Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: GoBowling at the Glen
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 GoBowling at the Glen.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): There's no question that Martin Truex Jr. is the Cup Series' King of the Road right now. We have to view him and teammate Kyle Busch ($15,000) as the top two options entering the weekend.
Truex won in Sonoma earlier this year, giving him three road-course wins in the past six such races. He was second in another, won the opening stage in one before engine issues, and wrecked from the lead in the final corner in the third race. He could have easily won all six road-course races since the start of 2017, so even saying that he has won three may be selling him a bit short.
The question is whether we should favor him or Busch, all else equal. Busch finished second behind Truex in Sonoma, has four top-fives in the past six road-course races, and has better current form than Truex. Because it's so hard to differentiate the two, we're going to want shares of both, but whoever fits our process better from a starting-position perspective should likely get the nod over the other.
Erik Jones ($10,000): Erik Jones is a driver who blends both current form and road-course history while costing us just $10,000, and current form matters a lot, even at such a unique track. We should be pretty into this guy entering the weekend.
Specifically at Watkins Glen, Jones has cranked out a pair of top-10s in two career races here, finishing 10th in 2017 and 5th in 2018. His average running positions were also 10th and 5th, respectively, showing that those finishes weren't fluky at all. He also has a pair of top-10s in Sonoma, giving him four top-10s in six career road-course races.
That's all well and good, but Jones' current form is the more impressive portion of his resume. He has three straight top-three finishes, including a runner-up last week in Pocono. Jones' eight top-10s in the past 11 races are tied with Busch for the most in the sport, and yet we can get him for a mid-tier salary. It doesn't get much prettier than that.
Jones is contending for wins, and we should assume he'll do the same this weekend at Watkins Glen. That makes him an option for DFS no matter where he starts, and he's also a great bet to snag his first win of 2019.
Daniel Suarez ($9,400): Daniel Suarez is currently 31 points behind the playoff cutline with only five races left before the reset. He needs to scramble if he wants to be one of the top 16.
However, a win would automatically punch Suarez's ticket to the playoffs. And that's within his range of outcomes at this track.
Suarez has landed a top-five finish in both of his Cup Series trips to Watkins Glen, finishing third in 2017 and fourth in 2018. He also got a fourth at Watkins Glen in the Xfinity Series in 2016 en route to winning the series' championship that year. Suarez hasn't had the same success at other road courses, but for whatever reason, Watkins Glen seems to fit his style well.
As mentioned with Jones, current form matters at road courses, too, and current form isn't fully in Suarez's corner. There is a reason he's on the outside looking in for the playoffs, after all. But he also hasn't been terrible, finishing eighth in Kentucky three races ago and netting top-five finishes in Texas and Michigan. The playoff narrative is fully in Suarez's corner to be aggressive this weekend, and we can put at least some stock into what he has done at Watkins Glen in the past.
Clint Bowyer ($9,000): Whereas Suarez is on the offensive, trying to make up ground in the playoffs, Clint Bowyer is playing defense. He's 12 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson ($8,500) for 16th and 31 ahead of Suarez, which could lead to Bowyer prioritizing stage points rather than going for the win. That's worth noting if you decide you want to use Bowyer here. But his overall profile at road courses is a plus one.
At six road-course races since the start of 2017, Bowyer's average finish of 5.8 is the best in the series by a pretty wide margin. That includes four top-five finishes, one of which was a fifth at Watkins Glen in 2017.
As with Suarez, though, Bowyer is on the playoff bubble for a reason, and it shows that his current form is less than ideal. Some of that stems from rotten luck as Bowyer has had a top-15 average running position in three straight races, which certainly isn't bad with his salary being down to $9,000. There are points against Bowyer with his playoff positioning and mediocre current form, but he would be an ideal target for DFS if he were to qualify within our desired range.
Michael McDowell ($5,500): Michael McDowell doesn't have a top-10 showing in his Cup Series career at a road-course race, so including him here may feel odd. But he runs much better here than he does on other tracks, and his salary is low enough where you don't necessarily need a top-10 for him to pay off.
McDowell enters this weekend with four straight top-20 finishes at Watkins Glen, sitting as high as 12th back in 2017. He also had a 14th in Sonoma in 2017 and was 18th at the Charlotte roval last year, and outside of Daytona, McDowell doesn't tend to run that high in the order.
The caveat with McDowell is that we do need to be a bit skeptical of him if he qualifies well. He's still not in elite equipment, which means an equipment failure is possible, and starting higher in the order requires a higher-end finish for a driver to pay off in DFS. As such, judge McDowell based on how he qualifies, and if he slips outside of the top 20 in the starting order, he's not a bad target among the punt options.
Kevin Harvick ($14,000): Watkins Glen has never been Kevin Harvick's best track. He has just three top-fives here in 18 career races with only one coming since 2006. But Harvick's current form is on the rise, which at least makes him worth discussing.
This turnaround for Harvick started in Chicago, when Harvick led 132 of 267 laps, dominating while he was out front before fading at the end to finish 14th. A couple weeks later, he got his first win of the season in New Hampshire, and then he followed it up with another strong run in Pocono. There, Harvick led 62 laps, had a fourth-place average running position, and finished sixth. Putting those two runs together back-to-back is an encouraging development for a team that has struggled to make up ground when it has been back in traffic this year.
Other road courses have been kinder to Harvick as he has a win, a runner-up, and a sixth in the past three races at Sonoma, so it's not as if he's inept when turning right. It's just that Watkins Glen is not his top circuit. Still, with Harvick seemingly snapping out of his season-long slump of late, it's worthwhile for us to keep an eye on him in practice to see if he can lay down some speedy laps.
Kyle Larson ($10,700): Kyle Larson is not a road-course ringer, which is likely why the betting odds on him are currently so long. But with Larson's current form, we absolutely should not write him off.
Larson enters Watkins Glen with three top-fives in his past five races, including a runner-up finish in Chicago in which he actually held the lead with just seven laps left. Last week, he started at the tail end of the field after crashing in practice but still managed an eighth-place average running position and a fifth-place finish. Ever since he won the All-Star Race in May, Larson's early-season struggles have become an afterthought.
Similar to Jones, it's not as if Larson is a scrub on road courses, either. He led 47 laps at the Charlotte roval last year and has won three straight poles in Sonoma. He finished fourth in his 2014 Watkins Glen debut and was sixth last year, so clearly the dude can get around these joints, and his current form is really solid. It seems likely that Larson's betting odds will be shorter Sunday morning than they are now, and he's someone we should monitor closely from a DFS perspective, as well.
Aric Almirola ($7,800): Aric Almirola's track record in Watkins Glen is firmly sub-optimal. His best finish here is 16th in eight career races, and he has just three top-20s in that time. But there are a couple reasons we should be willing to overlook that if Almirola winds up not qualifying at the front.
First, the Cup Series comes here just once a year, meaning we're dealing with small samples. That's especially true for Almirola, who has been to Watkins Glen in competitive equipment just once, a 22nd-place finish last year. In two races at Sonoma with Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has a pair of top-10s.
Second, Almirola's speed is much better than you would expect at this salary. He has had an average running position of 12th or better in three straight races and five of the past seven, logging top-10 marks in that department three times. The second-cheapest driver with a top-12 average running position four times in the past five races is Erik Jones at $10,000. Almirola is also the cheapest Stewart-Haas Racing entry by $1,200.
Almirola's a good driver whose equipment is better than it used to be, meaning his track history data is largely irrelevant. He has still had good runs of late, and he's not a total dud on road courses. With his salary being as low as it is, we should be pretty interested in Almirola as a value option.
Daniel Hemric ($6,300): Daniel Hemric got the first top-10 of his Cup Series career at a non-pack-racing track last week, finishing seventh in Pocono. It wasn't a fluke finish, either, as evidenced by his 11th-place average running position. It's part of an upward trajectory for Hemric that has been in the works for a while now.
Starting with the first Pocono race, Hemric has four top-15 finishes in his past eight races; prior to that, he had just one top-15 in 13 races. Those good runs have come at a blend of tracks, too, with Pocono popping up twice, the pure speed track in Michigan once, and the other being a 15th-place run in Sonoma.
That quality finish in Sonoma isn't a shock to those who followed Hemric in the Xfinity Series. There, in 2017 and 2018, he had three top-fives in six road-course races, and he was also top-five in two races at the Bowmanville road course in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series the two seasons before that. He has been a good road racer at each stop thus far. With solid equipment beneath the hood and improving current form, Hemric's finishing upside is likely beyond that of all other drivers cheaper than $7,000.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,000): Matt DiBenedetto has had speed at a decent number of stops in 2019; he just hasn't always been able to cash that in with good finishes. But he has put together full races more consistently of late, which is helping boost his appeal at $6,000.
All three of DiBenedetto's top-10 finishes this year have come within the past six races. That run actually started in Sonoma, where DiBenedetto turned a 10th-place average running position into a 4th-place finish. He followed that up with an eighth in Daytona and a fifth in New Hampshire, both spots where the driver matters a bit more than the equipment.
Watkins Glen is more equipment-heavy than Sonoma, but DiBenedetto has been improving at the faster tracks, as well. He finished 17th last week in Pocono and was 16th in Kentucky two weeks before that. The cars seem to be improving, which is letting DiBenedetto flash some more of his own individual talent. This weekend should present him with another opportunity to prove his value in the seat.