Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Coke Zero Sugar 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 Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona.
Joey Logano (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): At tracks like Daytona, where wrecks are plentiful and the variance is high, it's hard to be consistent. Joey Logano has definitely had his disappointments, but when he's running at the finish, he's generally close to the front.
Logano has managed to finish five of the past seven Daytona races (which, honestly, is not that bad of a rate relative to most other drivers). In those five races, Logano has finished no worse than sixth. Two races before this stretch, Logano won the 2015 Daytona 500, one of four wins for Logano at pack-racing tracks (Daytona and Talladega) in his career. Logano is definitely stronger in Talladega, but his dominance stretches to the shorter of the two tracks, as well.
Current form matters at these tracks, too, and Logano's smelling rosy there with top-five finishes in more than half of the races in 2019. Logano's the highest-salaried driver on the board for a reason, and he's likely the first person we should think of first when building our "assumption" lineups for Saturday night.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($9,300): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be at the front of the pack at some point Saturday night. He has led at least 11 laps in four straight Daytona races, including a win in the 2017 July race. It's just a question of whether he'll remain there.
That question doesn't stem from a lack of talent. It's all about his aggressive driving style, which can get him and those around him into trouble pretty often.
Stenhouse came out of that wreck unscathed, but he was involved in two other incidents in that same race and wound up finishing 13th. You don't get the nickname of "Wrecky" for biding your time and bathing in patience. Aggressiveness breeds volatility, and it means Stenhouse's floor is super low.
But in tournaments, we don't care as much about a floor. We want someone who is capable of winning races, which Stenhouse has done once in Daytona and once in Talladega. Stenhouse can be in consideration for cash if he starts deeper in the field because of his talent in pack racing, but he's still in play for tournaments if he starts higher because a win is within his range of outcomes.
Erik Jones ($8,200): Erik Jones is in a tricky spot entering Daytona. He is currently on the outside looking in for NASCAR's playoffs with only nine races left to erase that ground. A win, however, would punch his ticket to the postseason, and Jones has shown before that he's capable of notching one of those on these hallowed grounds.
In last year's summer race, Jones started deep in the pack after a poor qualifying run. But he gradually worked his way forward and restarted fourth with two laps to go. He used some nifty moves after the restart to claim his first career Cup Series victory.
Jones hasn't been back to the winner's circle since then, but he came close once again in Daytona this February, finishing third behind two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Denny Hamlin ($13,000) and Kyle Busch ($13,500). With desperation on his side this week, Jones is going to have some sick upside.
That playoff positioning may also make Jones a bit riskier. He could take a similar route to William Byron ($8,000) in Sonoma two weeks ago, prioritizing stage points rather than a victory in order to make up ground on others in the season-long standings. Alternatively, it could force Jones to make riskier moves on the track, which will make him even more volatile than he already is. It's helpful to be aware of these complications when it comes to Jones, but if he's starting near the back of the pack, he'll still be a driver we'll want to build around in cash games and tournaments.
Chris Buescher ($6,300): Chris Buescher's current form has been trending steadily in the right direction of late with two top-10s and six top-20s in the past six races. It's very clear that Buescher and his team have taken steps forward in 2019. But even before this, Buescher was a contender at Daytona.
In his Cup Series career, Buescher has 11 top-10 finishes; three of those have come in Daytona. This track is also where he has netted half of his four career top-five finishes, coming home in fifth place during both of last year's races.
Buescher has flashed strength even at tracks where equipment is important this year. Speed matters in Daytona, too, but drivers who are skilled in lesser equipment are better able to compete here. We know that Buescher has the skills. Now that he has extra giddy-up to go along with that, it's hard not to dig him in this bargain salary tier.
Michael McDowell ($5,500): If you're hoping to net a share of $10,000 in FanDuel's Lap Leader Bonus (where you get free money by having all five drivers in your lineup lead a lap if you're in the Intimidator contest), you need to find lower-salaried drivers who can run up front. Buescher is one of those options. But even a bit cheaper is Michael McDowell, who can also boogey around this track.
McDowell has seven career top-10 finishes across 302 races in the Cup Series. A whopping six of those seven have come in Daytona. That includes both his career top-fives, a fifth this year and a fourth in 2017. And, yes, this has come with some time at the front as he led 20 laps in last year's July race.
McDowell is a good driver, and that shows on tracks where equipment matters a bit less. That's why McDowell is able to push for top-end finishes here. At just $5,500, he gives you respectable odds at a top-10, and he can help you get that lap-leader bonus. There's plenty to like about McDowell as long as he's not starting at the front.
Alex Bowman ($10,000): Alex Bowman has been a fixture in the current form section for a while now, and he finally rewarded our faith with a win last week, his first in the Cup Series. It's pretty safe to say that win wasn't a fluke.
Counting the win in Chicagoland, Bowman has now had an average running position of 13th or better in eight straight races. His average running position has been in the top 10 in six of those, including three races in which it was seventh or better. He's running at the front, giving himself shots at top-fives, and he's now converting those into elite finishes.
This impressive stretch for Bowman actually started at a pack-racing track as he finished second in Talladega behind teammate Chase Elliott ($10,500). Bowman has finished 10th and 11th in his past two Daytona races, and the Hendrick cars have had lethal speed recently. Bowman's in play as a win pick in the assumption game discussed in the track preview.
William Byron ($8,000): Bowman and Elliott aren't the only Hendricks cars ticking off impressive runs. William Byron seems to be knocking on the door of his first career win, as well.
The most impressive run for Byron was likely last week. He had to drop to the back at the start of the race due to an engine change. He quickly scooted his way forward and took the lead under green-flag conditions on lap 99. That lead was short-lived, but Byron still finished eighth and had a seventh-place average running position. That's the fifth time this year he has had an average running position of eighth or better, and three instances have come within the past five races.
Byron has had similarly impressive runs in pack racing, but he's yet to cash in with a good finish. He has been 20th or worse in all six races at Daytona and Talladega. But he led 44 laps in February and had an eighth-place average running position there, and he was solid in Talladega in April before fading at the end. Byron has the speed to run out front, which gives him big upside. The downside is there, too, with his lack of quality finishes, but we would be wise not to assume Byron is incapable of snatching a win on Saturday night.
Aric Almirola ($9,000): Aric Almirola hasn't gotten a top-five finish since Phoenix in March, a streak that now spans 13 races. He has, however, gotten six top-10s in that time, and there aren't many better places for him to snap a drought than Daytona.
Almirola got his first career Cup Series win at Daytona back in the 2014 July race while driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. He then finished fourth in 2017, his final race there with RPM, before getting an equipment boost in heading to Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola's yet to net a top-10 here with SHR, but he did win last year's fall Talladega race and has been in the top 10 in all three races with SHR there. He's a good pack racer, and he has the equipment to better flaunt that now.
The other benefit of Almirola is the teamwork SHR has shown in the past. They basically ran a freight train around Talladega last year, playing pied piper for the rest of the field until the closing laps. As mentioned in the track preview, team stacks are very much in play here, meaning Almirola, Kevin Harvick ($11,500), Clint Bowyer ($9,800), and Daniel Suarez ($8,700) are strong stacking partners, depending on where they qualify.
Ryan Newman ($7,500): All five of Ryan Newman's top-10 finishes this year have come within the past 10 races, and they have come on four different track types. That includes a seventh-place finish in Talladega, which should at least put him on our radar at this low salary.
Newman has always been a solid driver in pack racing. He won the 2008 Daytona 500 and has three top-10s in the past four races at the track. He also has three top-10s in his past four trips to Talladega. He gets there in a much different route than his teammate, Stenhouse, but it does help smooth out some of the volatility.
Having Stenhouse as a teammate also figures to help Newman this weekend. Should Newman work his way to the front, he's likely to have a friendly bumper up there to work with him. The Stewart-Haas Racing cars are Fords, as well, giving extra potential partners who should be pushing for a good finish. Newman performed well while in a Chevy in years that Fords were dominating, and having all the Fords on his side now makes him a bit extra tempting at $7,500.
Ryan Preece ($4,500): In the super cheap range (again giving yourself a shot at that Lap Leader Bonus), you've got options. Matt DiBenedetto ($5,000) almost won the Daytona 500. Bubba Wallace ($5,500) finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500. Brendan Gaughan ($5,000), Ty Dillon ($4,500), and David Ragan ($4,000) have all had strong runs here in the past, as well. But let's take a second to talk about Ryan Preece.
Preece is a rookie in the Cup Series, so our sample of him on these tracks is very limited. But the early returns are great as he finished eighth in the Daytona 500 (he was third on the backstretch in the final lap) and was third in Talladega. That's not too shabby for anyone at any salary, but especially not when they're $4,500.
Preece is teammates with Buescher, which means a couple of things. First, it could give him a teammate at the front at the end, which is a positive. Second, it means the equipment he's in is good enough to push for another top-five, validating those positive runs earlier in the year. We also saw A.J. Allmendinger run well at pack-racing tracks while he was in Preece's ride previously, almost pushing Buescher to a win in last year's July Daytona race. With all those factors combined, Preece may be the top guy to target prior to qualifying in this range at $5,000 or lower.