Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: O'Reilly Auto Parts 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 O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 in Texas.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): Kevin Harvick's current form is an interesting discussion, and we'll get to that in just a second. But in Texas, there is no question the dude can mop up.
Over the past nine Texas races, Harvick has finished within the top four spots seven times. That includes winning two of the past three races, and he led 177 of 337 laps last fall. He was also second in last year's spring race.
This comes at the perfect time because Harvick could use a pick-me-up. His best finish this year is fourth, and he has led just 133 laps, which is a low number compared to what Harvick was doing in 2018. Toss in that this is his age-43 season (drivers usually peak in their age-39 season), and you can see why there'd be some legit concern.
But it's also not all doom and gloom for Harvick. All of his 133 laps led came in Atlanta -- a sister track to Texas -- and Las Vegas, where the Cup Series ran the same aero package they'll be using this weekend. He is also the only driver to have a top-eight average running position in every race since Daytona. As long as Harvick shows speed in practice, this could be an ideal buy-low spot for a driver who was dominant just last year.
Ryan Blaney ($12,500): Ryan Blaney's a swing guy who could find himself in either the current form or track history section of this piece as he excels in both arenas. We'll stick him here, though, because he has pushed for wins in Texas in the past.
The first time for Blaney was back in the spring of 2017 -- when he was still with Wood Brothers Racing -- when he led 148 laps and had a sixth-place average running position. He fell to 12th by the end of the race, but since then, his finishes have been sixth, fifth, and second, respectively. That second was last fall when he won the pole and led 40 laps.
Blaney has been running at the front recently, too, with three straight top-five finishes entering the race, including a race in Phoenix in which he led 94 laps. In Atlanta, Blaney was blazing fast and led 41 laps despite starting 26th, but a late-race ill-timed caution pushed him back to 22nd. He has been even better than the results would indicate.
The only issue with Blaney is that he has tons of speed and tends to qualify well. But as he has shown in both Atlanta and Phoenix (and in the past at Texas), he's capable of jumping out and leading laps when he does so. As a result, Blaney's someone we can consider as a source of laps led, keeping him in play for DFS no matter where he starts.
Erik Jones ($10,200): Erik Jones has raced four times at Texas in his career. He has had a top-eight average running position in three of them, and he turned that into a top-five finish in both races last year.
The 2018 spring race is a tough one to draw conclusions from because it featured an uncharacteristic demo derby, but Jones made a push for a win there. He led 64 laps and had a sixth-place average running position before ultimately finishing fourth. He followed that up by finishing fourth in the fall, as well.
Jones has hit a rough path in 2019, finishing 13th or worse in four straight races. Still, he had a top-13 average running position in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Fontana, all the tracks with the reduced horsepower package, and his most recent top 10 was in Atlanta. With this and his track record at Texas, we shouldn't let a poor player card scare us out of Jones if he is fast in practice.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,400): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was primed to take a step forward this year after he went out on a high note in 2018. The up-tick for him really seemed to start in the fall race at Texas.
Stenhouse had the fastest single-lap speed in final practice and converted that into an 11th-place finish. It was the fourth straight Texas race in which Stenhouse had a top-14 average running position and his best career finish at the track.
Those gains have definitely carried over into 2019 as Stenhouse has had a top-15 average running position in three of his past four races. One of those was in Las Vegas, where he turned his eighth-place average running position into a sixth-place finish while running the same package that will be in place this weekend. The finishes haven't been good enough where we can blindly trust Stenhouse regardless of practice and qualifying data, but if he's in a spot to get place-differential points, we should put stock into his current form and track history.
Joey Logano ($13,500): When discussing current form, most of the buzz will likely center around Kyle Busch ($15,000) and Brad Keselowski ($14,000), which is justified. They've won four of the past five races, leading gobs of laps in that time. Just don't overlook Joey Logano when obsessing over the others.
The other driver to win a race over the past five is Logano, who claimed the checkered flag in Las Vegas, the first race to run the full new aero package. Logano had a fourth-place average running position there, mirroring his average running position in Fontana en route to a runner-up finish. When this package has been in place, Logano has consistently been running at the front.
Texas is also a track whre Logano has had his fair share of success. Over the past six races, he has four top-three finishes, and he has two finishes worse than seventh within his past 12 here. With how great Logano's form is on tracks using this aero package, he doesn't need plus track history to sit near the top of the rankings, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,300): Last week for Jimmie Johnson was pretty terrible as he finished in 24th, two laps behind the leaders. It was his fourth finish of 17th or worse this season. But that stat also tells an incomplete tale.
In the first race with this new package at Las Vegas, Johnson was stronger than his 19th-place finish would indicate as he had a 14th-place average running position. He then cranked out a top-10 at Phoenix before heading to a fast track in Fontana, a situation where Hendrick cars have struggled mightily since the start of last year. But Johnson ran competitively the entire race, posting an 11th-place average running position.
That three-race stretch -- including two races with this weekend's aero package -- was more life than Johnson has shown in a while. He struggled quite a bit in the two Texas races last year, as well. With the recent strong showings, though, there's at least reason to keep an eye on Johnson in practice to see if he can carry that speed another week longer.
Austin Dillon ($9,000): At the beginning of the year, the Richard Childress Racing cars of Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric ($6,000) had speed in practice but failed to translate that to the race. The past two races, though, have been a different story for Dillon, potentially signaling that the team has figured something out.
Dillon had plenty of speed and finished 11th after starting 29th last weekend in Martinsville, but it's the Fontana race that truly stands out. There, Dillon blew a tire early on but was able to recover with an 11th-place average running position and a 10th-place finish. With the Cup Series using the same package there that'll be in place this weekend, it's a major step in the right direction for Dillon.
Texas also has not been an awful track for Dillon, who finished 10th here last fall and 11th in the fall of 2017. He's still not someone we can trust if he starts at the front, but with the early-season struggles seemingly in the past, we can start to warm back up to him when looking for a respectable finish.
Daniel Suarez ($8,100): Although it hasn't yet translated into a finish better than 10th, Daniel Suarez has shown a bit of a spark so far in 2019. This is true especially at courses similar to what we'll see down in Texas.
There have been three races so far in which the Cup Series has run the tapered spacers in the engines, cutting the horsepower to around 550. In those three races, Suarez's average running positions have been 12th, 13th, and 12th, respectively. One of those was a top-10 finish in Atlanta, and he also finished 13th two weeks ago in Fontana.
Equipment is not a question for Suarez as all of his Stewart Haas Racing teammates carry a salary of at least $10,500 entering this weekend. It's all about whether he can show progression from 2018 when he struggled with Joe Gibbs Racing. It does seem as if we have seen slight glimmers of that at tracks with this package, potentially meaning we can look toward Suarez in order to get exposure to good equipment for a low salary.
Chris Buescher ($6,500): The Cup Series wasn't running the full new aero package in Atlanta, but the engines were running with the 550-horsepower modifications. That makes Chris Buescher's performance there noteworthy.
In that race, Buescher did benefit from drivers getting pinned a lap down due to a caution, but that shouldn't invalidate his ninth-place finish. It's hard to fluke into a top-10 at a track like that no matter what circumstances may lead to it, especially when you start the race back in 30th. Buescher was also 18th in Las Vegas and 16th in Fontana, so the new package does seem to suit him.
This shouldn't come as a major surprise. This restricted horsepower package is similar to the cars drivers run in the Xfinity Series, and Buescher won the championship there in 2015. Assuming Buescher qualifies outside the top 20, he could be a source of salary relief once again this weekend.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,000): Prior to last week's race, we noted that Matt DiBenedetto had already done something in three races that he never did in all of 2018. He extended that out to four races in Martinsville.
Specifically, DiBenedetto's best average running position all of last year was 20th. But with a 19th-place average running position in Martinsville, DiBenedetto has already bested that 20th-place mark four times in six races, signaling that what he did last year is wholly irrelevant. We need to toss that data out the window and just focus on DiBenedetto's 2019 performances.
When we do that, it makes DiBenedetto look like a pretty decent value option. He finished 18th in Fontana while driving with this package, and he was 21st in Las Vegas. Those are two of his three best finishes this year. Being competitive in this package when speeds are high -- which could expose his being on an under-funded team -- is a huge win. As long as he qualifies somewhere in the back half of the field and shows life in practice, we can bank on DiBenedetto's improvements and consider him as a way to save salary.