishes. Fontana could show some similarities to Daytona under the new rules package, and Jones has won and finished third the past two races there, making him a fun pick for a breakthrough this weekend.
Austin Dillon ($7,400): Austin Dillon is an interesting blend of a couple lines of thought for this weekend. He has done well at Fontana and Michigan in the past, and he's a driver who generally gets a boost when drafting is a factor.
Over the past two years, Dillon has three top-10 finishes in six races at either Michigan or Fontana. One of those was last year in Fontana when he finished 10th, and it was his third straight Fontana race with a top-14 average running position.
Half of Dillon's top fives came on this track type last year, as well. Granted, he had just two, but one was in Michigan, and the other was in his Daytona 500 win. Both of those are relevant data points with how this race could play out under the new rules package.
Dillon had gobs of speed in Las Vegas two weeks ago with this rules package only to disappoint during the race. As such, we shouldn't be looking to trust him starting at the front even if he does flash speed in practice. But if Dillon qualifies poorly and is in position to get place-differential points, then we can start to get interested based on his history here and at Daytona.
Joey Logano ($12,800): There's some risk in targeting Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski ($13,200) right now because they said last week they'll be experimenting a bit more with playoff spots essentially locked up. That could lead to additional variance for both if they take risks they may not otherwise. Even while accounting for that, Logano is someone worth discussing prior to this event.
Logano enters this weekend with three straight top-five finishes at Fontana and five total top-fives in 12 career races there. That's scary when combined with the fact that Logano also won the first race in this package, taking home the checkered flag and leading 86 laps in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
Dating back to last year, Logano has had a top-9 average running position in 9 of his past 11 races, and he finished 4th in Daytona despite having an average running position of 11th. Logano's form is better than everybody but arguably Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick ($14,500), but Logano checks in with a salary $1,700 below them. With that being the case, Logano seems to be worth a bit of increased risk.
Aric Almirola ($11,000): In 11 career races at Fontana, Aric Almirola has never had a top-10 finish. If his start to 2019 is any indication, that grim streak could end this weekend.
Almirola wrecked in Daytona, winding up down in 32nd position. But since then, he has finished eighth in Atlanta, seventh in Las Vegas, and fourth in Phoenix. He led 36 laps in Atlanta and 26 in Phoenix, putting him one-third of the way to his laps-led total for all of 2018.
Almirola is skilled on restrictor plates, winning at Daytona in 2014 and Talladega in 2018, which means he should benefit from the new rules package. Until Almirola shows he can jump out and rack up laps led, we should be skeptical of him at this salary if he qualifies at the front. But as a potential place-differential outlet, they don't come much more consistent than him.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,900): Fontana has never really been a favorite track of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as he has finished 15th or worse in five of his six races here. That could very well change with the shift to this new aero package.
The first glimpse we got of the new, full package was in Las Vegas. There, Stenhouse drove aggressively and earned himself a sixth-place finish with an eighth-place average running position. Prior to that race, Stenhouse had never finished higher than 12th in his career at the track.
Both of Stenhouse's Cup Series victories have come on restrictor-plate tracks (one in Daytona and one in Talladega), places where his driving style can pay off handsomely. He showed in Las Vegas that this new package suits him well, and the package is back in place for Fontana. Don't be surprised if Stenhouse is again able to brush aside poor track history and continue his strong start to the season.
Daniel Suarez ($7,300): Daniel Suarez just can't seem to catch a break this year. His bad luck is masking some really strong performances.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Suarez had a top-13 average running position in each race. That created some optimism heading into Phoenix, and a low starting spot allowed him to be a place-differential candidate.
But then his car stalled in the middle of the race, pinning him a lap down the rest of the day. Big ol' buzzkill.
Having those strong runs in the other three races, though, means Suarez could be in line for a bounceback on Sunday. He finished seventh in his first career race at Fontana, meaning he does know how to get around here, and he clearly can keep up in the new package. Suarez is in the same tier as Dillon where we should be pretty interested if they're in position to get place-differential points.
William Byron ($7,100): Sunday's race will be a big test for Hendrick Motorsports. Their four drivers have combined for just three top-10 finishes through the first four races, and they're still searching for their first top-five. If you want to see where they're at without investing top-dollar, William Byron appears to be your best outlet.
Byron has finished 16th or worse in all four races this year, which is disappointing at best. But he did have an eighth-place average running position in Daytona and a 13th-place mark in Las Vegas, showing that he was at least competitive before dipping at the end. Byron's average running position was best among the Hendrick cars in Daytona and second best behind Chase Elliott ($10,600) in Las Vegas.
Byron did get a pair of top-15 finishes at two-mile tracks last year, including a 15th-place finish in Fontana. His salary is taking his struggles into account, which may not be true of the entire Hendrick camp. As long as Byron doesn't qualify well, we can give him a sniff and see if the team is able to rebound under the new package.
Chris Buescher ($6,500): Chris Buescher always seems fairly attractive for DFS because he tends to qualify poorly. At least lately, he's coming through for those who roster him with respectable finishes, too.
Buescher gave a glimpse at what he could do under the reduced horsepower package by finishing 9th in Atlanta after starting all the way back in 30th. He was then 18th with a 17th-place average running position in Las Vegas and finished 16th in Phoenix. After having 13 finishes of 18th or better in 36 races last year, Buescher has done so three times in four races in the new season.
Fontana should show us how much the new package aids under-funded teams. Last year in Fontana, no under-funded teams finished better than 20th. But in Las Vegas with the new package, Buescher was 18th, and Matt DiBenedetto ($5,500) was 21st. It at least gives them a bit of hope, meaning Buescher deserves to be on our list if he starts toward the back again.