Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Quaker State 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 Quaker State 400 in Kentucky.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $13,000): With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series venturing to Kentucky just once a year, the data here is a bit more limited than we have at other tracks. Martin Truex Jr. likely wishes they stopped here more often.
Truex has dominated each of the past two races at the track, leading a combined 326 of 541 laps and winning both events. He also ran well here even before experiencing a surge with Furniture Row Racing, notching top-10 finishes with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012 and 2013.
The question is whether Truex is still capable of that type of dominance on this track type. This will be the fourth race at a 1.5-mile track with moderate banking, and Truex's runs in those races have been underwhelming thus far.
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This means Truex is someone whose practice times we'll need to watch closely. If he flashes speed there, then we can feel a bit better about his lackluster runs in 2019. But if he's merely mediocre, we'll likely be better off looking elsewhere unless Truex starts all the way in the back.
Kevin Harvick ($12,000): At first glance, Kevin Harvick is going to appear unattractive, both from a track history and current form perspective. His best career finish in Kentucky is fifth, and he hasn't logged a top-five overall finish since early May. There's a bit more to it, though, once you dig a little deeper.
Starting with Harvick's record in Kentucky, it is true that the finishes lack flash. But he has had a top-seven average running position in five straight races here, and that mark has been in the top five three straight times. He even led 128 laps in 2016 but finished ninth, highly reflective of his overall record here.
The same thing has happened to Harvick this year. Harvick has led at least 88 laps in all three races at tracks most similar to Kentucky, but each time, he ran into some sort of issue and couldn't make his way back through the pack. Finishing points are important, which makes this all the more frustrating.
A dominant win is within Harvick's range of outcomes. He has shown at both Kansas and Chicago that when he gets out front, he's fully capable of staying there. It's when he gets behind that the brown stuff hits the fan. As such, it's likely wise to have some exposure to Harvick this weekend in case he's able to put a full race together, even if he has yet to do exactly that yet this year.
Erik Jones ($8,800): It's pretty rare to find someone in this salary tier who is capable of winning a race. But Alex Bowman almost did so in Kansas with a salary near here. Another guy who ran well there -- and at the other tracks similar to Kentucky -- is Erik Jones. We shouldn't be shocked if he makes a Bowman-like push this weekend.
For starters, Jones has run well in his two previous trips to the track. He finished sixth here in 2017 and seventh in 2018, finishes that would easily help him pay off this salary regardless of where he starts the race.
More importantly, Jones has had impressive speed on this track type, especially recently. He finished third -- one spot behind Bowman -- in Kansas and had a seventh-place average running position. In Chicago, he started back in 21st, but he worked his way forward, had an 11th-place average running position, and finished seventh. Jones is currently 18th in points, two spots out of the playoffs, with only eight races left to earn a berth. He has a good shot to close that gap this weekend, and he's someone we can target in DFS regardless of where he starts.
Aric Almirola ($8,500): The aforementioned Harvick is not the only Stewart-Haas driver struggling this year. None of them has scored a victory yet, just one year after the team combined to win a whopping one-third of the races. This is certainly a concern, but it has also driven down the salary on Aric Almirola, which may present an opportunity to buy low.
How you view Almirola's season depends on what you're looking for. If you want top-fives and someone pushing for wins, it'll appear disappointing as Almirola has just one top-five all year, fewest of all Stewart-Haas drivers. But if you want top-10s, Almirola has 10 of those in 18 races, second on the team behind Harvick (11). Almirola has finished between 7th and 12th in 11 races this year, which is a pretty absurd hit rate for such a small range.
When Almirola's salary was above $10,000, it was hard to get excited about those finishes. There, you want someone who can at least give you a shot at a win. But now that Almirola's down to $8,500, it's a different discussion. At this price, simply netting a top-10 finish is enough to send you home happy. Almirola got a top-10 at this track last year (finishing eighth in his first race here with Stewart-Haas), and he has had a top-14 average running position in all three of the races on tracks similar to Kentucky. That should be enough to put him on the map now that the cost of rostering Almirola is lower than it was before.
Kyle Larson ($11,200): All year long, we've been waiting for Kyle Larson to get a handle on the new rules package. He seemed to take a major step forward by winning the All-Star Race in May, but Chicago was truly Larson's breakout for the season.
There, Larson had a fifth-place average running position, tying his best mark of the year, and netted his first top-five at a 1.5-mile track. He actually passed Alex Bowman for the lead with eight laps to go but couldn't quite hold Bowman off for the win.
Even without a trip to victory lane, that race proved that Larson can compete in this package, something we had not yet seen in 2019.
Thanks to a strong stretch recently, Larson has moved up to sixth in The Athletic's David Smith's central speed rankings, and Larson ranks seventh in both salary and win odds at FanDuel. With Chevrolet teams on the rise, Larson seems to be benefiting, making him someone we should consider in this second salary tier.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,700): Because Bowman won in Chicagoland, he's going to get all the hype for the Hendrick Motorsports camp entering the weekend. That's justified, and it's why Bowman is in play even with his salary up to $11,500. But we shouldn't let Bowman's win overshadow how good two of his teammates also were in that race. Let's touch on that, starting with the vet in Jimmie Johnson.
Chicago was hands down Johnson's most impressive run of 2019. He had a fourth-place average running position, four spots better than any other race this year, and his 120.9 driver rating is one of two races above 100 for him in that metric. Chicago was also Johnson's fourth straight top-eight run at a 1.5-mile track, including a sixth-place finish in Kansas back in May.
Kentucky has always been one of Johnson's poorer tracks with just one top-five in eight career races. But that honestly doesn't matter all that much. What matters more is that Johnson has been showing life on this track type and in this package in 2019. We shouldn't bank on him netting a win, but his arrow is certainly pointing in the right direction entering the weekend.
William Byron ($9,000): The other Hendrick driver who flexed some muscle in Chicago was William Byron. It partly shows up on the stat sheet as he finished eighth, but the context around that run makes it even more impressive.
Byron changed a motor before the race, meaning he had to forfeit his 11th-place starting position and drop to the back for the green flag. He was already up to eighth by the end of the first stage, and he took the lead under green-flag conditions on lap 99. He did fade at the end, but Byron had a seventh-place average running position, tied with Bowman for the fourth-best mark in the race.
In total, Byron has led 80 laps on 1.5-mile tracks with the full reduced-horsepower package this year, the eighth-highest mark in the series, more than guys like Denny Hamlin ($10,600), Ryan Blaney ($10,300), and Kurt Busch ($10,000), all of whom are at least $1,000 more expensive than Byron on FanDuel. When you run at the front, finishing there is within your range of outcomes, meaning we should continue to buy Byron even as his salary rises.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,000): Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s reputation is that of someone who is highly volatile. And that reputation is earned as he has crashed at a much higher rate than any other driver since the start of 2017. The 1.5-mile tracks have been a bit of a different story.
In five races at 1.5-mile tracks with the full new aero package, Stenhouse's worst finish is 16th, and he has been 12th or better in four of the races. He had a top-10 average running position in both Las Vegas and Kansas, and he churned out a 12th-place finish with a 13th-place average running position in Chicago. It's a small sample, but seeing consistency in said sample is meaningful with someone like Stenhouse.
There has been some upside in there, as well. As mentioned, he had a top-10 average running position in both Vegas and Kansas, but that actually sells him a bit short. It was seventh in Vegas and sixth in Kansas, both of which are elite marks. That means Stenhouse has a great ceiling. If he were to also have a floor, it would make Stenhouse a massive value at this salary. He would have that floor if he were to start in the back, but even without that, we should be starting to view Stenhouse in a bit of a more favorable light when the series heads to tracks like Kentucky.
Austin Dillon ($7,700): Overall, 2019 has been a disappointing season for Austin Dillon. He clocks into the season's halfway point with no top-fives and just three top-10s, and his average finish is the worst it has been since 2015, his age-25 season. One of those top-10s came in Chicago, though, which does at least force us to dig a bit deeper to see what we should expect this weekend.
Dillon sat on the pole for that Chicago race, which certainly hurts his DFS stock, but it also shows he had speed. He led nine laps there and finished the race with an 11th-place average running position, tied for his second-best mark of the year. He also had a 15th-place average running position in Kansas, giving a bit more legitimacy to the strong run in Chicago.
Dillon has had a tendency to qualify well this year, which makes him hard to stomach in DFS when coupled with the mid-range finishes. However, if he were to qualify poorly (or fail post-qualifying inspection), things would change pretty dramatically. A top-10 finish here is certainly possible, so if we can snag Dillon a bit lower in the starting order, we should feel all right about doing so.
Chris Buescher ($6,500): There are 17 drivers who have multiple top-10 finishes in the five races at 1.5-mile tracks using the package that will be in place this weekend. Only one of those 17 has a salary lower than $8,000. That's Chris Buescher, all the way down at $6,500.
Those two top-10s happened in consecutive races as Buescher was 10th in Kansas and sixth in Charlotte. The 10th-place run in Kansas was accompanied by a ninth-place average running position, easily the best mark of Buescher's career. This five-race sample does not include Buescher's ninth-place finish in Atlanta because they were using a slightly different rules package, but that is yet another 1.5-mile track. Prior to this year, Buescher had just one top-10 in his entire career on 1.5-mile tracks.
Getting a top-10 out of someone in this salary range is pretty rare, but Buescher has shown he's fully capable of producing exactly that. Even if Buescher isn't blazing fast in practice, his current form shows us that he needs to be on our radar no matter what.