Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Toyota Owners 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 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,300): Kyle Busch has already won three races in 2019 at three different track types. He does not need plus track history to be the top driver on the board entering the weekend.
Richmond just happens to be one of his best tracks.
In both of last year's races, Busch had to start the race in the back, once due to a poor qualifying run and another for unapproved adjustments after qualifying. In both races, he still managed to get the win. They were his fifth and sixth career wins at Richmond, and he has 17 top-fives in 27 races here. He's great everywhere, but he's a deity here.
Throughout this piece, we'll be focusing on what drivers did in Phoenix and Martinsville, the two other flat, shorter tracks that have been on the schedule thus far in 2019. Busch led 177 of 312 laps in Phoenix en route to victory, and he finished third in Martinsville. Until we get reason to think otherwise, we should view Busch as the heavy favorite to get another win this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,700): If you look at Martin Truex Jr.'s recent results at Richmond, you're not going to be blown away. He has finished third here twice in the last five races, but outside of that, it's nothing too snazzy.
A deeper look, though, reveals some brutal luck masking outstanding runs.
Truex has led 121 or more laps in four of the past six races at Richmond. His 675 laps led in that time frame are more than double any other driver who will be in this weekend's field, and he has had a top-seven average running position in five straight races here. Normally, a resume like that would result in at least one win, if not more.
Truex has slipped from his past dominance so far in 2019, netting just two top-five finishes in eight starts and leading just 14 laps. One of those top-fives, though, came in Phoenix, when he finished second behind Busch. We do need to have some skepticism around Truex entering the weekend because his current form is merely mediocre, but if he has good speeds in practice, he has shown he has the ability to dominate at this track in the past.
Daniel Suarez ($9,200): Daniel Suarez finished 2018 with just nine top-10s in 36 races at Joe Gibbs Racing. He's already almost halfway to that total with four top-10s in eight races in 2019. With his form seemingly trending up, it makes his past finishes at Richmond more noteworthy.
In four career Richmond races, Suarez has a pair of top-10s and was 12th in another race. His average running positions weren't quite that glowing, but being able to cash in and get good results is definitely worth something.
Suarez is riding a streak of three straight top-10s which includes a 10th-place run in Martinsville. He showed upside by running at the front all day and finishing third in Texas, so it truly does look like Suarez's new team at Stewart Haas Racing is maximizing his talent. With his salary still fairly low, we don't necessarily need him starting deep in the pack to be viable because he could pay off just on finishing points alone.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,000): Hendrick Motorsports cars showed out well in Richmond last year with Chase Elliott ($12,000) netting a pair of top-fives. Because we've already focused on a couple of high-salaried drivers (and will do the same in the current form section), we'll just note that Elliott figures to contend this weekend. But let's expand more on two slightly cheaper options in the same operation here, starting with Jimmie Johnson.
Even with Johnson's career taking a dip, he has still managed to run well at Richmond in recent years. He was sixth and eighth in the two races here last year, and he finished eighth in the fall of 2017, as well. His last finish worse than 11th in Richmond came all the way back in 2014.
How you feel about Johnson on flat tracks this year depends on which race you look at. Phoenix was the most life he had shown in a long time, converting an eighth-place average running position into an eighth-place finish. At Martinsville, though, he lost a couple of laps and limped to a 24th-place finish. Luckily for us, in both instances, his run in the race was in line with the speed (or lack thereof) he showed in practice. As such, if Johnson is fast in practice, he's someone we can definitely target. We should feel comfortable pumping the brakes, though, if that speed is not there.
William Byron ($7,200): The runs for William Byron are a bit less mixed on flat tracks this year. He has actually posted his two worst finishes of the year at Phoenix (24th) and Martinsville (22nd). But his runs last year on these tracks at least inspire a slight degree of hope.
One of these encouraging runs for Byron was in Richmond. In the spring race, Byron finished 12th and had a 9th-place average running position. He couldn't follow it up in the fall, finishing 20th, but he did have two other top-12 finishes on this track type (a 12th and a 9th, both in Phoenix). That makes his struggles on these tracks this year a bit more surprising.
For Byron, our interest in him is inversely proportional to where he qualifies. If he qualifies at the front -- as he has done the past two weeks -- it's hard to trust him as he'll be likely to net negative place-differential points. But if he lags a bit in qualifying, we've seen he has the potential to whip out a decent finish at a low salary. That would put him on the radar, as long as he shows some amount of speed in practice.
Denny Hamlin ($12,500): Denny Hamlin is a three-time winner at Richmond, and he has finished sixth or better in six of his past seven races here. He knows how to get around this track. When combined with his top-end current form, he'll be hard to ignore this weekend.
Hamlin has already picked up a pair of wins this year, including one two weeks ago in Texas. At our two most analogous tracks, Hamlin had a seventh-place average running position and a fifth-place finish in both, showing that he still has speed on these flatter tracks. Even if Hamlin hasn't been busting out dominant performances, he has had a strong car in every race this year.
The only problem is that you do need some level of dominance to come through at this salary, especially in a race with 40 points available on FanDuel for laps led. There is a difference, though, between not having dominated and not being able to dominate. With how well Hamlin has been running this year, leading a bunch of laps and snagging a win seems to be in his range of outcomes, keeping him in play despite his lofty salary.
Ryan Blaney ($11,200): In 2019, four drivers in the Cup Series have led more than 150 laps. Three of them have combined to win six of eight races. The other is Ryan Blaney, who is winless despite running out front for a whopping 353 laps. At some point, those laps led are going to come at the right time, and he'll be able to join his Penske Racing teammates in clinching a playoff spot.
Blaney has had issues -- whether it be a crash, mechanical, or something in the pits -- in four races this year. In the other four, he has finished in the top five. Two of those top fives were at Phoenix and Martinsville, and he led 94 laps in that Phoenix race.
Those two races are a key for Blaney, who has historically struggled in Richmond. He has finished 18th or worse in all six races here, including finishes of 22nd and 19th last year. However, Blaney had just one top-15 finish in four races between Phoenix and Martinsville last year, and he was able to buck that poor track history in 2019. Because of that, Blaney needs to be someone we monitor despite what has happened to him in Richmond in the past.
Austin Dillon ($8,900): Austin Dillon has been knocking on the door of a really solid run for a while now. At some point, it's going to happen. It could very well be this weekend in Richmond.
So far in 2019, Dillon's best finish is 10th in Fontana, his lone top-10 finish of the season. That is despite having had an average running position of 13th or better in five straight races, a streak only he, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, and Joey Logano ($14,000) can boast. He has been running up near the front for a while now; he just has to convert that into a good finish.
That's something Dillon did do last year in Richmond, finishing sixth in the fall race, his first career top-10 at the track. Dillon -- both at Richmond and in 2019 -- seems on a steady ascent, meaning we'd be wise to keep on buying him as long as he doesn't start at the front of the pack.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,500): We've been talking about Matt DiBenedetto in this current form section for a while now because he has been posting respectable average running positions all year long. Last week, he hit a new high.
DiBenedetto was sixth in single-lap speed in final practice and was third in 10-lap average. He worked his way forward from his 21st-place starting position, ran in the top 10 for a good chunk of the day, and eventually finished 12th.
We do have to take that race with a grain of salt because DiBenedetto has always run well in Bristol, posting a career-best finish of sixth there. With that said, DiBenedetto finished 16th in Richmond last year and has shown all year that his equipment is better now than it has been in years past. As long as he doesn't qualify too well, DiBenedetto is a guy we can keep on targeting in this low-salaried tier.
Ty Dillon ($6,000): Among all the bargain-bin plays this week, Ty Dillon is the one who has had the best runs on these flat, shorter tracks this year. We should start to give him some love, as well.
In Phoenix, Dillon started 20th, had a 19th-place average running position, and finished 15th, earning a spot in the perfect FanDuel lineup for the race. He almost did the same in Martinsville thanks to a 13th-place finish, his best run outside of Daytona this year. The good vibes kept on rolling for Dillon at Bristol last week when he won the first stage and eventually finished 15th. Overall, he has finished 15th or better in half the races this year, which is phenomenal for someone in this salary range.
Richmond is a track where we do want to get laps led, and those laps led tend to come from drivers who carry lofty salaries. In order to squeeze those guys into our lineups, we'll need to find drivers we can trust in this lower tier. DiBenedetto and Dillon definitely qualify as such, and Chris Buescher ($6,300) would be another name to consider depending on where he and the others qualify.