Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400
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 FireKeepers Casino 400 in Michigan.
Kyle Larson (FanDuel Salary: $12,000): Of Kyle Larson's five career Cup Series wins, three have come in Michigan. But he also hasn't visited victory lane since 2017, the year he swept both races at the track. Is his current form good enough for us to consider him at a salary likely elevated by his past performance at the track?
Despite finishes of 33rd and 26th the past two weeks, Larson has shown considerable signs of life recently. He won the All-Star Race in Charlotte before crashing during the Coca-Cola 600 the following week. Then in Pocono, Larson was a threat for the win, leading 35 laps and winning both of the stages. A late-race brush with the wall pushed him back to that poor finish, but running out front and posting an eighth-place average running position is significant.
Larson is still worthy of serious skepticism. His cars haven't shown massive speed this year, and that does matter with his style of racing being less of an advantage in the new reduced-horsepower package. However, with his performance ticking up over the past month, we can likely overlook the poor finishes and start to buy back into him at tracks like this.
Kevin Harvick ($14,000): We are now 14 races into the season, and Kevin Harvick -- who won eight races in 2018 -- still hasn't finished better than fourth. So why is his salary still this high?
The speed is still there for Harvick. It just hasn't translated into results. He had the fastest car in Kansas and led 104 laps, but a tire issue led to a 13th-place finish. In Pocono, he came out of the pits during the final stop ahead of Kyle Busch ($15,500), but a tire violation brought him back into the pits, eventually leading to a 22nd-place finish. Harvick had been running Busch down before that pit stop, as well.
Perhaps the cure will come at a track that Harvick dominated last year. He led 49 of 133 laps in the first Michigan race and then won the second after leading 108 laps. We need to be wary of Harvick given his inability to work his way through traffic in the new rules package. But if he qualifies out front, Harvick's still fast enough to dominate, even if he hasn't shown that upside yet this year.
Ryan Blaney ($11,000): For pretty much the entire year, Ryan Blaney's speed has been better than his finishes would indicate. We see a similar trend with him in past Michigan races.
Blaney in the past five Michigan races does have three top-10 finishes, which is definitely respectable. But his average running positions have shown even greater upside as he has had a mark of 12th or better in all five races, and it has been sixth or better three times. He has a pair of top-fives in that span, including one last year, so it's not as if he's a monster disappointment. It's just that things could be even better than they've turned out.
We've seen Blaney's teammates, Joey Logano ($13,500) and Brad Keselowski ($13,000) boast monster speed all year long, and both figure to contend this weekend. But Blaney could have a breakthrough of his own soon, so when we give attention to all the drivers at Penske Racing, we have to make sure we include Blaney in that discussion.
Paul Menard ($7,500): The other driver in Penske equipment in the field -- though as a member of a satellite team -- is Paul Menard. Menard's driving abilities may not be on par with Logano, Keselowski, and Blaney, but he should have the speed to be competitive this weekend.
We've seen Menard run well at Michigan in the past, both with the Penske equipment and before then. He finished fifth in last year's rain-shortened spring race and ran it back with a 16th-place run in the fall. That fifth-place run was his fifth top-five in Michigan, representing one-fourth of his career top-fives at any track.
When you use Menard, you're largely not getting upside (his best finish in the reduced-horsepower package this year is 14th), but you are getting insane consistency. His average running position in both Michigan races last year was 16th. His average running positions in the past five races this year have been 16th, 17th, 16th, 16th, and 16th, respectively. Menard has finished the race with an average running position between 15th and 18th in 12 of 14 events this year, and he has finished worse than 20th just twice. If you need a reliable driver to fill out the back end of your roster, you could do worse than Menard's consistency at $7,500.
Austin Dillon ($8,300): Michigan is a track that emphasizes equipment, and Austin Dillon's teams haven't always had the best machines there. Even with that, he has still been able to put up impressive finishes.
In Dillon's six career races at the track, he has three top-10 finishes, one in each of his three years as a full-time driver. That includes last year when he got his lone top-five of the season outside of the Daytona 500 by finishing fourth in the summer race.
Dillon wrecked last week in Pocono, but he definitely had the speed to compete. He qualified 10th and had quality times in practice. One of Dillon's two top-10 finishes this year came on the other two-mile speedway in Fontana, meaning he could wind up being an attractive value at $8,300.
Chase Elliott ($12,500): Chase Elliott's lone win this year came in pack racing at Talladega, where results can be highly volatile, making that win a bit less meaningful. But his speed since then has shown he's capable of winning at other tracks, too.
After finishing fourth last week in Pocono, Elliott has rattled off five straight top-five finishes, including that win in Talladega. Of the four drivers to lead at least 300 laps in the past nine races, Elliott is the lone guy without multiple wins. The Hendrick Motorsports cars have found some extra giddy-up, and Elliott is taking advantage by running at the front.
It certainly doesn't hurt matters that Elliott has done well at Michigan in the past. He was the runner-up finisher in each of his first three career races here and has finished in the top 10 all six races. With the speed he has shown recently, Elliott deserves to be viewed as one of the top contenders entering the weekend.
William Byron ($8,800): Elliott is benefiting from the improved equipment at Hendrick, but he's not the only one. His teammates, Alex Bowman ($10,500) and William Byron, have seen a similar uptick. Bowman's salary now accounts for his improved current form. Although Byron's salary has gone up, it's possible he's still a bit of a value.
After winning his third pole of the year in Pocono, Byron managed to run up front most of the day and come away with a ninth-place finish. It was his second consecutive top-10 and third in his past four races, two of which have come in this rules package. Byron's average running position was eighth for his top-10s in both Charlotte and Pocono.
Now Byron goes to another track where he has had a stout run in the past. He finished 13th in last year's spring race, but Byron ran well throughout the day with a ninth-place average running position. Byron keeps qualifying well, which prevents him from being a candidate for place-differential points, but he has shown that he's still in play for DFS because of all of the finishing upside he's providing at a low salary.
Aric Almirola ($9,500): Aric Almirola has boasted consistency in 2019, racking up eight top-10s in 14 races. But at a certain point, you'd love to get some upside in this range, too, and Almirola's still sitting on just one top-five. Although it may not be showing in the results, another top-five could easily be around the corner.
Almirola had a fast car in Pocono, cranking out a top-10 finish there. He also had a sixth-place average running position in Fontana, the closest replica to Michigan on the schedule thus far, though he faded at the end and finished ninth. Almirola has the equipment to compete, and eventually that will shine through with him pushing for wins.
The Stewart-Haas Racing cars swept Michigan last year and finished one-two-three in the spring race. Almirola wasn't part of that, but he did log a seventh-place finish in the summer. You could do a lot worse than an archetype of "consistent with some upside" at $9,500.
Chris Buescher ($7,300): Chris Buescher had already proven his abilities in the reduced-horsepower package earlier this year. He was ninth in Atlanta with a partial version of the package, and then he had back-to-back top-10s in Kansas and Charlotte. The only lingering question was whether Buescher had the speed to compete at the faster tracks.
Pocono seemed to give us the green light there, as well.
Buescher took home a 14th-place finish last week, his third straight top-15, all of which have come in the reduced-horsepower package. His 18th-place average running position shows that the finish wasn't a fluke, and this dude can keep up with the competition even when the speeds go up.
Speed will be a concern again this week in Michigan. With that said, Buescher has already shown he's capable at this track, taking home a sixth-place finish in the old package back in 2017. The style of racing fits Buescher well, and he's converting good runs into quality finishes. Feel free to keep on plugging him in unless he qualifies toward the front.
Daniel Hemric ($7,000): We talked earlier about how Austin Dillon has had the speed to compete at Michigan in the past. This is the first time his teammate -- Daniel Hemric -- has gotten to test the track, and it comes at a time when he's finally starting to cobble together some solid finishes.
Last week was arguably Hemric's best of the season. He put up respectable lap times all weekend and converted it into a 13th-place finish. His 17th-place average running position was his third-best mark of the season and the best using the full rules package that will be in place at Michigan. The equipment wasn't what was holding the team back earlier in the year; they just had to put a full race together, and the past few weeks have shown they're capable of doing just that.
Hemric has had success at Michigan in lower series, finishing second in the Xfinity Series last year and third in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2016. There's definitely risk given his lack of quality finishes during his rookie campaign, but Hemric seems to be a viable option at $7,000 as long as he doesn't qualify too well.