Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Camping World 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 Camping World 400 in Chicagoland.
Martin Truex Jr. (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): Martin Truex Jr.'s time at Joe Gibbs Racing got off to a rocky start. He finished 35th in the Daytona 500 and finished eighth or worse in five of the next seven races, as well. But he has turned things around since then, winning four of the past nine races, and he's heading to a track at which he has excelled.
The hot runs at Chicagoland for Truex started back in 2015. That year, he led 39 laps and had a fifth-place average running position but sagged at the end to finish 13th. He made up for it after that, though, winning the 2016 and 2017 races here before finishing fourth last year. That fourth-place run came even after starting back in 36th.
Truex hasn't been great at the two tracks most similar to Chicagoland this year. He finished 8th in Las Vegas and 19th in Kansas with an average running position outside the top 10 both times. But he did mop up in Charlotte, leading 116 laps en route to victory, so the 1.5-mile tracks haven't all been a mystery. With that win in Charlotte under his belt and a top-end history in Chicagoland, Truex deserves to stand alongside his teammate, Kyle Busch ($15,000), as one of the favorites entering the weekend.
Chase Elliott ($12,500): In each of his first two visits to Chicagoland, Chase Elliott pumped out a top-three finish and led at least 40 laps. He has had a top-nine average running position in all three of his races here. And based on Elliott's current form, we have every reason to think he's capable of another stout performance.
Elliott finished 37th last week in Sonoma, but that doesn't come close to representing the strength of his car. He was running in the top five all day before his engine let up while he was entering pit road during the final stage. If not for those issues, he could have recorded his sixth top-five finish in the past seven races and on the fifth different track type in that time.
One of those impressive runs was at Kansas, where Elliott finished 4th after starting 32nd. He zipped his way through the pack in a hurry and even led 45 laps. Given the similarities between Kansas and Chicago, we should view Elliott as being a contender to win, and it's possible even a $12,500 salary doesn't reflect how dangerous he has been.
Kyle Larson ($11,500): Like Elliott, Kyle Larson has a plus history in Chicago, netting three top-five finishes in five trips here. He almost got a win here last year, as well. But unlike Elliott, Larson's current form leaves us with some questions around whether he can continue to compete.
The Cup Series has run four races at 1.5-mile tracks using this rules package in 2019 (Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, and Charlotte, a sampling of tracks we'll reference plenty throughout the rest of this piece). In those four races, Larson's best finish is eighth, and his best average running position is 12th. That's partly because he crashed in both Texas and Charlotte, but those numbers still toss up plenty of red flags.
The one positive for Larson is that he did get a win in the All-Star Race in Charlotte, though that wasn't a points-paying race. Additionally, Larson has seemingly had more speed the past few weeks than he had earlier in the year. As such, we shouldn't write him off from consideration, but he would likely need to flex some muscle in practice before we could get too excited about plugging him in.
Alex Bowman ($10,500): In general, we tend to gush over Alex Bowman because of his current form. But he actually has two career top-10s in Chicago -- including one before he was even a full-time driver -- and we'll certainly take that, even at his elevated salary.
Through the first nine races this year, Bowman's best finish was 11th, and he had finished better than 15th just three times. Since then, his worst finish is 15th, and he has five top-10s and three runner-up finishes. One of those runner-ups was in Kansas, where Bowman led 63 laps and almost netted his first career victory.
Now, the Cup Series is heading to a similar venue, and Bowman has continued to run well since that race. His salary has risen, but Bowman has the finishes and the speed to legitimize that. We should continue to target Bowman until he gives us a reason not to.
Ryan Blaney ($10,300): Normally, the current form section will focus on drivers cranking out good finishes recently at relevant tracks. That ain't Ryan Blaney. In fact, his record at tracks similar to Chicagoland is ghastly. But that record is also pretty deceptive.
In the four races at 1.5-mile tracks with this package, Blaney's average finish is 26.0. That ranks 30th among drivers who have run all four of the races, behind seven drivers with salaries lower than $7,000 for this weekend. Sub-optimal.
But what those finishes don't encapsulate is the absurd levels of bad luck Blaney has had this year, both at those tracks and elsewhere. In Texas -- one of the races in this sample -- he had a shot to win, leading 45 laps, but overheating issues cut his day short. He also led 94 laps in Atlanta before some bad timing in the pits relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.
When things have gone well for Blaney this year, they've gone really well. He has five top-five finishes, tied for the seventh-most in the series. But he also has six finishes outside the top 20. Those poor finishes seem to be masking the speed that Blaney and his team possess. His teammates, Joey Logano ($13,500) and Brad Keselowski ($13,000), have both won at a 1.5-mile track this year, so clearly the upside is there. Blaney's likely a good buy for tournaments as long as you're okay with the risk that comes with him.
Erik Jones ($10,000): Like Blaney, Erik Jones is a volatile driver. Within the past five races, he has finished third twice, eighth once, and outside the top 30 twice. Volatility is a negative when you want a lofty floor.
But if it's a ceiling you desire, Jones can give it to you.
Those two third-place finishes both came while running the full reduced-horsepower package, once in Pocono and the other in Kansas. That Kansas run came after Jones also pumped out a fourth-place finish in Texas, giving him two top-fives in four races at 1.5-mile tracks with this package. He was 40th and 13th in the other two, so the volatility is still there but so is the upside.
Jones seems to be hitting the top end of that variance more often recently, finishing eighth or better in four of the past six races after notching just three top-10s in the first 10 races. This is why Jones appears to be worth the risk at $10,000; it's not often you find guys capable of winning who are this cheap, but a trip to victory lane seems to be within his range of outcomes.
William Byron ($9,000): Earlier in the season, when William Byron qualified well, you had to back off him in DFS. Qualifying there made him a lock for negative place-differential points, and there's lots of risk in drivers of that archetype.
The risk is still there. But the odds that Byron hangs around up front are higher, making him easier to swallow regardless of where he qualifies.
Byron enters Chicago with three top-10s in his past six races, two of which have come using the reduced-horsepower package. He has also led at least 20 laps in three of those races, an added perk of having Byron qualify closer to the front.
Those quality finishes are why Byron's palatable even if he qualifies well. But the upside if he qualifies poorly seems superb. Byron's average running position has been 13th or better in 7 of the past 10 races, meaning we should expect a respectable finish out of him. If he can generate that while starting further back, it'll make him an absolute gem in DFS.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,700): Once again, the two tracks most similar to Chicagoland are Las Vegas and Kansas, so if you want to know who could compete this weekend, you can focus on those two races. Only four drivers have had a top-10 average running position in both races.
Three of them are Elliott, Kevin Harvick ($14,000), and Brad Keselowski ($13,000). The fourth is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is $3,800 cheaper than any of the others on FanDuel. That would seem to be noteworthy.
And it's not as if those were hollow runs for Stenhouse, either. He finished 6th in Vegas and 11th in Kansas, both of which are acceptable at this salary. Then in Charlotte -- another 1.5-mile track, though with more banking -- he finished fifth.
Anecdotally, this makes sense. Stenhouse was always strong at Daytona and Talladega, and there are drafting elements involved early in runs at these tracks in the new package, as well. That makes these top-end runs seem far less fluky. Stenhouse still wrecks plenty often, so there's a complete lack of safety here, but the upside he possesses makes him worth continued exposure in DFS.
Chris Buescher ($7,600): There are some pretty strong similarities between Stenhouse and Chris Buescher. Both have performed well on drafting tracks in the past, and they have leveraged those abilities into quality finishes in this package this year. We can still get Buescher at a value salary, and his solid finishes seem legit.
Early in the season, Buescher was at least respectable in this package, finishing 18th in Las Vegas and 20th in Texas. But it seems the JTG-Daugherty team has found some new speed since then. Buescher had a ninth-place average running position in Kansas -- the best of his career -- en route to a 10th-place finish. Then in Charlotte, he got on the lead lap late and made a mad dash for a sixth-place finish. Buescher has finished 16th or better in the three races since then, as well, seemingly signaling that he's here to stay.
Buescher isn't quite in the same realm as guys like Stenhouse where you can feel really good about him even if he qualifies well. There, the floor might be a bit shaky. But his average starting position this year is 21.1, and it's 21.5 at the 1.5-mile tracks. So unless Buescher whips out a big run in qualifying, his current form says we should feel good about both his floor and his upside.
Bubba Wallace ($5,500): For the full season, Bubba Wallace has spent just 184 laps within the top 15 spots in the running order. That's grim, and it's going to be similar for almost anybody with a salary lower than $7,000. But for Bubba, 45.7% of those laps have come within the past four races, which does at least merit discussion.
That run actually started the week before this stretch when Wallace won the second stage of the All-Star open qualifier race. He went on to finish fifth during the All-Star Race itself.
He had speed the following week in Charlotte, but an early dust-up jettisoned him back to a 25th-place finish. He rebounded with a 21st-place finish the following week in Pocono, which is commendable given how important equipment is at that track.
Wallace had a 23rd-place finish average running position in Las Vegas earlier this year and finished 23rd in Texas. As long as his equipment will allow it, Wallace seems to be capable of knocking out a top-20 finish at a track like this. At this salary, that's enough to put Wallace on our radar, assuming he doesn't qualify too well.