Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Bank of America ROVAL 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 Bank of America ROVAL 400.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): We've got only one race of data at the Charlotte roval, so we're changing things up and looking at how drivers have performed broadly at road courses. But whether it's at the roval specifically or at all spots the Cup Series turns right, it's clear that Martin Truex Jr. is a monster.
Truex has won three of the past seven road-course races, and he has finished second in two others. That's impressive to begin with. But he could have won the other two races, too.
The first was in Sonoma in 2017. There, Truex won the opening stage and led 25 of the first 86 laps, but then his engine expired. The other race was at the debut for the Charlotte roval, and Truex was leading there on the final lap until this happened.
There's a world in which Truex wins all seven of those races. That's absolutely insane.
This is before we even mention that Truex has also won two straight races coming into this weekend's contest, so the current form is clearly off the charts. Truex needs to be viewed as the favorite to sweep the opening round of the playoffs as we enter the weekend.
Chase Elliott ($13,000): Truex's two runner-up finishes both came in Watkins Glen the past two years, and both of them came as he finished behind Chase Elliott. We just have to decide whether that's something he can pull off at the roval, too.
Elliott was pretty solid in last year's roval race, finishing sixth with a ninth-place average running position. The guy who wrecked Truex at the end of the race -- Jimmie Johnson ($9,500) -- is also Elliott's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, which means they have the right equipment to whip it around this course. Elliott adds in a fourth-place run at Sonoma last year before having issues this year, so it seems as if his prowess does span beyond Watkins Glen even if that is the location of both of his wins.
Elliott hasn't been blowing peoples' doors off recently, but he certainly hasn't been bad. Since that win in Watkins Glen, he has four top-10s and two top-fives in six races, and his average running position has been eighth or better in three of those races. He's not in the same tier as Truex, but Elliott's certainly a legit contender again.
Ryan Blaney ($10,500): Earlier in his career, Ryan Blaney wasn't known as a road racer with his best finish at a road course being eighth through his first six races. Then he was the guy who pounced and won when Truex and Johnson wrecked late in last year's roval race, and he has carried that over into 2019.
Blaney enters this weekend with top-fives in both road course races so far this year. He was third in Sonoma and fifth in Watkins Glen, and he backed up the Sonoma run with a sixth-place average running position, the third-best mark of anybody in the field. He has shown that he didn't just luck his way into the win in 2018; he's a legit contender on this track type.
The current form is there, too, with Blaney having plenty of solid runs recently. Since Watkins Glen, he has had a top-10 average running position in four of six races, and those four runs have come on three separate track types. Blaney is one of the drivers who needs to worry about playoff positioning, which could alter his strategy in a way that doesn't help us for DFS, but he figures to have some speed this weekend.
Daniel Hemric ($6,500): This will be Daniel Hemric's last road-course race with Richard Childress Racing as he is out of a ride for 2020. His first road race with the team came here last year, and Hemric put on a bit of a show.
Despite it being just a one-time gig, Hemric flashed plenty of speed. He was top-five in single-lap speed in two of three practices, and he parlayed that into an 11th-place starting position. He finished 23rd there, but he came back in Sonoma this year and finished 15th.
This comes after Hemric was also stout on road courses in the Xfinity Series. In six Xfinity races on road courses, Hemric notched three top-five finishes, including a career-best second-place run at Mid-Ohio in 2017. He's not someone we can trust if he starts too high in the order, but he's certainly a value play should he slip in qualifying.
Michael McDowell ($4,500): Each time the Cup Series goes to a road course, we are legally obligated to mention that Michael McDowell used to teach drivers how to race road courses, including guys like William Byron ($7,700). That would seem to speak well of his abilities, and it has translated into solid results for someone with this low of a salary. (UPDATE: McDowell is ill this weekend and is questionable to race on Sunday. Check his status on Sunday before using him to make sure he will be driving the car.)
In the past seven road-course races, McDowell's worst finish is 25th, and he has finished worse than 18th just twice. He was 18th in the Charlotte roval race last year, and he pumped out a 16th-place finish in Watkins Glen this year.
The one issue with McDowell is that his skills translate into qualifying, as well, as his worst starting spot in that stretch is 22nd. Ideally, we'd like him to be starting a bit deeper in the pack so that he could scoop some place-differential spots along the way. As such, McDowell's biggest appeal is if he does manage to slip in qualifying or if multiple studs qualify in the back, forcing us to spend down to get extra wiggle room.
Erik Jones ($9,000): Points racing isn't a concern for Erik Jones; if he doesn't win, his shot at winning the championship is toast after last week's disqualification. But a win isn't entirely outside his range of outcomes.
Jones has shown that amount of upside recently, winning in Darlington and posting top-fives in four of six races before that. There have been plenty of lows in there, too, as he has three straight finishes of 36th or worse, but one of those was his disqualification last week. He finished fourth in that race and had an eighth-place average running position before his race was wiped out, so he's still running well even if the finishes don't show it.
We've seen some of this same muscle on road courses, as well. In seven career road-course races in the Cup Series, Jones has five top-10s and two top-fives, including a fourth in Watkins Glen this year. Jones is going to do whatever it takes to notch a win on Sunday, which could make him risky, but his ability to disregard stage points should also be a mark in his favor from a DFS perspective.
Clint Bowyer ($8,200): Clint Bowyer is another one of the drivers who has to worry about snagging stage points as he is currently on the outside looking in for the next round of the playoffs. That could make him a bit risky, but he still seems cheaper than he should be.
Bowyer had a stretch this summer where he finished 20th or worse seven times in 11 races, almost forcing him to miss the playoffs entirely. But he turned things around in Bristol with a seventh-place finish and now has four top-10s in the past five races. He has backed up those top-10s with a top-10 average running position in each race, showing that he's clearly not lucking his way into the good outings.
Bowyer's also a skilled road racer, which figures to help him here. He has four top-fives in the past seven road-course races, tied for second behind Truex for the most in that stretch. Bowyer doesn't tend to push for victories with no laps led in that time, but he's a solid driver who tends to produce steady finishes. One of those on Sunday would go a long way toward pushing him into the next round.
Matt DiBenedetto ($8,000): Matt DiBenedetto didn't quite continue his top-10 streak last week at tracks where there's additional off-throttle time, coming home in 14th spot. But he proved once again that this recent run of his is legit.
In that Richmond race, DiBenedetto had a 14th-place average running position. He has now had an average running position of 14th or better five times in the past nine races, all of which came at tracks with heavy off-throttle time, helping to mask his lack of high-end equipment. It wasn't a top-10 finish, but it was still a good run.
This big surge for DiBenedetto actually started at a road course as he finished fourth in Sonoma earlier in the summer. He followed that up with a sixth-place run in Watkins Glen, and this makes sense; both are tracks where the driver has a bit extra say in how things play out. That's the case again this weekend, meaning he should be someone we monitor closely, especially if he doesn't start at the front.
William Byron ($7,700): Of all the playoff bubble drivers, William Byron is the one most likely to prioritize stage points over finishing position this week. We've already seen his crew chief, Chad Knaus, pull this exact strategy once this year back in Sonoma, and it helped Byron to a great points day, but he also finished back in 19th. Even while acknowledging that risk, he's still someone who needs to be on our radar.
Part of the reason that Byron was incentivized to stay out in Sonoma was that he was already running so well to begin with. He started second and led laps early, so by staying out, they gained 10 points in the first stage and eight in the second. That shows that Byron does have skill on this track type.
Byron has shown upside since then, too, with three top-fives and six top-10s in 12 races since Sonoma. In Watkins Glen, he started second but was wrecked by Kyle Busch, ruined his nose in trying to retaliate, and wound up finishing 21st. Byron's appeal goes up the further back he starts because it decreases the odds he'll stay out for stage points, but he's someone we should keep a close eye on as a potential darkhorse contender on Sunday.
Daniel Suarez ($7,000): Because Daniel Suarez didn't make the playoffs, he doesn't have to worry about stage points. That's a bummer for him, but it means we get another value play who has at least some skill on road courses who will be able to focus on just the finish.
Suarez's time in the Cup Series on road courses has been very hit-or-miss. He has a pair of top-fives (both at Watkins Glen) but has failed to finish better than 15th in any of the other five races. He did, though, log top-fives in the Xfinity Series at both Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake, which gives a bit of a boost to our views of him.
The bigger appeal in Suarez, though, may actually be his current form. Even though he did miss out on the playoffs, he has had a top-15 average running position in six straight races, which is tremendous for someone in this salary tier. He has three top-10s and a top-five in that stretch, so Suarez seems to be a safe outlet for finishing upside when you're hunting for someone in this tier.