Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Gander RV 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 Gander RV 400 at Dover.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): Last year at Dover, Kevin Harvick led more than 200 laps in both runnings, getting a win in the spring race. He has led 200 or more laps in four of the past nine races, supplanting Jimmie Johnson ($10,000) as the driver to beat each time the Cup Series comes to Dover.
But we haven't seen that Harvick in 2019. We have to decide if such dominance is still within his range of outcomes.
Harvick has led just 163 laps the entire season, 377 fewer than he had at this point last year. If we're going to pay $14,000 for a driver, we need them to run out front, and Harvick hasn't been doing that.
One complication here is that our only analogous track to Dover this year is Bristol. There, Harvick had to start the race with a pass-through penalty, putting him deep in a hole, and he had issues later in the race, as well. But it was clear that Harvick had a great car as he was out-running the leaders at one point and wound up on the lead lap in 13th position. You don't do that without speed, even if it didn't show up on the stat sheet.
Because of that, we probably need to base most of our assessment of Harvick on what he does in practice. In Bristol, he was first and fourth, respectively, in 10-lap averages during the two practice sessions, and that speed did show up in the race. If Harvick can duplicate that in practice on Saturday, we should be willing to put him on our rosters. If not, then we should put more stock in Harvick's current form than his track history and look elsewhere in this salary tier.
Kyle Larson ($10,600): Kyle Larson's $10,600 salary is a lot lower than you'd expect someone with a record like his at the upcoming track. That salary is fully justifiable, though, when you look at his current form.
In 10 races this year, Larson has racked up just two top-10 finishes, both of which came in the first four races. Since then, he has finished 18th or worse in five of six races, and he has crashed three times. One of those crashes was in spectacular fashion this past weekend.
Basically, the dude needs a slump-buster. It's possible Dover could be exactly that.
Back in 2017, Larson led 378 laps across two Dover races, logging a pair of top-five finishes. He was also runner-up in 2016 after leading 85 laps and finished third in 2015. In the past, this has been a solid track for him.
Even with that being said, we need to treat Larson in the same manner discussed with Harvick. If the practice times aren't there, it'll be hard to get too invested. Larson had an average running position of 14th or worse in both Dover races last year, and his current form is clearly underwhelming. Unless Larson gives us a legit reason to buy in on Saturday, it's okay to ignore his stout history when filling out lineups.
Jimmie Johnson ($10,000): Sunday's race will effectively represent the two-year anniversary of Jimmie Johnson's last victory in the Cup Series. He won the Dover spring race in 2017 but has yet to return to victory lane since. With Johnson in a similar salary tier to Larson, how should we view him entering the weekend?
One edge for Johnson is that his current form has been far superior to Larson's. Johnson has had an average running position of 11th or better in four of the past seven races, including a pair of eighth-place marks in that time. He had a 10th-place average running position in Bristol and turned it into a 10th-place finish.
Even in a disappointing season last year, Johnson did still manage a good run in Dover with a ninth-place average running position during the spring race. It's clear that he still has gas in the tank from a talent perspective, and his equipment may be getting slightly better. While we'll likely want to shy away from Johnson if he qualifies near the front of the pack -- he seems unlikely to generate upside via laps led -- recent runs show he can still be a quality DFS play via a good finish and some place-differential points if he qualifies outside the top 10.
Daniel Suarez ($9,600): In four career races at Dover, Daniel Suarez has four top-10 finishes. It doesn't get much better than that.
One of those four races was a third-place finish in last year's spring race, and he backed that up with an eighth-place average running position. These good runs weren't flukes.
To make Suarez even more tempting, he has been running well most of the season, his first in the elite equipment of Stewart Haas Racing. This includes an eighth-place finish and 12th-place average running position in Bristol, an impressive follow-up to his third-place run in Texas. Suarez hasn't gotten a ton of talk this year, but he's clearly taking a step forward from where he was with Joe Gibbs Racing.
We've seen Suarez run well at Dover in the past, and his current form is arguably the best it has been. Suarez simply seems to be a bit lower-salaried than he should be, which allows us to use him in DFS even if he isn't necessarily in a spot to pick up a bunch of place-differential points.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,300): Given how well Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tends to run in Bristol, you would assume that Dover would be another spot we could utilize him in DFS. The finishes have been inconsistent here, but he has shown intriguing flashes of upside.
Stenhouse enters this weekend with two career top-10 finishes at Dover, one of which came in last fall's running. He finished ninth in that one, and although his finish wasn't as flashy in the spring (15th), he did lead 24 laps and have an 11th-place average running position. That's not too shabby at all.
Stenhouse didn't run well at Bristol, but that stemmed from an early incident not of his own making, which left his hood all kinds of jacked up.
I am no mechanic, but this seems not great, Bob. pic.twitter.com/VnG76IVUZA
— Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) April 7, 2019
As long as you're willing to accept the frightening levels of variance tied to Stenhouse's driving style, he seems to be a driver with a good bit of finishing juice in the middle salary tier.
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,200): Prior to Richmond, Martin Truex Jr. was in the same spot as Harvick. Despite being part of "The Big Three" during the 2018 regular season, he wasn't running out front much this year.
Richmond changed that discussion. There, Truex led 186 laps and won the race, just his third top-five finish of the season. Truex had led just 14 laps all season long prior to that race.
We had discussed Truex prior to that race because of his stout history at Richmond, and he managed to come through there. He is intriguing again this weekend with Dover being another spot he has dominated in the past.
Truex actually got his first career win at this track all the way back in 2007 and didn't win again in the Cup Series until 2013. Since moving into better equipment, Truex has been in line with Harvick as one of the speedier drivers at the track, holding a top-seven average running position in six straight races. He's another driver for whom we should put a lot of weight in his practice times, but with Truex showing he can still run out front at Richmond, he's very much a contender even before unloading.
Chase Elliott ($13,000): Dover is a track where Chase Elliott excels, winning here last fall, his fifth top-five finish in six career races here. But prior to last week, his current form was just mixed with two top-10s in nine races during 2019.
A win can cure a lot of things.
Elliott took the checkered flag at Talladega, his first win and second top-five of 2019. The other top-five came at Martinsville, which is very different from Talladega, but it's also different from Dover and may not indicate a good run for Elliott this weekend.
As mentioned, our closest analog for Dover comes from the Bristol race a few weeks ago. Elliott was at least respectable there. Despite an 11th-place finish, he qualified on the pole, led 38 laps, and had a 10th-place average running position. Elliott has now led at least 35 laps in four of the past five races. It's just been hard to notice because he has only two top-10s in that span.
Because Elliott had some speed at Bristol, we can put some stock into his track history at Dover. When we do that, Elliott certainly seems worthy of his lofty salary at $13,000. As with the others, make sure he has solid practice times first, but if that happens, don't be shocked if Elliott is pushing for another win on Sunday.
William Byron ($7,300): Once you get down this low in salary, it's hard to find drivers who are capable of pumping out a top-end finish. Finishing has been an issue for William Byron the first two seasons of his Cup Series career, but he has shown recently that a really solid run is possible.
The big showing for Byron was in Texas when he finished sixth after holding an eighth-place average running position. That started a string of races where Byron's average running position has been 13th or better in three of the past four, which is elite for someone in this tier. He has just one other finish better than 16th in that time, but running up front does matter.
In two trips to Dover last year, Byron did manage a 16th-place average running position in the spring race, leading to a 14th-place finish. We talked about his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Elliott and Johnson, in the track history section, meaning he has equipment that can run well at the track. Even with the results being mixed, Byron's someone we need to track during practices on Saturday.
Chris Buescher ($6,800): With Bristol being our closest comparison to Dover thus far in 2019, we've got several value plays who we need to monitor this weekend. Ty Dillon ($7,000), Chris Buescher, and Matt DiBenedetto all had top-13 average running positions in that race and carry salaries of $7,000 or lower. We've talked about Dillon a couple of times recently, so let's focus on the two cheaper options in this trio, starting with Buescher.
Buescher's 22nd-place finish at Bristol will mask what was a hyper-impressive run that day. Buescher had run in the top 10 for most of the afternoon, but a loose wheel late in the race put him two laps down and effectively ended his day. His 11th-place average running position was the best of the drivers in this group.
Dover isn't a place where Buescher has mopped up, but he has also been fairly consistent. He has finished between 18th and 25th in all races except for one, including a 20th-place run in last year's spring race. He has shown a bit extra giddy-up in 2019, so if we can get him starting somewhere outside the top 20, Buescher could once again be a value play we can trust.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,500): It was DiBenedetto who was the talk of the town in Bristol, posting the sixth-best single-lap speed in final practice. He converted that into a really solid day.
DiBenedetto didn't run as high as Buescher did during the race, but he managed a 12th-place finish and a 12th-place average running position. He ran in the top 15 for 78.4% of the laps, his highest mark the entire season. Given how similar Bristol and Dover are, that bodes well for this weekend.
The one thing to note here is that Dover is faster than Bristol, meaning underfunded teams will have a harder time competing this weekend. There's a reason DiBenedetto has never finished better than 27th in eight career Dover races. With that said, he is clearly in better equipment this year than he has been in the past, and his salary is still respectably low at $6,500. That keeps DiBenedetto fully in play if he qualifies outside the top 20.