Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Can-Am 500 Driver Preview
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 Can-Am 500.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Price: $14,500), Kyle Busch ($13,500), and Martin Truex Jr. ($12,500): Because all three of these drivers are strong at Phoenix, we'll still lump them together. But there is absolutely no doubt that Kevin Harvick is in a tier of his own.
Harvick's coming off a win in Texas, so you know the current form is solid, even if the win was later taken away, stripping Harvick's guaranteed spot in the championship race. His history at Phoenix should help alleviate the new-found concerns.
Harvick has nine career wins at Phoenix, more than twice as many as any other active driver. His last finish outside the top six here came a month after Joe Flacco defeated Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII. His odds to win at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook are 8/5 for a reason, and we need exposure to Harvick no matter where he starts.
Between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., it does seem like Busch holds an edge. In the past five races here, Busch has led 317 laps, more than any other driver. Truex has led just three. Busch has turned those laps led into four top-five finishes and a finish of seventh or better in each outing, making him worthy of this second slot.
Although Truex hasn't had the most success at this track specifically, he has done enough at similar tracks this year to warrant a sniff. He led 163 laps and finished 3rd at Richmond -- the most recent race at a flat, slow track -- and led 83 laps en route to a 4th-place finish at New Hampshire, the other similar track on the schedule. He's below Busch, but Truex is certainly not out of the equation when dabbling in this top group.
Denny Hamlin ($11,400): Denny Hamlin has had a win every year he has been a full-time driver in the Cup Series, dating all the way back to the 2006 season. He's winless thus far in 2018 with just two races left. Phoenix likely represents his best chance to extend that streak.
In last year's fall race, Hamlin had the dominant car, leading 193 laps. But a late-race incident with Chase Elliott cut down Hamlin's tire and sent him back to a 35th-place finish.
Hamlin ran out front a bit again in this year's spring race, leading 33 laps before finishing 4th. He has had top-10 finishes in five of the past six races here, the lone exception being that aforementioned fall race where he had the dominant car.
The results haven't always been there for Hamlin at similar tracks this year. After that 4th-place finish in Phoenix, he was 3rd in Richmond, 13th in New Hampshire, and 16th in the September Richmond race. Things have been better of late, though, with three top-fives in the past five races, meaning we can buy in as long as he shows speed in practice.
Alex Bowman ($9,100): Phoenix is likely a place that holds a soft spot in Alex Bowman's heart. It's entirely possible this track is the reason he has a full-time job with such a solid organization in Hendrick Motorsports.
Back in 2016, Bowman was filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. while Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. When he took Earnhardt's car to Phoenix, Bowman won the pole, led 194 laps, and finished 6th. That made it less shocking when Bowman returned to fill that seat permanently after Earnhardt's retirement last year.
Bowman qualified 4th at Phoenix this spring and wound up finishing 13th, which isn't an Earth-shattering run. He did, though, have a 10th-place average running position in the September Richmond race and has had a top-15 average running position in seven of eight playoff races. Even with a price hike, Bowman's still a fun name to monitor this weekend.
Matt Kenseth ($7,600): Because Matt Kenseth is the defending champ of the fall Phoenix race, it's worth spilling some digital ink on him here. We have to see whether his old abilities at this track are still relevant in his new, lesser equipment with Roush-Fenway Racing.
Thankfully, because Kenseth has been back in the seat off and on since May, we do have a sample to draw from of Kenseth at tracks where he used to run well. Two of them are two of the tracks similar to Phoenix in New Hampshire and Richmond, but neither race inspired a ton of confidence.
In New Hampshire, Kenseth started 31st and put together a 15th-place finish. That's decent for place-differential points, but it's lower on the finishing totem pole than we'd like. He followed that up in Richmond by finishing 25th with a 21st-place average running position, again a bit underwhelming.
Kenseth's teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,100), was fourth and eighth in the two Phoenix races last year, meaning this equipment can be competitive at this track. As such, if Kenseth shows speed in practice, it's possible we could buy in. But if the practice times are just mediocre, we're likely best suited avoiding Kenseth, even if he is in a good spot to pick up place-differential points.
Ty Dillon ($6,200): Among the "punt" options this week, Ty Dillon is likely the one with the strongest course history.
This will be Dillon's fourth race at the track since becoming a full-time driver. In 2017, he finished 16th and 11th in the two runnings, with that 11th-place run coming after starting 29th. He also posted a 15th-place finish here in 2016 while driving for an injured Tony Stewart.
Dillon's runs at similar tracks this year have been uninspiring with his best finish being 20th in the spring Richmond race. Still, he does have two top-15 finishes in his past four races, and he knows how to get around this track. That may be enough for Dillon to separate among the drivers priced below $7,000. He's in play if he starts outside the top 20 and can get some place-differential points.
Chase Elliott ($13,000): Chase Elliott enters this race 17 points behind the cutline to advance to next week's championship race in Homestead. Unless one of the current top four falters, he likely needs a win to advance. Thankfully for him, he's at a track where that is very much possible.
Phoenix is one of three tracks on the Cup Series schedule that is both flat and slow, excluding Martinsville as that one is a bit more unique. In addition to the first Phoenix race this year, there have been two races at Richmond and another race at New Hampshire, all of which fit this bill. Here's how Elliott has compared to "The Big Three" at those tracks this year.
|At Flat, Slow Tracks||Wins||Top-5s||Top-10s||Laps Led|
|Martin Truex Jr.||0||3||3||370|
He doesn't have the laps led or the wins, but with how well Elliott has run recently, that's certainly not out of the equation.
Phoenix, specifically, has also been kind to Elliott. He has two straight finishes of third or better here, and he led 106 laps in the race before this stretch began. Toss on the narrative about needing a win to advance, and Elliott seems to be very much worth this lofty salary.
Aric Almirola ($10,600): Just like Elliott, Aric Almirola likely needs a win to advance this week. And also just like Elliott, he has bossed out at tracks similar to Phoenix, especially recently.
Almirola kicked the year off with a seventh-place run in Phoenix, his second straight top-10 at the track, meaning he was able to run well here even before getting the top-notch equipment of Stewart-Haas Racing. But things really kicked up a notch in New Hampshire, where he led 42 laps en route to a 3rd-place finish. He kept the momentum rolling by finishing fifth in Richmond in September.
It's clear that Almirola hasn't been on par with Elliott this year at flat tracks, but he also isn't priced near Elliott. Once you account for the salary differences, Almirola starts to look pretty rosy. He'd be a great play if he were to start in a position to get place-differential points, but even if Almirola qualifies well, he's not a total longshot to lead some laps and pick up respectable finishing points.
Ryan Newman ($9,000): Although Ryan Newman won here last year, that was more due to pit strategy than the strength of his car. That win shouldn't change the way we view him entering this weekend. His current form is good enough to move the needle a bit, though.
The turnaround for Newman seemed to start in New Hampshire in July. There, he turned a 13th-place average running position into a 6th-place finish, still the best run he has had all year. Since then, he has finished 8th in Pocono, 10th in Indianapolis, and 8th in Martinsville, all flat tracks, though they're still fairly different from Phoenix.
With the current form trending up for Newman, we can put more stock in his 11th-place finish at Phoenix back in the spring. He'll need to start outside the top 10 so that he can accumulate place-differential points, but qualifying has not been Newman's forte this year. Assuming that continues, he should be on the radar in this pricing tier.
Austin Dillon ($8,700): Perhaps validating Newman's recent spike, his teammate, Austin Dillon, has undergone a similar change of late. Some of those gains have occurred at tracks we're looking to for info here.
Overall, Dillon has seven top-10s this year, but three have come in the past seven races. That includes a 6th-place run at Richmond after Dillon started back in 26th. The three tracks where he has gotten the top-10s -- Richmond, Dover, and Texas -- are about as different as they come, perhaps signaling a general shift in the positive direction for the team.
Dillon's results in Phoenix are a mixed bag with just one career top-10 but three straight finishes of 18th or better. They're not terrible, but they're also not great. This likely funnels us toward putting more stock into the recent races for Dillon, and those seem to bode well for him at this salary.
Paul Menard ($7,100): Paul Menard's history at Phoenix is underwhelming at best. He has 3 career top-10s and no top-5s in 23 starts. We just have to ask if that's enough to nullify his current form.
Menard has been showing speed for most of the season, and it has occasionally turned into solid results. His seven top-10s this year are more than he has had in a season since 2014. Three of those have come in the past nine races, including a ninth-place run at a flat track in Indianapolis.
Overall, Menard's not someone who really jumps off the page with elite current form or elite track history. Still, a $7,100 salary just seems too cheap. This isn't a driver we should blindly trust no matter where he starts just because the salary is low, but if Menard starts outside the top 15 and has decent practice times, he's not a bad outlet for dependable finishing points in a pricing tier that is lacking in those types of options.