Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Ford EcoBoost 400 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 Ford EcoBoost 400.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Price: $14,500), Kyle Busch ($13,500), Martin Truex Jr. ($13,500), and Joey Logano ($13,500): As mentioned in the track preview, a member of the "Championship Four" has won each of the four Homestead races since NASCAR changed its playoff format. As such, we have to start with those four contenders and see who stands out entering the week.
It helps that one driver jumps off the page from both a current form and course history perspective, and that guy is Kevin Harvick. With regards to current form, Harvick has won 4 of 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this year while leading 867 laps. Kyle Busch is the only other driver to lead more than 300 laps. Harvick has rattled off four straight top-four finishes at Homestead with an average running position of fourth or better each time, so he deserves to be the favorite entering the race.
The other three are likely all in the same tier, and it's hard to separate them from each other. A lot of it depends on how much weight you put on what the drivers have done in recent races at 1.5-mile tracks.
If you put more value in the recent races, Joey Logano would deserve to sit second behind Harvick. In the three races at 1.5-mile tracks during the playoffs, Logano's average running positions are fourth, fourth, and second, respectively, and he led at least 46 laps in each. That's stronger than the recent resumes for Busch and Truex.
That said, the longer-term record for Busch is more rosy than Logano's. As mentioned, Busch has led a boatload of laps at these tracks, winning three races and finishing second two other times. One of those runner-up finishes was in Kansas, the second-most-recent race at a 1.5-mile track. But with only one of those laps led coming in the past four races at 1.5-mile tracks, we'd likely be justified in putting Logano a hair above Busch entering practice sessions.
Truex has been steady at these tracks all year, posting 8 top-5s in 10 races. He also led 96 laps in Las Vegas to open the playoffs on his way to a 3rd-place finish. But he hasn't been as strong as Logano on these tracks recently, and his full-season resume isn't on par with Busch's. As such, Truex likely belongs fourth on the list.
When looking at these drivers, none of them is an afterthought by any means. Because this is the case, we need to make sure we're basing our opinions on them around what they do in practice. Harvick gets a slight benefit-of-the-doubt bump due to his strength on these tracks, but whoever shows most speed in practice likely belongs at the top of our list here.
Kyle Larson ($12,500): Kyle Larson has to be kicking himself that he keeps getting eliminated before the championship race at Homestead. If he were to make it this far, he'd likely enter as the favorite.
Larson has never won at this track, but he has dominated each of the past two races. He combined to lead 277 laps, finishing 2nd and 3rd, respectively, while holding a top-5 average running position in both. He led 132 laps in 2016 despite starting all the way back in 24th. This track suits his style, and Larson takes full advantage.
The strong runs at these types of tracks have carried over into 2018, as well. Larson's six top-five finishes at 1.5-mile tracks ranks third behind only Truex and Harvick, and he has had a top-five finish in each of the playoff races at 1.5-mile tracks. If anybody can break up the championship four, it's this guy, and he's worthy of exposure no matter where he starts.
Ryan Blaney ($9,600): Ryan Blaney gets a mention in the track history section, but it's not because he mops up here. In fact, his results are pretty horrible. We just have to make sure we don't overreact to that.
Blaney has been to Homestead three times in his career, and all three have resulted in finishes of 17th or worse. It was 26th in 2016 and 27th last year, so it's not even trending in the right way.
The problem here is that Blaney is driving better now than he has in years past, and we'd be condemning him based on a small sample. If we instead look at the 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, we'll see that Blaney ranks fifth among all drivers in top-fives with five, ahead of teammates Logano and Brad Keselowski ($11,700) among a host of other potential contenders. That matters far more than what Blaney has done at Homestead in the past, but his salary is likely taking into account his struggles at the track.
With Blaney, we should likely be willing to throw the track history completely out the window. He's running well at tracks similar to this, and he has the potential to get us laps led and a good finish at a cheap price. As long as the speed is there in practice, Blaney looks like a strong play this weekend.
Jamie McMurray ($8,000): Given that Jamie McMurray is Larson's teammate, it makes sense that McMurray would also excel at the track. He doesn't have the same dominance level as Larson, but there's still plenty to like.
McMurray has logged top-fives in two of the past four Homestead races, most recently finishing fifth in 2016. He has had an average running position of 14th or better in three straight, indicating that the positive finishes aren't fluky.
The problem for McMurray is that his current form at these tracks is middling at best. In the three playoff races at 1.5-mile tracks, his average running positions are 16th in Las Vegas, 18th in Kansas, and 20th in Texas. His best finish in that span is 17th. McMurray did finish third in Texas earlier in the year and was later sixth in Charlotte, so he deserves to be in consideration, but he needs to flash life in practice and start in position to gain place-differential points.
Austin Dillon ($8,800): Because Austin Dillon doesn't have any top-10 finishes at this track, he's unlikely to pop in looks at drivers with top-end current form. But he has been right on the outside of the top 10, and he has had strong cars to legitimize those performances.
Over the past three Homestead races, Dillon's worst finish is 14th, and his worst average running position is 15th. Both of those were in 2015, his second season as a full-time driver. Since then, he has finished 12th and 11th, respectively, and he even had a 10th-place average running position in 2016. That's pretty stout for this price.
This race comes at a perfect time, too, as Dillon's performance at 1.5-mile tracks has also been trending up. He has finished 11th or better in three straight, netting his first top-10 of the season at a 1.5-mile track in Texas two races ago. Dillon has done well at a wide smattering of track types recently, allowing us to buy into him at a salary that may be underselling how good his equipment and talent have been.
Aric Almirola ($10,300): Aric Almirola doesn't have any top-fives at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and you do need that finishing-point upside for a driver priced above $10,000. Still, Almirola has shown enough recently to allow us to think that a top-end finish is within his range of outcomes.
Overall, Almirola has been on fire recently. He has 6 top-10s in 9 playoff races, including a fourth-place finish in Phoenix and a win in Talladega. This has been true at 1.5-mile tracks, too, with top-10 finishes in Las Vegas, Kansas, and Texas; he just couldn't quite crack that top five.
Almirola has, though, finished in the top five at Homestead before. That came all the way back in 2010 when he was closing out the year with Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola has since moved into far superior equipment, and he has leveraged that into impressive finishes of late. We shouldn't be too shocked if Almirola's run without a top-five at a 1.5-mile track comes to an end this weekend.
Erik Jones ($9,800): It's appropriate that Blaney and Erik Jones are priced near each other as both present fairly similar profiles for this week. Both are lacking strong history at Homestead but have run well at these tracks this year.
Jones made his Homestead Cup Series debut last year and came away with just a 21st-place finish. This year has been a different story, though. He has seven top-10s and three top-fives at 1.5-mile tracks, including back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Kansas and Texas. With Kansas bearing plenty of similarities to Homestead, that matters quite a bit.
With both Blaney and Jones, it's possible they will go overlooked due to the lack of a favorable track history. But current form should always come ahead of track history, especially when it's young drivers like these two. We should keep an eye on both drivers in practice to see if we can consider them contrarian options who are better than they appear at first glance.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,800): You're not going to see a driver's practice times by clicking on their player profile on any site, but they do matter. Speed in practice can make recent stout runs more legitimate than they would be on their own. That's why we should talk quickly about Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Two weeks ago in Texas, Stenhouse put up some blazing practice times, finishing ninth-fastest in the first practice and having the best single-lap time during final practice. He went on to finish the race in 11th with a 14th-place average running position, tying his second-best run at a 1.5-mile track this year.
It's entirely possible this was just a one-week fluke for Stenhouse, and we want to be careful not to overreact to it. Thankfully, we'll have more practice this weekend to give us a pre-race read on whether or not that's the case. If Stenhouse pops up near the top of the charts again, we likely need to take notice. He's not a threat to lead a bunch of laps yet, but if he once again flexes some muscle on Saturday, he's likely a driver we can trust for decent finishing points on Sunday.
Paul Menard ($7,300): Consistency doesn't always pay from a DFS perspective when you're looking at high-priced drivers. There, you need upside and a driver who has the ability to get a top-five finish. Once you get down into the area with drivers as cheap as Paul Menard, though, the value in consistency goes up. Menard's one of the drivers who brings that.
In the 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, Menard has finished 14th or better seven times. This has included three top-10 runs, including one during the playoffs in Las Vegas. He's giving similar production to someone like Alex Bowman ($8,600) but at a reduced salary.
The only problem with Menard is that he tends to show some speed in qualifying. His average starting position on these tracks is 12.7. That means that if he doesn't wind up finishing as well, you're taking a negative in the place-differential department, making him a riskier play. Still, Menard's results have been solid, and he has shown the ability to come through in DFS without the benefit of place-differential points. As such, he's absolutely on the tournament radar even if he does qualify just outside the top 10.
Chris Buescher ($6,800): As mentioned in the track preview, you'll want to avoid punting this week if possible due to the flat scoring structure that has traditionally played out at Homestead. If you do decide to dip below $7,000, though, Chris Buescher seems to be the most palatable option.
Buescher has had four finishes of 16th or better at 1.5-mile tracks this year, and all but one came after starting outside the top 20. That's some decent finishing points, and it means he's snagging place-differential points along the way. That can make a non-top-10 finish easier to accept.
Buescher put forth a similar effort here last year, starting 29th and finishing 20th, a day that at least won't kill your lineup. There's enough juice here to give Buescher a squeeze as long as using him is giving your lineup extra upside elsewhere.