NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Coca-Cola 600
Today is not a day for messing around. Qualifying just wrapped up, and you've got (at most) two and a half hours to fill out lineups before lock at 6 pm Eastern for the NASCAR Cup Series' Coca-Cola 600.
Let's get this show on the road.
Before looking at individual drivers, it's good to get a refresher on the ideal strategies for the race, which you can find in this week's track preview and in audio form on The Heat Check Fantasy Podcast. For a look at each driver's current form and track history, this week's stat sheet can help you identify additional drivers who could fit your builds.
Which drivers stand out now that we know who's starting where? Let's check it out.
As mentioned in the track preview, our studs should either start at the front or be deployed in a "wave" manner. This means if we decide to use a driver starting further back, we should pair him with someone starting at the front who can lead laps early. As such, we're going to break this section into those two groups: the drivers who can lead laps early and those who could get place-differential points and compete late.
The top "wave one" driver at the front of the pack -- by a decent margin -- is Chase Elliott ($11,500). Elliott will start third and is the fastest driver starting at the front of the field. This could give him the leeway to dominate the opening stage.
Elliott has had a crazy fast car all season long; he just hasn't always gotten the finishes to show for it. He has had a top-nine average running position in five straight races and has led 70 or more laps twice in that span, so Elliott has arguably the best laps-led projection in the entire field.
The other driver starting right at the front who is in play would be Jimmie Johnson ($10,700). Johnson had speed in Darlington, almost winning the opening stage of the first race before he crashed while leading. Johnson is starting second and has shown speed at various points this year. He's ranked below Elliott but is another option for this build.
After them, things drop off to the drivers starting seventh through ninth: Joey Logano ($11,300), Martin Truex Jr. ($13,700), and Brad Keselowski ($11,000). All three should have the speed to move up into the top five quickly, and they've all got the upside to win. If you want, you can pair these drivers with Elliott or Johnson because there are enough laps in the race for multiple drivers starting at the front to generate upside. From a ranking perspective, Truex is first in my model, followed by Logano and then Keselowski.
In wave two, there are two main objects of our affection: Kevin Harvick ($12,500) and Ryan Blaney ($10,200).
Harvick is starting 22nd after a lackluster qualifying run. He has had troubles at times making passes in this new package, so he's not a lock to move through the crowd in a hurry. However, he did finish third in Darlington even after starting 20th, so the poor starting position is unlikely to hold him down too long. Harvick has an immense floor and the path to a big ceiling, as well.
As for Blaney, he'll start 26th, and he's a good deal cheaper than Harvick. Blaney struggled in Darlington, but that's generally one of his worst tracks. Earlier in the year, Blaney almost won in both Las Vegas and Fontana, and he had an eighth-place average running position in Charlotte last year. If you want to get place-differential upside without spending up for Harvick, Blaney is the optimal route and one of the best cash-game options in the field.
Kyle Busch ($14,000), Alex Bowman ($12,000), and Denny Hamlin ($11,800) don't fit nicely into the wave one/wave two discussion, but all three are still very much in play. They're starting far enough back where they can pick up five or so place-differential points, but they're also close enough to the front to contend to lead laps in the opening stage. They pair well with Elliott if you are looking to fade Harvick, and they also work alongside Harvick as long as you are okay sacrificing laps led within the first 50 or so laps.
Among this trio, Bowman is the one who stands out most once you account for his salary. He ranks second in my model (among all drivers) behind Truex and has had a top-eight average running position in four of the past five races. Pairing Bowman with Elliott also allows you to benefit in a big way if the Hendrick Motorsports speed we've seen early in this season shows up again tonight.
Let's say you really like Bowman, but you also dig Harvick and Blaney and don't want to sacrifice those opening 50 laps. Although that's a bit greedy, there's a way you can make it work. The key cog there is Kurt Busch ($9,600).
Busch will start from the pole, giving him an even better starting spot than both Elliott and Johnson. But he's also more than $1,000 cheaper than both of those guys and could -- in theory -- lead laps early. Given the speed Busch had in Darlington (he finished third on Sunday), that's not out of the question.
Using Busch would allow you to use drivers in three separate waves without completely punting anywhere in your lineup. He's a risk because he's starting so high, but this is another approach you can take to this race.
Aric Almirola ($8,300): A spin in qualifying for Aric Almirola means he'll start the race in dead last. However, he just kissed the wall and will be able to use the same car during the race. As such, he's going to be an elite play for both cash games and tournaments.
Before qualifying, Almirola was actually ranked fifth in my model thanks to the immense consistency he has had this year. He has had a top-10 average running position in three of the past four races, and he has converted those into a top-10 finish each time.
Now, Almirola gets to start in the back with massive speed under the hood. He'll be one of the more popular plays in tournaments, but it doesn't matter; he's someone on whom we should try to be overweight relative to the crowd.
Clint Bowyer ($8,500): Pivoting off of Almirola is far from a must, given the appeal he clearly has. However, you can do so without completely going off the rails from a process perspective. The route for doing so would be to use Almirola's teammate, Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer is starting in 20th position, which isn't as far back as Almirola, but it's also not at the front. This comes just a couple of days after Bowyer won the opening two stages in Darlington, and he had a top-10 average running position in both of those races.
Bowyer's likely to go overlooked thanks to both Almirola and a couple drivers we'll discuss in the next section. But he has a car that can get a top-five finish, and he's got place-differential upside, as well. If you're looking for a pivot off the chalk, they don't come much more alluring than what we've got with Bowyer.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,300): There's a lot of risk around Matt DiBenedetto for this race. DiBenedetto wrecked in qualifying and will go to a backup car. We don't know how fast his car will be during the race.
But he is worth the risk given the 33rd-place-place starting spot.
DiBenedetto has been consistent throughout his first season with Wood Brothers Racing, finishing in the top 14 and posting a top-14 average running position in all five non-Daytona races. He has the speed necessary to get a top-10 finish, and if you can get that out of a driver starting so close to the back, you're going to be a happy camper.
The other plus is that DiBenedetto doesn't need to finish as well in order to pay off. Corey LaJoie made the perfect lineup last year in Charlotte despite finishing just 12th because he started 30th. With DiBenedetto, there's the potential for him to finish even better than LaJoie did, so we can feel free to lock him in and hope the 600 miles are long enough for DiBenedetto to get his car right and move it through the field.
Cole Custer ($6,200): The one danger with getting jazzed about Cole Custer early in the week was that there was a chance he'd qualify well. But Custer will start 28th, which makes him a cash-game option if you need salary savings.
Custer is driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, giving him some of the best equipment in the entire field. That equipment hasn't translated into impressive runs yet with just one finish better than 18th, but at more of a cookie-cutter track, we have an incentive to look for drivers in Custer's mold who are cheaper and in fast cars. We get that plus the potential for place-differential upside.
As mentioned, we want access to potential lap-leaders, and that requires us to fork over some serious salary. Custer helps us get there without capping the upside of our roster.
Ryan Preece ($4,500): The driver starting directly behind Custer is Ryan Preece. Preece doesn't have equipment as good as Custer's, but it should be good enough for him to come through, especially with a salary this low.
Preece drivers for JTG-Daugherty Racing, the same team that Chris Buescher ($6,400) drove for last year when he cranked out a sixth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. Preece had a decent run of his own at a track like this last year, boasting a 17th-place average running position in Texas.
Our only race at a 1.5-mile track this year came in Las Vegas. There, Preece's current teammate -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,600) -- led 30 laps and finished third (though that was aided by pit strategy). Buescher had four top-10s at 1.5-mile tracks last year, so the equipment can get the job done. With Preece being as cheap as he is, he could allow you to shoot for a three-wave strategy even without using Kurt Busch as your wave-one driver.