Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: South Point 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 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
Brad Keselowski (FanDuel Salary: $13,000): You can't start discussing track history at Vegas with anybody other than the Penske drivers in Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ($). We'll get to their other teammate, Ryan Blaney, in the section on current form, but let's kick things off with the top two horses in the stable.
Keselowski is a three-time winner in Vegas, including last year's fall race to start the playoffs. His last finish worse than seventh at the track was all the way back in 2012, and he finished outside the top five just twice in that eight-race sample.
Between Keselowski and Logano, it's clear that Keselowski has the preferred current form, as well. He picked up top-five finishes in both Bristol and Darlington, and he led 66 laps the race before that in Michigan. Combined with his top-end results in Vegas, Keselowski should be viewed as one of the favorites entering the weekend.
Joey Logano ($12,500): Keselowski was merely the runner-up in 2019's first race at Las Vegas, though. It was Logano who got the checkered flag there, a continuation of a really strong history for him at the track.
Logano finished fourth in last year's fall race, one of four top-fives in his past five races here. He was seventh in the other, and Logano has had a top-nine average running position in seven straight Vegas races. He has also led 25 or more laps in six of those seven races, so you know he'll be up near the front at some point Sunday night.
It's likely not a coincidence that Logano's mini slump happened at this part in the schedule. The past seven races have included three races at big, fast tracks, a road course, a short track, and two intermediate tracks where drafting isn't a factor. There haven't been any 1.5-mile tracks in that stretch, and Logano holds the best average finish for any driver at 1.5-mile tracks using this package in 2019. In addition to the Vegas win, he was second in Charlotte and third in Chicago, so don't be surprised if Logano's "slump" goes fully out the window this week.
Aric Almirola ($8,300): Aric Almirola isn't a driver who typically pushes for wins, and that is something we want out of any driver that we roster. But his consistency is commendable in this salary tier, and it has helped him rack up some impressive recent races at this track.
Almirola has raced in Vegas three times with Stewart-Haas Racing, and all three have resulted in top-10 finishes. He was also 14th here in 2017 while still driving for the underfunded Richard Petty Motorsports. He even had an 11th-place average running position in the first race here, better than everybody with a salary lower than $10,600 except for the next guy on our list.
Almirola has been strong at other 1.5-mile tracks, as well. He followed Vegas up with a seventh-place run in Texas, and he had an eighth-place average running position in Kentucky before slipping back to 14th. His appeal is much higher if he starts 15th or lower, but Almirola's almost cheap enough to pay off based on top-10 finishing points alone.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,500): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was one of the drivers most likely to benefit from the aero package, which increases the prevalence of the draft outside of tracks like Daytona and Talladega. Las Vegas was the track that validated that line of thought.
Back in the March race, Stenhouse ran up front all day long. He was in the top 15 for 96.3% of his laps, his second-highest mark of the entire year, and converted his eighth-place average running position into a sixth-place finish. He has held that speed since then at these tracks, as well.
The only other race in which Stenhouse spent a larger chunk of his laps in the top 15 was in Kansas, where he had a season-best sixth-place average running position. His average finish of 10.3 on similar tracks ranks fourth among drivers in this weekend's field, but Stenhouse still checks in with a value salary thanks to his middling performances elsewhere. With the Cup Series returning to a strong track type for Stenhouse, we should be sure to give him a sizable boost in our minds.
Paul Menard ($6,800): On Tuesday, Paul Menard announced that 2019 would be his final year in the Cup Series as he would retire following the season, ceding his seat to Matt DiBenedetto ($7,300). Menard's got a chance to start off the stretch run to his year on a high note.
Menard has netted a top-10 finish in 5 of 14 Las Vegas races, his highest top-10 rate at any track on the circuit. Two of those came last year as he was 9th and 10th in the two races with a 10th-place average running position in the spring race.
It isn't too hard to figure out why he has had success at this track. Those two top-10s last year were Menard's first races at Las Vegas with Wood Brothers Racing, which operates from the same shop as Penske Racing. If they run well, Menard tends to do the same, though clearly to a lesser degree. As long as Menard doesn't qualify directly at the front this week, he could be a palatable value option with the upside for a top-10.
Kevin Harvick ($14,000): Kevin Harvick has been lighting it up recently, winning three of the past seven races after going winless the entire season before that. Wins are great regardless of the context.
But that heater came in the same stretch where the Cup Series had zero races at 1.5-mile tracks, which is what we'll have this weekend. So how should we view Harvick here?
At first glance, it'll look like Harvick has struggled to keep up at these tracks. He has just one top-five, and he has finished 13th or worse three times. But that doesn't tell the full tale.
Harvick has led 338 laps on 1.5-mile tracks using this package in 2019; nobody else has led more than 231, and Kyle Busch ($15,000) is the only other driver to even lead half of Harvick's total. Harvick has just gotten stuck in traffic late in races and been unable to make up that ground.
Harvick has led 88 or more laps in half of these six races, including the first race in Las Vegas. When a driver does that, you expect them to have far better finishes than what Harvick has had. There's risk here if Harvick's passing issues at this track type return, but there's zero doubt that Harvick will have the speed to push for a win on Sunday.
Ryan Blaney ($10,000): As mentioned earlier, Penske Racing mops up in Vegas, and Ryan Blaney has lived up to that hype since joining the team. He was fifth in both of last year's races, and he was seventh and sixth the two previous years while running with Wood Brothers Racing, the seat the aforementioned Menard currently occupies. But Blaney finished 22nd here this spring, and he has broadly struggled at 1.5-mile tracks. So can we trust him while slobbering all over his teammates?
In the six races at 1.5-mile tracks in this package, Blaney's best finish is sixth, and that's his only finish better than 13th. Given how well Logano and Keselowski have run on these tracks, that's a concern.
But there has also been some bad luck in there. Blaney got pinned a lap down early in Vegas and couldn't dig his way out of the hole. In Texas, he led 45 laps before a mechanical issue ended his day. He restarted the final stage in second place in Kansas before ill handling and contact sent him back to 32nd.
In a sample of just six races, we have to acknowledge that some drivers may have been on the wrong side of variance. That has been Blaney at times. He's coming off of holding a fourth-place average running position in Indianapolis and has had an average running position of eighth or better in three of the past four. Don't write him off just because the finishes on this track type have been underwhelming.
William Byron ($9,500): Prior to July's race in Daytona, William Byron had never had a top-five finish in the Cup Series. He finished second there, and in the eight races since, he has added two more top-fives. This speed bodes well for this weekend in Vegas.
It's true that all of Byron's top-fives this year have come on tracks dissimilar to Las Vegas (a pack-racing track and two large, fast tracks). But he has been far from a dud on the 1.5-milers this year, logging top-10s in Texas, Charlotte, and Chicago. His teammate, Alex Bowman ($9,000), won that Chicago race, so it's clear the Hendrick cars have at least some speed at this track type.
Byron comes with risk because he tends to qualify well, and his salary got boosted up to $9,500. But when a top-five finish is within your range of outcomes, you can still pay off for DFS even without coming from the back. As such, Byron's a name we should monitor in practice, and we shouldn't cross him completely off our list even if he does happen to qualify near the front.
Chris Buescher ($7,000): Entering the weekend, there are 15 drivers who have at least three top-10 finishes in the six races at similar tracks this year. All of them except for one has a salary of $8,800 or higher. That one exception is Chris Buescher all the way down at $7,000.
The surge for Buescher didn't even get going right away as he was 18th in the first Vegas race and 20th in Texas. Since then, though, he has been top-10 in Kansas, Charlotte, and Kentucky, including a sixth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. He has shown good speed on other tracks since then, too, as he hasn't finished worse than 18th in the past 15 races. That's unreal for someone at this salary.
What's even better is that Buescher isn't someone who qualifies well, meaning that those stout finishes are coming with some solid place-differential points. He has qualified 18th or worse in all six relevant races, and if that continues this week, he'll once again be a high-upside value option.
Bubba Wallace ($5,500): When a team with minimal funding and support cranks out a third-place finish, it needs to turn some heads. That's what Bubba Wallace did last week in Indianapolis, and he validated the run with a 14th-place average running position. What does that mean for him going forward?
The one word of caution with Wallace is that the big run occurred at a big, fast track, and that's a track type where drivers in similar equipment -- Austin Dillon ($6,500) and Daniel Hemric ($6,000) have teams that are technically aligned with Wallace's -- have excelled this year. That success hasn't been apparent at the 1.5-mile tracks.
Dillon finished 10th in Chicago, and Tyler Reddick -- in a one-off ride as Dillon's teammate -- was 9th in Kansas, but the Richard Childress Racing-equipped teams have no other top-10s at the 1.5-mile tracks in this package. Wallace's best finish at this track type is 23rd, so we do have to view the Indianapolis run with a bit of skepticism.
That is not to say that we shouldn't continue to monitor Wallace. His team got additional funding back in the spring, and only two of those races at 1.5-mile tracks have come since then. Wallace even had a 20th-place average running position in Kentucky. His best average running position through the first 23 races was 20th, but he has improved upon that twice in three races since. He's a talented driver in potentially improving equipment, and because of that, we should at least keep an eye on what kind of speeds he's able to put up in practice on Friday.