Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Food City 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 Food City 500 in Bristol.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,000): Kyle Busch has two wins, five top-fives, and seven top-10s in 2019. His worst finish -- a 10th in Texas -- came even after he slapped the wall late in the race. His current form is unreal. And this is a track where you know he'll be up front.
Over the past seven Bristol races, Busch has led at least 117 laps four times. He won two of those races and finished 39th in another, illustrating how wild Bristol can be. Three of Busch's past six races at Bristol have resulted in finishes of 35th or worse, and he was 20th back in the fall. This is a highly volatile track, but if Busch is around for the finish, it's a pretty good bet that he'll be contending for a win.
It's worth noting that Busch's salary is appropriate for how dominant he is as he will run you $700 more than any other driver in the pool. That means that if there are any blemishes in Busch's race, there's a chance he won't come through. You don't have to use Busch on Sunday. Just know that if he's in a spot where he can lead a bunch of laps, Busch's history has shown he's fully capable of taking advantage.
Kyle Larson ($13,000): It feels a bit narrative-y to mention this, but Kyle Larson says that Bristol is his favorite track in the Cup Series. If there were nothing to back that up, we could just ignore it. But Larson's affinity for this track has come with really impressive runs the past two years.
In that four-race span, Larson has led 489 laps, a full 216 laps more than any other driver in that span. He has converted all of those races into top-10 finishes and a top-seven average running position, and he was runner-up in both races last year.
That's the good for Larson. The bad is that his current form is fully underwhelming. He has just two top-10s in seven races this year, and that includes a stop at Fontana, another track where he has traditionally fared very well. Larson could have changed that last week after he was fast in practice, but an early crash pushed him to a last-place finish. In order to trust Larson's track history, we need to make sure that he measures up well in 10-lap averages during practice.
Erik Jones ($10,200): Erik Jones snapped a four-race streak without a top-10 run last week by finishing 4th in Texas, his third straight fourth-place finish at the track. Bristol is another spot where he has impressive track history.
In Jones' four career Bristol races, he has posted a top-eight average running position three times, including a seventh-place mark en route to a fifth-place finish in last year's fall race. His biggest day, though, was in the 2017 night race when he led 260 laps, coming up one position short of netting what would have been his first career victory. That's all in addition to winning two Xfinity Series races here and leading 31 laps in another.
In this week's track preview, we discussed hunting for lower-salaried drivers who could push to lead laps. That's a mold that Jones absolutely fits, as he showed in 2017. If he qualifies well, don't be afraid to toss him out there and see if he can pad his score with some laps spent out front.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($9,000): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is very much a driver with a "type." There are certain tracks at which he excels, and there are others at which he... does not.
Bristol's on the plus end of that spectrum.
Of Stenhouse's 14 career top-five finishes in the Cup Series, four have come in Bristol, including a fourth-place finish last year. He has logged a top-10 finish in half of his 12 races at Bristol, and twice he has been the runner-up finisher. He has backed this all up with an average running position of 13th or better in three of the past four races.
Because Stenhouse has the upside to push for a top-five finish, we can be a bit more lenient with him from a starting-position perspective at this salary. Clearly, we'll dig him more if he starts deeper in the field and can pick up some place-differential points, but he's not someone we should just cross off if he starts decently well as long as he's fast in practice.
Alex Bowman ($8,500): Alex Bowman is still searching for his first top-10 of 2019, which may make him a bit of an odd recommendation at a non-value salary. He could be a decent place-differential bet, though, based on what he did here last year.
In his first full-time season with Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman notched a pair of top-10s in Bristol. He was fifth in the spring and eighth in the fall, and he validated that fifth-place run with a ninth-place average running position.
What can help us feel better about Bowman is that he also struggled last year outside of Bristol, posting just 11 top-10 finishes, and yet he still ran well at this track. He has been close a couple of times this year with two 11th-place finishes, so we shouldn't give up on Bowman just because the finishes have been underwhelming.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,500): Even before Matt DiBenedetto had respectable equipment, he ran well at Bristol. Now that things have gotten better for him in that department, he's definitely a viable value play if he doesn't qualify at the front.
In DiBenedetto's 147-race career, his best finish came here back in 2016. He started 30th in that one but still had a 20th-place average running position and finished 6th. He followed that up with finishes of 17th and 19th the next two races, both of which are acceptable in this salary tier.
Bristol is a spot where generally underfunded teams can better compete with the big dogs, which is why DiBenedetto has popped here in the past. The same could easily be true for other drivers in his salary tier this weekend. The broader point is that being majorly successful in 2019 is not a prerequisite for success in Bristol. As long as the driver shows life in practice and isn't starting at the front, punting is very much in play.
Ryan Blaney ($11,400): As the only driver at Penske Racing who is yet to win a race this year, Ryan Blaney's probably not having a great time. Seeing your teammates thrive while you at times have to scramble is likely super frustrating. But Blaney's time will come soon if he keeps running like he has been.
Prior to last week's race in Texas, Blaney had rattled off three straight top-five finishes with a top-seven average running position in each. Then he led 45 laps in Texas before an overheating issue ended his day prematurely. Blaney's knocking on the door of a win, and Bristol presents a good opportunity for him to break through.
Blaney topped the 100-laps-led barrier in both 2018 races at the track. He was running out front in the spring race when he got caught up in a wreck not of his own doing, and he was out front for 121 circuits in the fall race. With Blaney's propensity for leading laps, he's absolutely someone we can trust in tournaments no matter where he starts as long as he shows his usual speed in practice.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,700): Even while struggling the past couple of years, Jimmie Johnson has managed to have a top-10 average running position in four straight Bristol races. That gets him on our radar. Some of his recent runs help bolster his case, as well.
Johnson enters Bristol coming off a fifth-place finish in Texas, his first top-five of the season. His eighth-place average running position was the third time in the past four races with an average running position of 11th or better. What makes this even more impressive is that those three races were all at different track types (a flat, shorter track, a two-mile superspeedway, and a 1.5-mile dog leg). There was also a dud at Martinsville mixed in there, but even seeing signs of life from Johnson is encouraging.
We discussed Bowman -- Johnson's teammate -- earlier, and Chase Elliott ($11,800) finished third in Bristol last fall. Hendrick drivers had success here even in a down season. With Johnson perking back up a bit, it's wise of us to keep close watch on him during practice and qualifying.
Daniel Suarez ($8,100): A top-five finish for someone in Daniel Suarez's salary tier is always noteworthy, and that's what he got by finishing third last week in Texas. His specific run, though, carried a bit extra juice due to some of the context around it.
The big thing for Suarez is that he didn't luck into that third-place finish. He qualified fourth, ran near the front the entire day, and had a ninth-place average running position. It was his third straight race with a top-12 average running position, and he has had an average running position of 15th or better in all but once race this year. All of this just combines to give extra legitimacy to Suarez's stout finish.
Suarez was respectable at Bristol with Joe Gibbs Racing, finishing 11th in the spring of 2018. It does seem, though, as if he's putting together an improved campaign in his first season with Stewart Haas Racing. For that reason, Suarez is a driver we should likely be willing to buy as long as the practice times and starting spot align with what we're looking for.
Chris Buescher ($6,200): Chris Buescher is in a similar mold to the aforementioned DiBenedetto. The track type better allows him to compete than he can at other spots. With Buescher, though, we've been getting decent finishes everywhere recently.
Buescher wrecked in Daytona and finished 37th. Since then, though, he has finished 21st or better in each race and has been 16th or better three times. That included a ninth-place finish in Atlanta, the ninth top-10 of his career.
One of those top-10s -- and one of Buescher's four career top-fives -- came in Bristol back in 2016 when he finished fifth. He hasn't been able to duplicate the magic since then, but he did put forth a decent 19th-place run last fall. Buescher has shown enough strength this year and is going to a track where he can finish well despite his equipment, so we should be willing to use him, assuming he doesn't qualify too well.