Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
For the first time in 2020, the NASCAR Cup Series is going to a track with parallels to a venue they've already visited during the season.
This weekend's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 will take place in Atlanta, the second stop at 1.5-mile track in 2020. The other was in Las Vegas, and although there are significant differences between the tracks, looking back at Vegas should give us a good idea of who is primed to compete on Sunday.
(UPDATE: Practice has been cancelled for this weekend's race, and the race has been moved up to Saturday at 2 pm Eastern.)
As noted in the track preview, practice times should hold a lot of weight in our minds this weekend given the limited sample at relevant tracks for each driver with their current team. This means our thoughts on drivers are going to change rapidly once we get that data from Friday's sessions, and we'll have a full DFS primer after qualifying to account for that.
But with what we learned at Las Vegas and what we've seen in Atlanta previously, which drivers should be on our radar prior to practice and qualifying? Let's check it out.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): There is a reason that Kevin Harvick is the standout favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook, sitting down at +450. It's because he consistently contends for wins when the series makes its annual voyage to Atlanta.
Harvick's fondness of the track started early. Back in 2001, in just his third career race after filling the seat vacated by the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Harvick validated the faith Richard Childress had shown in him by edging Jeff Gordon in one of the closest and most iconic finishes in NASCAR history.
We shouldn't put a lot of stock in track history from three years ago, much less 19. But Harvick has surged at Atlanta in his later years, as well.
Harvick has managed to lead at least 100 laps in six of the past eight Atlanta races, including in getting a win two years ago. Harvick's average running position at the track hasn't been outside the top four since 2013, and it hasn't been outside the top 10 since 2010.
This is Harvick's age-44 season, so it was fair to expect some falloff this year. But he has still flexed some muscle early on, holding a third-place average running position in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. The betting markets may be a bit optimistic on Harvick given his advanced age, but with what we've seen so far in 2020, it's superbly reasonable to view him as one of the top DFS options going in.
Brad Keselowski ($12,500): Brad Keselowski is the opposite of Harvick: he doesn't lead a ton of laps in Atlanta, but he's out front when it matters most.
Keselowski has won two of the past three Atlanta races, and he was runner-up in the other. He did that without ever leading more than 40 laps in any of those races, and his average running position was just ninth in his win last year. It has been a long-running strength of Penske Racing cars to improve as the race goes along, and Keselowski has provided perfect examples of that at this track.
There were some questions around Keselowski heading into the year given that he had a new crew chief and was entering the final year of his contract with Penske. Those questions haven't gone away with both Joey Logano ($13,500) and Ryan Blaney ($11,000) outperforming Keselowski, and Keselowski's past strength at this track should also boost those two guys in our mind entering the weekend. But Keselowski certainly hasn't been bad this year, and he often finds ways to win even if he's not the fastest car in the field. There's value in that at $12,500.
Kyle Larson ($10,500): Atlanta is a track where tires wear quickly, leading to more slipping and sliding than you'll see at other spots, especially with the higher-downforce package. It should be no surprise, then, that Kyle Larson has performed well here.
Larson is a driver known for his car control, which is beneficial at tracks with heavy tire wear. He used that to pump out a second-place finish in the 2017 Atlanta race, and he led 142 laps in last year's race. Larson has had a top-eight average running position in three straight trips to Atlanta.
Larson hasn't shown massive upside in 2020, leading just two laps thus far. He has, though, cranked out a top-five and three top-10s in four races, and he had a top-10 average running position in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. Given that Larson's equipment isn't on par with the Penske or Hendrick Motorsports cars, we should put a lot of weight on his times in practice to see if he has the speed to push for a win. If Larson does spring up in practice, though, he has shown that he can contend at a track like this that plays so well to his strengths.
Kurt Busch ($9,000): The other driver who tends to get a lift at tracks that require extra car control is actually Larson's teammate, Kurt Busch. He's a bit cheaper than Larson, as well, which doesn't hurt his appeal.
Busch enters Atlanta with a streak of four straight finishes of eighth or better at the track, including a third last year, his first Atlanta race with Chip Ganassi Racing. Busch's average running position was sixth in that race, his third time in the past four years with a mark of sixth or better (he had a ninth-place average running position in the other).
Busch was also solid at other 1.5-mile tracks last year, including a win in Kentucky. He added top-five runs in Kansas and Las Vegas and had seven top-10s in 11 races. Busch has finished third and sixth the past two races, and he was fast in practice at Las Vegas three weeks ago before having issues during the race. Even if Busch winds up qualifying well, he has enough finishing upside to justify using him at this salary in DFS.
Clint Bowyer ($8,200): Another elder statesman, Clint Bowyer seems to have a handle on the heavy-wear tracks, as exhibited recently in Atlanta.
Bowyer joined Stewart-Haas Racing prior to the 2017 season, and he has been speedy at this track ever since. He has had a top-11 average running position in all three races, and he has cranked out a top-five finish each of the past two years. His average running position was eighth or better in both of those, showing he didn't fluke his way into the quality run.
Bowyer has gotten off to a rocky start this year with a top-15 average running position just once in four races. Still, he has finished in the top six twice, including a fifth-place run last week in Phoenix, another track with heavy tire wear. Bowyer had three top-fives and six top-10s at the 1.5-mile tracks last year, so while we need to view him as having less upside than Busch, we should likely put the two of them in a similar bucket.
Martin Truex Jr. ($13,000): One of the bigger stories to start 2020 has been the lack of top-end speed for the Joe Gibbs Racing cars. Since Denny Hamlin's ($11,500) win in Daytona, the four cars have combined to lead just 16 laps, and it's good to be skeptical of them in Atlanta as a result. Martin Truex Jr. may be the one exception.
Truex was a legit contender for the win in both Las Vegas and Fontana. In Vegas, he had an eighth-place average running position, but a late scrape with the wall forced him to settle for a 20th-place finish. Then in Fontana, despite starting dead last due to inspection issues, Truex was running up in the top five most of the day until a slow pit stop pushed him back into the teens. Truex had a top-10 average running position in both -- the only JGR driver to do so -- meaning we might want to cut him a bit more slack than the others in this camp.
In 2019, Truex was largely stronger on the flatter 1.5-mile tracks than the banked ones (Atlanta is in the latter category). Still, he was runner-up in the Atlanta race, and he led 116 laps en route to a win in Charlotte. He definitely wasn't bad on this track type, and he's still a top-level talent as a driver. If you're looking to buy low on JGR, Truex seems to be the desired route for doing so.
Chase Elliott ($12,000): Although he doesn't have a win yet in 2020, Chase Elliott has arguably been the class of the field thus far. He tops David Smith's central speed rankings at The Athletic through four races, and we should expect that speed to carry over to Atlanta.
The big cause for faith in Elliott stems from what he did in Las Vegas. There, Elliott led 70 laps and had a seventh-place average running position. A late wreck masked that, but he showed that Hendrick's gains at the 1.5-mile tracks from 2019 were carrying over and being amplified in 2020.
It doesn't hurt that Elliott has been strong elsewhere, as well. He finished fourth in Fontana before leading 93 laps in Phoenix, a race he could have won had he not cut a tire during a green-flag run. Even though those tracks are super different from Atlanta, it illustrates the strength of Hendrick early in 2020.
Although Elliott didn't win on a 1.5-mile track last year, he did occasionally put up big runs. He had four top-fives in 11 races, including a runner-up in the playoff Kansas race. With the way the first four races have gone, it's necessary to boost Elliott even from there and view him as one of the top options prior to practice and qualifying.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,700): There are 10 drivers who have had a top-14 average running position in all three of the non-Daytona races this year. Six of them are the six most expensive drivers on FanDuel this week. Three others are between $10,500 and $9,500. The 10th is Matt DiBenedetto all the way down at $7,700.
The most important run in that stretch was in Las Vegas. DiBenedetto started 19th there and was mired in traffic for a lot of the race. He gradually worked his way forward, though, and stayed out during a late caution to move up to third place. He parlayed a great restart into a runner-up finish, tying the best run of DiBenedetto's career. He has had a top-12 average running position each of the past two weeks, as well, so even if his runner-up was aided by strategy, it didn't completely come out of nowhere.
Given that run in Las Vegas -- and the strength of the equipment that Wood Brothers Racing gets from Penske -- it's surprising to see DiBenedetto at 70/1 on FanDuel Sportsbook. He seems unlikely to close at a number that long with how fast he was in practice at Las Vegas. DiBenedetto's not a bad longshot bet, and his salary seems to sell him a bit short, too. Just keep on using him until the salary reflects his new equipment.
Austin Dillon ($7,500): The past two races have been disappointing for Austin Dillon with finishes of 24th and 36th, respectively. Considering how strong his teammate, Tyler Reddick ($7,000), was in both, that's a letdown. But Dillon has shown improvement on the 1.5-mile tracks of late, putting him back on our radar this weekend.
Since the start of the playoffs last year, the Cup Series has had five races at 1.5-mile tracks. Dillon has finished 13th or better in four of those, including a pair of top-10 finishes. One was in Homestead, where he had a 10th-place average running position and an eighth-place finish. The other was a fourth-place finish three weeks ago in Las Vegas, his third career top-five on a 1.5-mile track.
This is a good indicator for Dillon this weekend, and it's also a plus for Reddick. Both drivers have shown upside at one point or another this year, so the equipment is at least not holding them back. Both should be on our list as potential value plays for Sunday's race.
Chris Buescher ($6,500): Four races into his return to Roush-Fenway Racing, it looks like the luster of Chris Buescher's new ride has already worn off. He's down to $6,500, back where he was last year with JTG-Daugherty Racing. That may allow us to buy low on Buescher this weekend.
It's important to remember that both Buescher and Roush-Fenway Racing had success independent of each other at tracks like this last year. Buescher was ninth in Atlanta, one of four top-10 finishes at 1.5-mile tracks for the season. His predecessor in this car, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,200), was sixth or better twice, and teammate Ryan Newman had three top-10s. We should view Buescher as being capable of duplicating that now that the two are paired together.
This line of thinking also applies to Newman's fill-in, Ross Chastain ($6,400). Chastain has struggled to close out races thus far, but he has shown some speed at times. Both Buescher and Chastain have the potential to net us a top-10 finish, which is hyper valuable for drivers down in this salary tier.