Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: STP 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 STP 500 in Martinsville.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $14,900): Given that Kyle Busch just won his 200th career NASCAR touring-series race, it shouldn't come as a shock that he mops up at Martinsville. There's a reason his salary is as high as it is.
Busch hasn't finished outside the top five in Martinsville since November of 2014, a couple months before DeMarco Murray won the NFL's rushing title with the Dallas Cowboys. In this seven-race span, Busch has won twice, been runner-up twice, and led 180 or more laps three times. The dude is a cyborg.
Busch's worst finish in 2019 is sixth, and he has been in the top three in all four other races. That includes back-to-back wins in which he has led at least 134 laps. Unless practice gives off a drastically different vibe, Busch deserves to enter the weekend as the clear-cut favorite.
Brad Keselowski ($13,700): Over the past six Martinsville races, only two drivers have logged more than three top-five finishes. One is Busch, who, as mentioned, has done so in all six. The other is Brad Keselowski, who has five top-fives in this span.
This impressive run for Keselowski does include one trip to victory lane during the 2017 spring race. It is one of three times in his career that he has led more than 100 laps at Martinsville with another being the fall race also in 2017.
The closest analog we have to Martinsville thus far in 2019 is Phoenix, another flatter, short track. There, Keselowski had tire issues and finished 19th. He has been in the top three in three other races, though, so current form doesn't seem to be a major issue. The entire field enters the weekend in a tier beneath Busch, but Keselowski could be one of the drivers positioned to break up Busch's run of dominance.
Ryan Newman ($8,900): Ryan Newman had just nine top-10s last year, meaning it's noteworthy when we go to a track where he notched a solid finish. Martinsville's fall race was one of those stops, and he did well in some other similar races.
In that fall race, Newman finished eighth with a 10th-place average running position. It was his fourth top-10 in Martinsville in the past seven races there, and he has had at least one top-10 at the track in five consecutive seasons.
Newman's average running position in Phoenix two weeks ago was 11th, and he finished 11th in both Phoenix races last year. He was also sixth in New Hampshire, another track with some similar attributes to Martinsville. He'll be a driver to track if he is in position to get place-differential points.
Alex Bowman ($8,600): Through five races in the 2019 season, Alex Bowman is still hunting for his first top-10 finish. He has been 11th twice, but outside of that, it has been a disappointing second season for Bowman in his full-time ride. Martinsville could be a good place to turn that all around.
Part of this optimism stems from the fact that Hendrick Motorsports cars tend to run better on these flatter, short tracks, meaning we can buy the team as a whole. Bowman was part of that last year as he finished seventh in the spring Martinsville race. That's in addition to top-13 finishes that Bowman got in Phoenix, New Hampshire, and Richmond, all of which also fit in the "short and flat" archetype.
Even though Bowman finished 35th in Phoenix two weeks ago, he did show speed in practice, ranking in the top 10 in each of the first two sessions. That's not enough for us to trust Bowman if he qualifies well, but he could be an outlet for place-differential points if he qualifies outside the top 15.
Chris Buescher ($6,000): As mentioned in this week's track preview, punting is far more viable this week than it has been in other races recently. Chris Buescher is one of the drivers who stands out once you dip below $7,000.
We're always at least interested in Buescher when the Cup Series go to short tracks because they mask the shortcomings of his equipment. Buescher has rewarded that faith a couple of times in the past at Martinsville, finishing 11th in the 2017 spring race and 13th last fall.
Entering the weekend, Buescher has finished 18th or better in four straight races, and he has had a top-20 average running position in each. We'll need him to qualify poorly to trust him, but Buescher's the top candidate for punting if the weekend allows it to happen.
Kevin Harvick ($12,500): By this time last year, Kevin Harvick already had three wins and had led 433 laps. This year, he's yet to finish better than fourth, and that laps-led total is down to 133. Is that enough to push us off of a guy who was so dominant just a few months ago?
Even without the front-running tendencies, Harvick has still shown plenty of speed. He has had a top-10 average running position in all five races and has finished fourth three times. The aforementioned Keselowski is $1,200 more than Harvick on FanDuel, but Harvick has had the better average running position in all five races this year. It's not as if Harvick has fallen off a cliff; he's just not quite on the same level as his 2018 self.
Harvick's late-race falloffs are enough to knock him out of Busch's tier entering the weekend. Practice would have to skew heavily in Harvick's favor in order to change that before the green flag. But we definitely don't need to jump off the Harvick bandwagon just because he's yet to get a win in 2019.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,900): As mentioned with Bowman, Hendrick cars do tend to run better at this track type. Jimmie Johnson showed that this strength carried over into 2019 with a strong run in Phoenix two weeks ago.
Johnson started that race in 15th, quickly worked his way forward, had an eighth-place average running position, and finished eighth. He backed that up with another strong run last week with an 11th-place average running position, even on a track that was much faster than where Hendrick cars have done well recently.
This is a track where Johnson has won nine times in the past, including as recently as 2016. With how much Johnson has struggled since the middle of 2017, we can't count on him to rack up a bunch of laps led, lowering his appeal if he qualifies well. But if Johnson lags a bit in qualifying and can be a place-differential candidate, then the last two weeks have shown he deserves to be on our radar.
Paul Menard ($7,300): Martinsville isn't Paul Menard's best track, but it also isn't his worst. He has finished between 13th and 25th in eight of his past nine Martinsville races. The other race in that span was an eighth in 2016, though, and Menard has had some decent runs of late.
Menard's average running position has been 20th or better in all five races this year. In Phoenix, Menard's average running position was 16th, tied for his best of the season. Even with his best finish this year being 14th in Atlanta, Menard's at least running competitive races. That counts at this salary.
If Menard qualifies well, he'll be a decent bet to get you a good finish, and finishing points do count for something at this low salary. However, the true appeal in Menard would be if he were to qualify poorly. He's a highly consistent driver, and if he can churn out his regular 15th-place finish after starting in the back, those place-differential points will make a solid difference.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,100): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has become a bit of a fixture in the current form section of late. We just have to make sure that we can bank on his recent hot streak as the Cup Series heads to a new track type.
Stenhouse has had a top-15 average running position and a top-14 finish in every race except for one this season. The one exception was in Atlanta, a wildly different track than Martinsville. At the most similar track in Phoenix, Stenhouse finished 13th with a 15th-place average running position, both of which are great for a driver in this salary tier.
Flat tracks were not Stenhouse's forte last year, and he finished 19th or worse in the Martinsville races. He did, though, finish 10th in both 2017 races, meaning we can put a bit extra stock in what he has done recently and continue to ride Stenhouse as a place-differential candidate.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,000): There's a reason Matt DiBenedetto is in the current form section rather the track history discussion. In eight career races here, DiBenedetto has never finished better than 29th. What he has done in 2019, though, suggests that better days are ahead.
DiBenedetto has had a top-19 average running position in three of five races this year. In all of 2018, his best average running position was 20th. He changed teams in the offseason, meaning we need to put additional stock in what he has done early on compared to his earlier-career data, and DiBenedetto seems to be trending up.
Because Buescher has been able to turn his strong runs into good finishes, we should favor him over DiBenedetto if the two are starting in the same area. DiBenedetto can, though, serve as a low-salary outlet if Buescher qualifies himself out of consideration.