Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Pocono 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 Pocono 400.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): We've seen Kyle Busch ($15,500) win two of the past three races at Pocono, and he led 100 laps in the race before that stretch. There's no question that Busch is the top driver entering the weekend. But Kevin Harvick's history at Pocono is a bit underrated.
Pocono is one of just three active tracks at which Harvick has never won, and one of the others is the Charlotte road course, where the series has been just once. But he has been knocking on the door to victory lane, finishing fourth or better in five straight here and in seven of the past nine races. Harvick led 89 laps last spring, so the lack of a checkered flag here is certainly deceptive.
The same could -- to an extent -- be said about Harvick's 2019 season. His best finish is still fourth, but he has shown improved strength recently, leading the most laps in both Kansas and the All-Star Race. The problem -- as detailed by The Athletic's David Smith -- is that Harvick has had trouble passing once he has been pushed back in traffic. The speed is there for Harvick, and he may wind up being a good stud to build around if he qualifies up front, even with the risk being amped up thanks to his difficulties passing.
Erik Jones ($10,200): Erik Jones had a short night in Charlotte, blowing a tire and crashing out after just 22 laps. That was a tough run given that Jones had racked up two straight top-six finishes prior to that race.
Pocono's a spot where Jones could get another streak rolling.
Jones has raced at Pocono four times in his Cup Series career. He has led laps and finished in the top 10 three times, and he had a pair of top-fives in there, as well. Jones' average running position was sixth for both of his top-five finishes, so he's not fluking his way into these runs. He just knows how to get around here.
On the 1.5-mile tracks, Jones has been stout this year, finishing third in Kansas, fourth in Texas, and seventh in Atlanta. At the larger track in Fontana, Jones finished 19th, but his average running position there was 12th, meaning he had enough speed to compete. We do need to view track history with skepticism because this is a new aero package, but Jones' runs in this package do allow us to get excited about him as a mid-tier play.
Daniel Suarez ($9,200): After racking up three straight top-10s earlier this spring, Daniel Suarez has cooled off a bit recently, finishing 11th or worse in each of the past five races. He has still been competitive at each of those stops, though, and he's going to a track he has run well at in the past.
Suarez showed up big as a rookie at Pocono in 2017, taking home a 7th-place finish with a 10th-place average running position in the summer race. He one-upped that last year, winning the pole for the summer race, leading 29 laps, and setting a career-best with a second-place finish. His average running position there was sixth, tied for the best mark of his career.
Although Suarez hasn't had a top-10 since Bristol, he has still finished 18th or better in each race, even leading 21 laps in Dover. He has shown the ability to get a top-five finish both at this track and in this package, something we should value highly in the middle tier of salaries.
William Byron ($8,300): Sunday will be the 50th race of William Byron's Cup Series career, and he's still seeking out his first top-five finish. He came close last year at Pocono, though, and he has shown recently that a top-five isn't completely out of the question.
In all of his rookie season, Byron finished better than eighth just once. That was in Pocono, when he started 38th after failing post-qualifying inspection, led 10 laps, and finished sixth. Byron's average running position in that race was 14th despite starting in the back, equaling his average running position from the spring race in Pocono. It also certainly doesn't hurt that Byron got a win here back in 2016 in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, leading 44 of 60 laps during his age-18 season.
The past couple months have seen Byron show a ton of speed. It started with a sixth-place finish in Texas, a race that ignited a streak in which Byron has had a top-13 average running position in five of the past seven races. Byron followed up the run at Texas with an eighth in Dover and a ninth in Charlotte, and he was 15th in Fontana, showing he can do well in this package. Byron tends to qualify well, which makes him risky for DFS, but his recent runs have shown that he can sometimes be worth that elevated risk.
Chris Buescher ($7,000): Because Pocono is such a big and fast track, under-funded teams generally struggle to compete and post good finishes. That makes Chris Buescher's win here in 2016 -- his lone win in the Cup Series -- especially noteworthy. But that finish was aided by a timely rain storm, and it's not why we should buy into Buescher this weekend. His current form, though, seems more legitimate.
Through 13 races, Buescher already has three top-10 finishes, one short of the highest mark in his four seasons in the Cup Series. All three of those top-10s have come while using the reduced-horsepower package, including a 10th in Kansas and 6th in Charlotte the past two races.
Pocono -- with its long straightaways -- could be a good test of whether Buescher's equipment has taken a step forward. Our best approximation of that came in Fontana back in March, and Buescher was respectable there with a 16th-place finish and a 19th-place average running position. The style of racing associated with this package seems to play well with Buescher's strengths, so as long as he doesn't qualify at the front of the pack, Buescher's still a value option we can lean on.
Chase Elliott ($12,000): Earlier, we mentioned how William Byron had found some new speed recently and parlayed that into good finishes. The same thing has happened with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.
Starting with Elliott, he's riding a string of four straight top-five finishes, two of which have come using this aero package. Elliott has now led at least 35 laps in seven of the past eight races, which means he could have easily picked up more than just the one win in that stretch.
Pocono has been a good track for Elliott in the past, too. Although he hasn't finished better than seventh the past four races, he has had a top-10 average running position each time, and his average running position was fourth last summer. Elliott's salary allows him to fit the balanced roster build discussed in the track preview, meaning we should keep a close eye on him during practice on Friday.
Alex Bowman ($10,000): Alex Bowman's streak of three straight runner-up finishes was snapped at Charlotte, but he got yet another solid finish by coming home in seventh place. As with Elliott, this up-tick seems to be far from fluky.
In each of the past four races, Bowman's average running position has been 10th or better. Prior to this run, his best average running position of the season was 11th, and he had been better than 15th just twice in nine races. Bowman's best average running position came while running in this same aero package at Kansas when he averaged running in sixth spot.
Prior to Bowman's back-to-back-to-back runner-ups, the best finish of his career had come at Pocono. That was in last year's summer race, when he started 10th and finished 3rd, one of three top fives for him the entire year. Hendrick cars have been flashing muscle on flatter tracks for a while now, and with things trending up as a whole recently, we should view all of their drivers -- especially Bowman -- in a positive light entering Pocono.
Aric Almirola ($9,400): In order to find the last time Aric Almirola had a salary this low on FanDuel, you have to go all the way back to the first race of the season. There, he was $9,100. Since then, his salary has been $10,000 or higher in each race, once even creeping above $12,000. Now's a good time to buy while the discount is still in place.
Part of Almirola's salary decrease is likely due to a stagnation in his results, but he has still been competitive. Almirola has had a top-14 average running position in four straight races and in 11 of 13 races overall this year. One of his best runs came at the big track in Fontana, where he converted a sixth-place average running position into a ninth-place finish.
Almirola's finishes are concerning enough where we will likely want to pedal back a bit on him if he were to continue qualifying in the top five. But there's clearly still speed in this car, so if he slips outside the top 10 in qualifying, feel free to take advantage of the decreased salary.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,100): In 12 career races at Pocono, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has never logged a top-10 finish, and he has been outside the top 15 eight of those times. If Pocono races similar to other tracks using this package, Stenhouse could break that string this weekend.
Stenhouse is coming off of his best finish of the season, emerging from the Coca-Cola 600 with a fifth-place run. His other top-10 was in Las Vegas, a sixth-place finish also utilizing this package. Across five races running the new package, Stenhouse's average finish is 10.4, and his average running position has been 16th or better each time.
Pack-racing has been Stenhouse's forte his entire career, so this up-tick should come as no surprise. Given the lengthy straightaways at Pocono, it seems a foregone conclusion that drafting will at least play some part of a role. With that being the case, we shouldn't let Stenhouse's rough track record at Pocono prevent us from using him in DFS.
Daniel Hemric ($6,600): Most of 2019 has been a struggle for Daniel Hemric as he has finished better than 18th just once, a fifth-place run in pack racing at Talladega. The speed has been there, though, and that's big as the Cup Series heads to such a large track.
Hemric has been strong in practice all season long, and that was true at Charlotte, as well. He was third in 10-lap averages for both Saturday sessions, but an early run-in with the wall forced Hemric to settle for a 21st-place finish. This came after he was also fast in practices for the All-Star Open Race and had a respectable 18th-place run in Kansas.
Eventually, Hemric and his team will put together a full race without incident. If that happens, he has shown the speed to net a top-10 finish, and that would be huge at this salary. Even though the risk with Hemric is clearly still high, it's likely worthwhile to start buying shares now, hoping to latch on when that complete race finally occurs.