Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Bluegreen Vacations 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 Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,000): Kyle Busch needs to consider stage points this weekend, something that could impact his finishing position if it alters his pit strategy. That puts a bit of a dent in Busch's floor. But his ceiling is likely higher than anybody else in the field.
Busch has been dominant at Phoenix, winning 2 straight here and leading at least 114 laps in 4 of the past 5 races. Busch has finished seventh or better in eight straight, tossing in a pair of runner-up finishes and a third in that time. Busch is great everywhere, but over the past couple years, you could argue this has been one of his better tracks.
It would be understandable if you had concerns around Busch's current form given that he hasn't won since June, but his form is good enough to lessen the concerns there. He led 202 laps and finished second in Richmond, which is very similar to Phoenix, and he also led 118 laps in New Hampshire, another short, flat track. Busch could clinch a spot in the championship race with a win, and we should likely have him at the top of our list entering the weekend, even when we weigh the downsides of his potentially valuing stage points.
Chase Elliott ($12,500): For Chase Elliott, points aren't a concern. That's good for us from a DFS perspective. It's bad for Chase, though, because the only reason that points don't matter is that he's so far behind the cutline that he needs a win to advance. Thankfully, he does tend to run well in Phoenix and on this track type.
Elliott started his career in Phoenix off in blistering fashion, posting four top-10s in his first five races, including a pair of top-fives. His worst finish in that stretch was a 12th in 2017, but that came after he led 106 laps and actually won the second stage. An early black flag for jumping the start put Elliott in a deep hole in this year's spring race, though he was able to dig his way out for a 12th-place finish.
Elliott has struggled this year on short, flat tracks, outside of a runner-up finish in the first Martinsville race. But last year's Phoenix fall race was his only run out of seven on this track type where he failed to notch a top-10, and he had four top-fives, as well. We shouldn't assume Elliott can no longer run on this track type just because of some bad luck this year, meaning he deserves to be on our list as a potential lap-leader, depending on where he qualifies.
Aric Almirola ($8,500): In general, Aric Almirola is a steady driver but not one who possesses much upside. His top-10 odds are respectable, but asking for a top-five might be a bit ambitious.
Things are a bit different in Phoenix, though.
Almirola has seven top-fives since joining Stewart-Haas Racing at the beginning of 2018. Two of those have come in Phoenix with a pair of fourth-place finishes, one of which was this spring. He also led 26 laps in that one. Almirola has two additional top-fives at short, flat tracks (one in Richmond and one in New Hampshire) in his time at SHR, meaning we do need to give him an upside boost when he's racing at this track type.
It also helps with Almirola that he has been running well recently. He is coming off a runner-up finish in Texas, and he was pushing for another top-five in Martinsville the week before that until he and Busch got tangled together. Almirola is cheap enough where you don't need a ton for him to pay off, so he's a driver we can consider in DFS pretty much no matter where he starts.
Daniel Suarez ($7,500): Daniel Suarez is volatile both in his current form and his track history, meaning there's always risk in using him even at a reduced salary. However, the highs in both departments have been high enough to justify continued looks his direction.
Starting with Phoenix, Suarez has finished on the lead lap in only three of his five races here. But in two of those, he cranked out a top-10 finish, one in 2017 and the other in 2018.
Recently, four of Suarez's past six races have resulted in finishes of 30th or worse. But one of the exceptions was a third-place finish last week in which he led 25 laps. He was ninth in the second Richmond race and had a top-10 in Martinsville earlier in the year, as well. Suarez isn't nearly as steady on this track type as Almirola, making him harder to trust if he does qualify well. Still, there's enough juice here where we should give Suarez consideration despite the disappointing outputs.
Ryan Newman ($7,000): Ryan Newman's most recent win in the Cup Series came on this track back in 2017. That win, though, was a bit fluky as he had just an 11th-place average running position for the day, meaning we shouldn't assume he has similar upside this weekend. With that being noted, Newman has been good enough since then to still be of note.
Including that win, Newman has had an average running position of 13th or better in five straight Phoenix races. One of those came this year, and it was his third-best average running position the entire season. So even once we lower the value in his win, Newman still appears to be someone who gets a boost at this track.
One of Newman's two races with a better average running position than that Phoenix race came at the beginning of the playoffs in Richmond. He had a ninth-place average running position there and turned it into a fifth-place finish. He was 10th in Martinsville and 7th in New Hampshire, meaning that Newman -- like Almirola -- is someone we need to adjust up when the series goes to a short, flat track.
Martin Truex Jr. ($14,500): Unlike his teammates, Busch and Denny Hamlin ($13,500), Martin Truex Jr. can just gun for a win this weekend. His ticket to the championship race has already been punched. With how dominant Truex has been on similar tracks this year, the odds Truex is in contention are high.
The most recent race at such a track was in Martinsville, and nobody could touch Truex there. He led a whopping 464 laps en route to winning. He also swept the Richmond races, leading more than 100 laps in both. He has been the flat-track king in 2019.
You could poke holes in Truex by noting that he has never won in Phoenix, and he has led only 112 laps across 27 career races here. But he had also never won in either Richmond or Martinsville entering this season, so if we had excluded him based on track history there, we would have whiffed on blow-up spots. Truex could have his eyes set on Homestead already, so make sure he is competitive in practice, but there's plenty to love about Truex entering the weekend.
Ryan Blaney ($12,000): Ryan Blaney is another driver who could skew toward scooping up stage points this weekend, positioning himself to advance should either of Busch or Joey Logano ($11,500) falter. That's a slight downgrade to his floor. Like Busch, though, there's still plenty of upside to help offset that.
In eight races since the start of the playoffs, Blaney has three top-fives, including a win in Talladega. One of the other top-fives was in Martinsville, the most recent race at a short, flat track, where he had a third-place average running position.
Blaney also flexed some muscle in the first Phoenix race, starting on the pole, leading 94 laps, and finishing third. He was then fourth in both the first Martinsville race and the lone trip to New Hampshire. Blaney's capable of racking up wins and top-fives, and even with his salary up to $12,000, we should seek that out.
William Byron ($10,500): When Truex won in Martinsville, he had a hungry pup nipping at his heels the final few laps. That stalker was William Byron, trying to get his first career victory, and he may get another crack at it in Phoenix.
Running well in Martinsville is clearly a good sign for Byron, but he had been showing signs of life for a while before that, too. Martinsville is one of five top-fives in the past 17 races, and Byron had none for his entire career before that mark. He's showing similar upside as his teammate Alex Bowman ($8,000) before Bowman got his first career win earlier in the year.
Overall, Byron has been just decent on short, flat tracks this year with the Martinsville race being his lone top-10. But he was also ninth in Phoenix in last year's fall race, and he was competitive in both Richmond and New Hampshire earlier in the season. We should keep buying into Byron until the market latches onto how good his upside is.
Jimmie Johnson ($7,800): Last week continued an annoying trend for Jimmie Johnson: he shows speed, runs well, and fails to capitalize with a good finish. It's frustrating, and it means we can't always trust him even when he's fast. But it also shows he still has a ceiling.
Johnson started back in 23rd but quickly worked his way forward and actually took the lead only 99 laps in. He held that for 40 laps, which is a strong showing. He eventually slid into the wall and could not regain speed, pushing him to his third did-not-finish in four races.
In the races that Johnson has finished recently, though, he has put up strong showings. He has four straight top-10s in those outings, and he was 11th the race before that. Johnson was top-12 in both Richmond races and finished eighth in Phoenix earlier in the year, so even with the wrecks, he's someone we should strongly consider at such a cheap salary.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,000): For the entire second half of the season, we've been talking about how we want to avoid Matt DiBenedetto at equipment-heavy tracks and target him when the driver has more say. This week, we're back on the DiBenedetto train.
It has been encouraging recently that DiBenedetto has gotten better results at the faster tracks, posting finishes of 15th and 14th at Kansas and Texas, respectively. But he has had higher highs when there has been more off-throttle time, notching 8 top-11 finishes in the past 19 races, all of which came on tracks where equipment matters a bit less. That includes a fifth-place run in New Hampshire, which bodes well for this weekend.
DiBendetto didn't light it up in Richmond or Martinsville, the two more recent flat tracks, but he was far from a disappointment. He had a 14th-place average running position in both races, which you'll happily take at this salary. DiBendetto is a quality punt option, especially if he qualifies poorly.