Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Big Data 500
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 Data 500 in Martinsville.
Brad Keselowski (FanDuel Salary: $13,500): Brad Keselowski's championship hopes came to an end last week as he failed to advance to the Round of 8, which is always disappointing for a former champion. But that disappointment gets kicked up a notch when you realize that Martinsville was the next race on the schedule as it would have presented Keselowski a chance to punch his ticket to the championship race.
Keselowski was unstoppable here in the spring, getting out front early and leading a whopping 446 laps en route to victory. It was his second win in the past five Martinsville races, and he has led 100 or more laps three times in that span. Keselowski has finished outside the top five just once in the past seven Martinsville races, so even if he didn't win here, he would have positioned himself well to advance on points.
Although that shot is gone, it shouldn't alter the way we view Keselowski this weekend. He can now forego points and just focus on winning the race, a luxury the remaining playoff drivers don't have. Keselowski deserves to be treated as one of the favorites to play spoiler this weekend.
Clint Bowyer ($10,500): Like Keselowski, Clint Bowyer was another driver lopped off prior to the Round of 8, meaning his championship hopes are dust. His history here is strong enough, though, where we should still be in on him at $10,500.
Bowyer always used to be decent at Martinsville, but moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 seemed to help him find another gear. He was in the top 10 here in both races that year, and he followed that up with a win in the 2018 spring race. Bowyer led 215 laps in that one, so the win was far from a fluke. Bowyer's average running position has been ninth or better in three straight trips.
Bowyer's being eliminated is not really an indictment of his current form, which is actually pretty solid, too. He has had a top-13 average running position in five straight races and eight of the past nine, and one of the plus runs was in Richmond, the most recent race at a short, flat track. Bowyer's one of the mid-range plays capable of generating upside by leading laps, so as long as he's fast in practice, he's not off the board even if he does start near the front.
Aric Almirola ($7,700): Bowyer isn't the only SHR car to run well here recently. His teammates, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez ($7,400) have done so, as well. Let's cover both of them here given how cheap they are relative to Bowyer and top dog Kevin Harvick ($12,500).
Almirola was having success at this track even before joining SHR, and given his equipment in those days, it's a fairly shiny endorsement of his skills here. Since joining SHR in 2018, Almirola's finishes have been 14th, 11th, and 9th, and he has had a top-nine average running position each of the past two. That's not dominance, but for someone below $8,000, you'll happily take it.
Almirola has had other strong runs on short, flat tracks this year, which should up our interest in him. He had a ninth-place average running position in New Hampshire, and one of his two top-fives this year came in Phoenix. He seems to have skills when the banking drops down, so with his salary being as low as it has been in a long time, this is a good weekend to snag Almirola even if he doesn't qualify all that poorly.
Daniel Suarez ($7,400): Suarez's history at Martinsville isn't as extensive as Almirola's because he hasn't been in the Cup Series as long. But his recent history is good enough for us to consider him as a plus in the value section.
Suarez enters this weekend riding back-to-back top-10 finishes at Martinsville, one with Joe Gibbs Racing and the other with Stewart-Haas this spring. His average running position was in the top 15 both times, and he had a 15th-place average running position in the fall race of his rookie season, as well.
The bigger appeal for Suarez may actually be his current form, though that's not to downplay his encouraging track history. Issues in three of the past four races have masked strong performances by Suarez, who has posted a top-15 average running position in nine of the past 10 races (and finished 14th in the lone race his average running position was worse than that). Suarez is due for some positive regression, and while his floor isn't as high as Almirola's, Suarez likely has the more desirable ceiling.
Austin Dillon ($6,300): There are several tempting bargain-bin options this weekend, and we'll touch on a few more in the current-form section. Two of them, though, are the Dillon brothers with Austin Dillon at $6,300 and Ty Dillon at $5,000. Ty has a pair of top-15s here in the past two races, so there's plenty to like there. But Austin is only a hair cheaper and definitively has the equipment edge.
Of Austin's 11 career Cup Series top-fives, two have come in Martinsville. Those two races were in 2016 and 2017, and we generally don't want to dig that far back in track history, but Dillon had a strong run this spring, as well, finishing 11th. That 11th-place finish came with a 12th-place average running position, the best for anybody who enters this weekend with a salary lower than $7,000.
Dillon's overall record on short, flat tracks this year is disappointing, meaning that we don't want to go crazy and load up on him if he's starting near the front of the field. But in addition to the strong run in Martinsville, he also notched a season-best sixth-place finish in Richmond. As such, Dillon is one of several value options we should consider if he qualifies somewhere near the middle of the pack.
Kyle Busch ($15,000): Kyle Busch's history at Martinsville is unreal. He hasn't finished outside the top five here since DeMarco Murray was on the Dallas Cowboys (2014), and he has led 180 or more laps in three of the past seven Martinsville races. He's the favorite entering the weekend because of that history. But his current form is a bit more spotty, so do we need to be skeptical of what he has done here in the past?
The June Pocono race was the 14th race of the 2019 Cup Series season, and Busch got his fourth win of the year there. In 18 races since, he has precisely zero trips to victory lane while all of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have been fixtures there. That's a bit of a daunting streak if we're going to fork over $15,000 for a guy.
Things have been trending in the right direction for Busch, though. He's coming off a third-place finish in Kansas and was second in Richmond, which bodes well for this track type. Busch hasn't been great, but he has been good enough to show that a win is still firmly within his range of outcomes, and Martinsville could be just what he needs to tap back into that upside.
Alex Bowman ($9,000): Back in the day, Hendrick Motorsports used to mop up at Martinsville. Both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson ($9,200) took turns obliterating the field here. Outside of a strong run by Chase Elliott ($13,000) back in the spring, those days seem to have come and gone. But we probably shouldn't entirely write off the Hendrick cars just yet, including Alex Bowman.
Bowman's out of the playoff hunt now, but that's largely because of a wreck in Talladega. He was 3rd and 11th in the other 2 races in the second round, and he has 3 top-10s and 2 top-5s in 6 playoff races this year. Those three top-10s have all come on wildly different track types, which means he's not simply specializing in one area. He's just having a good season, and it has kicked back into gear of late.
The problem is that all the non-Elliott Hendrick cars struggled in the spring. Bowman was the best of the rest in 14th, but both Johnson and William Byron ($8,500) were outside the top 20. As such, we should put extra stock in what these cars do in practice on Saturday. Elliott showed the equipment can compete here, and if the other drivers were to adopt his setup, they could surge in the return trip to the track. Given Bowman's solid form and that he was ahead of Johnson and Byron in the spring, we should be most willing to buy into him if he's fast in practice, but the same line of thought would also translate to Johnson and Byron.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,000): As mentioned in this week's track preview, we should put extra emphasis on track history this weekend relative to what we do at other tracks. Martinsville is a unique spot, and some drivers just don't know how to get around it. Matt DiBenedetto may be an exception to that line of thought.
In nine career races at Martinsville, DiBenedetto's average finish is 31.6. His 20th-place run here in the spring was the first time he has finished better than 29th, and his 19th-place average running position was his best by 10 whole spots. He has been hot garbage here for his career.
With that said, the fact that his best run came in his first with Leavine Family Racing is noteworthy. Since that Martinsville race, the team has really hit its stride. He's up to seven top-10s for the season, and one of those was at a flat, short track in New Hampshire. Prior to his fifth-place run there, DiBenedetto had never finished better than 28th at the track. As such, he's one of the drivers in this field for whom we need to throw out track history and put way more weight on his current form. DiBenedetto's current form says he's someone we can target at $7,000.
Ryan Newman ($6,800): Just a few weeks ago, Ryan Newman was on the edge of advancing to the second round of the playoffs, but issues in the closing laps at the Charlotte roval ended his playoff hopes. Now, his salary is down to $6,800. That's understandable with the structure of salaries this week and his recent poor finishes, but it also presents a good window to buy low.
The last time the Cup Series was at a short, flat track, Newman had one of his more impressive runs of the year. He finished fifth in Richmond and had a ninth-place average running position, tying his best mark of 2019. In five races at short, flat tracks this year, Newman has three top-10s and another 12th-place finish, and it doesn't get much better than that in this salary range.
Newman's one poor run on this track type this year did come in Martinsville, where he finished 23rd. But in last year's fall race, he finished eighth, and he was also eighth in the spring of 2017. Newman's recent finishes are definitely far from encouraging, but they shouldn't be enough to push us off him at such a low salary.
Chris Buescher ($5,500): Chris Buescher's history at Martinsville isn't as bad as DiBenedetto's, but it's certainly not his best track. However, he does have finishes of 11th and 13th here in the past, and his teammate, Ryan Preece ($5,500), finished 12th here in the spring. That should be enough to put Buescher on the map at $5,500.
Buescher had been in a bit of a rut entering last week's Kansas race, but he rebounded with a 13th-place finish. It was his first top-15 since the playoffs started and gets him back on track to be viable for DFS. He was 15th in New Hampshire earlier in the year and had a 13th-place average running position at Richmond, so Buescher can get around this track type well enough to be in play.
Among the super cheap drivers below $6,000 (Buescher, Preece, and Ty Dillon), Buescher seems to stand out most. He has the much preferred current form, and his spikes have been similar to those of Preece and Dillon here. But all three are options should you need to punt in order to jam more upside into your lineup.