Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: GEICO 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 GEICO 500 at Talladega.
Joey Logano (FanDuel Salary: $13,500): In the track preview, we discussed how the new rules package at Talladega should force us to put more emphasis on current form than we have in the past at this track. Doing so should only cement Joey Logano as the top option on the board entering the weekend.
Logano has been among the best racers at Daytona and Talladega for a while now. He has won three of the past seven races at Talladega, and he's riding a streak of three straight top-fives. That has come with plenty of laps out front, meaning Logano doesn't necessarily need to start toward the back to carry some upside.
But with the shift away from restrictor plates, the racing in Talladega could change. If that happens, it would put extra weight on what we've seen at other tracks with this rules package in 2019, which would also work out well for Logano. He won in Las Vegas -- the first race with the full new package -- and was second in Fontana. As a result, whether the racing is similar to old races at Talladega or it skews closer to what we've seen in 2019, we should expect Logano to be among those in contention.
Aric Almirola ($12,500): Aric Almirola hasn't racked up the same number of laps led as Logano at Talladega, but he led the one that counts in last year's fall race.
That was Almirola's second career win, both of which came on restrictor-plate tracks. It was also a continuation of a trend where Almirola just runs well in Talladega.
This started for Almirola even before he joined Stewart Haas Racing in 2018. He was eighth at Talladega with Richard Petty Motorsports in the fall of 2016, the start of what is currently a five-race streak in which he has finished in the top 10 each time. Outside of the win, he also had two other top-fives here, both with Petty Motorsports in 2017. Now in good equipment, we shouldn't expect Almirola's strength here to stop.
Similar to Logano, Almirola has been solid in the new rules package, finishing in the top 10 in each of the three races in which it has been used. Almirola's another driver you could peg as your "anchor" to win the race, justifying usage of him no matter where he starts.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($10,500): It shouldn't be a shock that drivers who have excelled at Talladega in the past have benefited from the new rules package. There are elements of drafting there, and drafting was obviously a factor in those old restrictor-plate races. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is another guy on that list who fits in both boxes.
Stenhouse is known for an aggressive driving style, which can sometimes get him in trouble and makes him a high-variance DFS play. But he has hit the top side of that variance at Talladega, winning here in 2017 and finishing in the top five in four of the past five races here. It's risky, but it works.
The new package was kind to Stenhouse in its debut as he finished sixth in Las Vegas with an eighth-place average running position. He followed that up with respectable runs in Fontana and Texas, so clearly Stenhouse is adapting well to the new rules. Given their seeming overlap with races in Talladega, we should keep an eye on Stenhouse this weekend as an anchor, and he'd be a high-upside play if he were to qualify outside the top 20.
Paul Menard ($7,800): Paul Menard lacks pizzazz and is never going to be the sexiest pick on the board. But the dude consistently delivers, and that matters, especially at such a volatile track.
Over the past 11 Talladega races, Menard has finished worse than 13th just three times. In that same span, he has locked down six top-10s, including a ninth-place finish in last year's fall race. Stability is scarce at Talladega, but Menard has somehow cooked up a way to make it happen.
Menard is coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes, but we should lower the emphasis on those because both came on short tracks. At the larger tracks with the full aero package in place, Menard has finished 15th, 20th, and 19th, respectively. That's not going to blow your doors off. Still, given Menard's strong history at this track, we should be willing to roll him out there with regularity if he fails to qualify well.
Ty Dillon ($6,500): There are going to be bargain-bin options available this weekend because Talladega tends to allow lower-funded teams to compete better than they can elsewhere. One driver who has taken advantage of that in the past is Ty Dillon.
In his Cup Series career, Dillon has run four races at Talladega. He has finished between 11th and 15th in all four, which will work handsomely given that he tends to qualify in the second half of the field. This prowess on restrictor plates popped up again in Daytona this year when Dillon finished sixth after starting 22nd.
Unlike others on our list, Dillon has not run well under the new package, finishing 21st or worse in each of the first three races to feature it. However, he has had solid runs elsewhere, so it's not as if he has been a complete lost cause. Because of that, Dillon should be one of our preferred options in the lower salary tier this weekend, assuming he once again qualifies outside the top 20.
Denny Hamlin ($12,800): Denny Hamlin ended the restrictor-plate era on a high note, winning the Daytona 500 back in February in the final race with that rules package. Hamlin has carried that success from Daytona into the rest of 2019, as well.
Across the first nine races, Hamlin's worst finish is an 11th in Atlanta the week after Daytona. He has six top-fives, including five in the past six races, and he notched a second win in Texas at the end of March. That Texas race, by the way, was running the new aero package.
Essentially, Hamlin fits in the same buckets as Logano. He has past success in Talladega (three top-six finishes in the past five races) and top-end current form. Even with the restrictor plates gone, Hamlin is a solid bet to push for a win again this weekend.
Daniel Suarez ($10,000): Daniel Suarez has a solid history in Talladega, never finishing outside the top 20 and recording a top-10 finish in last year's spring race. There are a couple of reasons we could expect him to be even better here in 2019.
The first is Suarez's current form, which has been trending up aggressively of late. He has had a top-15 average running position in every race except for one this year, and he has been 12th or better in that department in four of the past five races. These runs have also turned into good finishes with four top-10s to Suarez's name, including a third-place finish under the new rules package in Texas.
Additionally, this will be Suarez's first Talladega race in a Ford, the dominant manufacturer at superspeedways of late and winners of seven straight in Talladega. His Stewart Haas Racing teammates were the pied pipers in this race last fall, and with Suarez churning out good finishes recently, we should view him as someone capable of living up to the blue oval standard of excellence at the track.
Austin Dillon ($8,300): Austin Dillon's recent runs at Talladega have been disappointing, with no finishes better than 17th since 2016 and three finishes of 29th or worse in that time. But he has been good on superspeeways in the past, and Dillon seems to have taken an overall step forward in 2019.
It started off on a rough note for Dillon at Atlanta and Las Vegas as he had tons of speed in practice but faded after the green flag flew. He bounced back with a 10th-place finish in Fontana, though, and he had an 11th-place average running position in Texas. The team seems to have figured the package out, allowing Dillon to get things on track.
Dillon's not someone in the same mold of Stenhouse where we can trust him as an "anchor" even with a win at Daytona under Dillon's belt last year. The upside outside of that race hasn't been high enough to justify that. But Dillon has been good this year and can boogie around on this track type, so he'd be a solid option if he were to slip in qualifying.
William Byron ($7,200): William Byron's first year with Chad Knaus as his crew chief got off to a rocky start with Byron finishing 15th or worse in each of the first six races. Things have turned around of late, though, and Byron has shown skills on superspeedways in the past.
Over the past three races, Byron has finished 6th, 16th, and 13th, respectively. That sixth-place finish is especially noteworthy because it came while running the new aero package, though it was on a wildly different track in Texas. Byron's average running position in that race was eighth, his second top-10 mark of the season, with the other coming in Daytona.
In that Daytona race, Byron led 44 laps and seemed poised for a solid finish before a late-race wreck took him out. Byron ran out front in Talladega last year, as well, leading 19 laps and holding a top-16 average running position in both races, but he faded in both to finish 20th or worse. Eventually, Byron and Knaus will put a full race together and capitalize on a good run. That means Byron's worthy of our attention at $7,200 as long as he doesn't qualify out front.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,000): The last time the Cup Series was on a superspeedway, Matt DiBenedetto made a push for his first career win (and his first career top-five), leading a whopping 49 laps in Daytona. Then the fickle beast that is pack racing bit.
DiBenedetto finished 28th, and what seemed to be his best shot at netting a good finish went up in smoke. Quite literally.
But DiBenedetto has continued to boast solid runs since then, justifying his salary increase at $7,000.
The highlight for DiBenedetto was a 12th-place finish in Bristol where he had an impressive car all weekend long. He also ran 21st in Las Vegas and 18th in Fontana with the new rules package and has had a top-19 average running position in five races. This is a major step up from where DiBenedetto was running in 2018, and it means we do need to change the way we're viewing him in DFS.
Even though Talladega is a spot where underfunded teams can compete, DiBenedetto has never finished better than 18th here, which counts as a slight red flag. But with how much better he has been in 2019, we should tell the old data to kick rocks, especially with how strong DiBenedetto was in Daytona. DiBenedetto, the aforementioned Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher ($6,200), Ryan Preece ($6,000), Daniel Hemric ($5,500), and David Ragan ($5,000) are all drivers to consider should they qualify in the back half of the field.