Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Coca-Cola 600
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 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $13,500): The 1.5-mile tracks have not been Martin Truex Jr.'s forte this year as his two wins have come on tracks a mile or shorter. He has shown enough life, though, for us to at least discuss how filthy he has been at Charlotte in the past.
Over the past five races at Charlotte, Truex has led 716 laps, equating to 38.3% of the total laps run in that time. He got a pair of wins in there and has finished in the top five in six of the past seven races at Charlotte, showing that he has been a constant contender at this track. We just haven't seen him do that on this track type in 2019.
Truex's best finish using the full new aero package is eighth in both Las Vegas and Fontana. He has spent just 10 laps out front in those four races combined, and he was 10th in the All-Star Race at Charlotte last week. Even with Truex's stout history at this track, we likely need to see him mop up in practice before simply saying he can get back to that old dominance on Sunday night.
Denny Hamlin ($12,000): Unlike his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Truex and Kyle Busch ($15,000), Denny Hamlin hasn't been some dominant force at Charlotte. He has been solid, though, and the same can be said for his performance on similar tracks this year.
Starting with what Hamlin has done at Charlotte, he has been incredibly consistent here for quite some time. Dating back to 2010, Hamlin has 14 top-10s in his past 16 races here. Clearly, form that far back won't matter, but Hamlin has also notched top-fives in three straight Charlotte races and five of the past six. He has logged some laps out front, too, leading 45 laps twice in the past four runnings.
We've seen a similar outcome for Hamlin at these tracks in 2019. He hasn't led a ton of laps, but he did get a win in Texas, which is one of Charlotte's sister tracks. Hamlin has hit a rough patch recently, finishing 16th or worse in four straight (counting the All-Star Race), but there has been some bad luck mixed in there. With how good Gibbs cars have been at Charlotte, Hamlin could be poised for a rebound this weekend.
Kyle Larson ($10,500): Normally, a discussion around "track history" will lead to looking at how drivers have done here in previous seasons.
For Kyle Larson, our most relevant data point comes from last week.
That was the All-Star Race on Saturday night, a race where Larson had to earn his way into the event via a qualifying race because he hasn't won in the Cup Series since 2017. Larson won the third and final stage in the qualifying race to earn his spot in the field, and then he went out and won himself a million bucks.
It has been a frustrating season for Larson, so any level of success is noteworthy. But is it enough for us to start buying him in DFS?
What helps bolster Larson's case is that he had a solid run on a similar track even before getting that big check last weekend. In Kansas, Larson started 35th after failing post-qualifying inspection, but he worked his way forward for an eighth-place finish with a 12th-place average running position. It was both his best finish and his best average running position using this package in 2019, which does partially legitimize his win in the All-Star Race.
What we'll need to do with Larson is take a long look at his speed in the Saturday practices. If he measures up well in 10-lap averages during those sessions, then we can start to get excited. It's possible he just needed time to adjust his driving style to the new rules package and has turned a corner. But if that speed isn't there, then we should feel safe turning elsewhere.
Austin Dillon ($8,500): Austin Dillon is a former winner in the Coca-Cola 600, getting the trophy in 2017 thanks to great strategy and even better fuel mileage. But that's one of just two top-10 finishes for him here in nine races, which means we need to dig into Dillon's current form to determine what to do with him this weekend.
Dillon has been consistent this year, finishing 21st or better in each race, but he's yet to pop a high-end result. That's especially true at tracks using the new rules package where his best finish is a 10th in Fontana.
That isn't to say that Dillon is incapable of a top-five, though. He had an 11th-place average running position in both Fontana and Texas in this rules package, and his average running position was 15th in Kansas. That's enough life to believe there's at least some upside in Dillon from a finishing-points perspective. Dillon will be a great play if he qualifies poorly, but he's worth monitoring in practice regardless to see if the team can find some extra speed.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,100): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got his first top-10 in 13 career races at Charlotte last fall, finishing in exactly 10th spot. But he was running pretty well here even before that, and his strength on tracks like Charlotte in 2019 is intriguing.
At Charlotte, Stenhouse has finished 15th or better in five of the past six races. He has had a 14th-place average running position in three of those and was 16th in another. Even with a lack of top-10s, this has never been a bad track for Stenhouse.
What really brings us here, though, is Stenhouse's current form. Although he finished 11th in Kansas, Stenhouse was up front that entire race with a sixth-place average running position. That's the second time this year he has had a top-10 average running position in the rules package they'll use this weekend (the other being in Las Vegas). The driver with the second-lowest salary who has had multiple top-10 average running positions in that four-race sample is Kurt Busch ($11,000). Stenhouse carries some finishing-position upside for just $8,100, which is pretty attractive entering the weekend.
Kevin Harvick ($14,500): We've been waiting all year for Kevin Harvick to get back to his old ways in 2019. He wasn't running out front, and he hadn't finished better than fourth all year, and it's hard to pay off at this salary if you're not doing those two things. The past two weeks have seemed to signal a bit of a shift, though.
In Kansas, Harvick was the car to beat. He topped the charts in 10-lap averages for both practice sessions and won the pole. He led 104 laps during the race but faded to 13th due to a tire issue. He led 16 more laps there than he had in any other race in 2019 up to that point.
Then at the All-Star Race, Harvick flexed some muscle again. He was first in 10-lap averages during the first practice and third during final practice. He led 33 laps during the race -- more than anybody else in the field -- and took home a runner-up finish, almost chasing down Larson at the end.
In both events, Harvick seemed to be on a different level than he was earlier in the season. And even while in a relative slump, Harvick still managed to lead 88 laps in Las Vegas while driving in this package. You're not getting Harvick at a discount, but he at least seems appropriately priced with his performance on the upswing.
Alex Bowman ($10,000): In the first nine races this year, Alex Bowman's best finish was 11th, and he hadn't led a single lap. He had some speed, but he couldn't cash it in as a good finish.
The past three races have been just a wee bit different.
Bowman enters Charlotte having been the runner-up in three consecutive races, all three at different track types. He has led 86 laps, 63 of which came at Kansas, which featured the same rules package they'll be running on Sunday night. Bowman's average running position has been ninth or better in all three races, so he's not lucking his way to the front; the dude's just going fast.
Bowman's salary has inflated to reflect this, but he's still not in the range where you need him to dominate a race in order to pay off. Instead, he can come through just by continuing to rack up top-end finishes. It's good to be more skeptical of Bowman now that he's no longer a value play, and he's not someone you should use regardless of his speed in practice, but his recent steps forward should do plenty to flush our concerns around his past performance.
Erik Jones ($9,600): Because of how silly Bowman has been, we've been allowed to overlook a couple solid races by Erik Jones. Some of those races bear plenty of resemblance to what we'll see this weekend in Charlotte.
When Bowman picked up his most recent second-place finish, Jones was right behind him, finishing third in Kansas. That was once race after he was sixth in Dover, though Dover is wildly different from Charlotte. Instead, we'll want to look at Texas and Atlanta, the two other double-dog-leg tracks on the schedule. But that just makes Jones look even better as he finished fourth in Texas and seventh in Atlanta, meaning three of his five top-10 finishes this year have come at tracks similar to Charlotte. He does have a top-10 here in his past, as well, finishing seventh in 2017.
Jones won't get as much buzz as Bowman, and that's fair because Bowman has posted the better finishes. But Jones is another mid-range driver capable of netting a top-five finish, and that should be something we covet even if he does start a bit high in the order.
William Byron ($7,300): Even though Larson advanced to the All-Star Race via The Open, he wasn't the first one to punch his ticket. That was actually William Byron, who won the opening stage and wound up finishing ninth in the All-Star Race. If you've been paying attention to Byron, this isn't all that surprising.
Byron initially grabbed attention this year in Texas, holding an eighth-place average running position and turning it into a sixth-place finish. He also had a 13th-place average running position in Las Vegas under this rules package, meaning we've seen speed out of Byron before. He's just starting to convert that speed into good finishes.
There's still a lack of consistency with Byron, which means we can't trust him for DFS regardless of where he starts, and Byron has been starting high in the order all year long. But there's definitely the upside of a good finish here, which at least puts him on the map regardless of where he starts and makes him a tremendous value play if he does qualify poorly.
Chris Buescher ($6,400): When Chris Buescher logged a top-10 finish in Atlanta earlier this year, it was easy to just write that off as a one-race fluke. But then Buescher backed it up with a 10th in Kansas, and that changes things quite a bit.
NASCAR has run some iteration of the reduced-horsepower package in six races this year. Buescher has his two top-10s in Atlanta and Kansas, but he also has a top-20 finish in all of the others except for Talladega. It gets even more impressive when you see Buescher's ninth-place average running position in Kansas, the best mark of his career. His previous career-best marks were 11th and 13th, which happened at Bristol and Richmond, respectively, meaning Buescher's three best average running positions of his career have all come in the past five races.
The fact that Buescher did this at a track that carries plenty of similarities to Charlotte just beefs up the legitimacy even more. We know he can race well in packs, and this rules package allows for plenty of that. As long as Buescher doesn't qualify too well, he's someone we can buy high and plug in again at $6,400.