Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard
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 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,500): Kyle Busch's winless streak is now up to 11 races, which is decently alarming for a driver of his caliber. He's got a good shot to end that streak on Sunday.
Busch has won two of the past four races at Indianapolis, and he was the runner-up in two of three races before that stretch. Busch led 87 of 110 laps before crashing in 2017, and he led 27 laps before finishing eighth last year. This is a good track for him.
It's also not as if Busch has been bad in this stretch. He has five top-fives in that span, and he has led more than 100 laps twice in the past six races. His last win came in Pocono, another big, fast, flat track like Indianapolis, so don't let Busch's recent string of finishes scare you out of viewing him as one of the favorites entering the weekend.
Denny Hamlin ($14,000): Denny Hamlin has been the hottest driver in the sport for more than a month now, racking up two wins and six top-fives in the past seven races. We should expect that run to continue as the Cup Series heads to another track at which he runs well.
Over the past five Indianapolis races, Hamlin has four top-fives, including a third last year. His lone poor race in that time was in 2017 when he -- along with half the field -- wrecked in the latter stages of the race.
A good way to see which drivers will do well in Indianapolis is looking at recent races at Pocono and Michigan, the other non-pack-racing two-plus-mile tracks on the schedule (excluding Fontana, whose lone race was all the way back in March). Hamlin won the July Pocono race and finished second in Michigan, posting a top-five average running position both times. We'd be wise to keep buying high on Hamlin during this hot streak.
Clint Bowyer ($9,600): One of the big storylines this weekend will be the playoff picture as Indy is the final race before the 16-driver playoff schedule begins. Clint Bowyer enters Indy ranked 15th in the standings, but he's only eight points ahead of 17th. He needs a good run here. Thankfully for Bowyer, Indy has been a good track for him since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing.
The sample of Bowyer at The Brickyard with SHR is just two races, but he had a strong car both times. In 2017, Bowyer had a ninth-place average running position but was another one of the drivers caught up in a wreck late. Then last year, Bowyer led 37 laps, won the opening stage, had a fourth-place average running position, and finished fifth. Another run like that would likely put Bowyer into the playoffs.
There's a reason, though, that Bowyer is still trying to fight his way into the playoffs; 2019 has not been an overly productive season for him. With that said, Bowyer's coming off back-to-back top-seven finishes, and his most recent top-five was at the first Pocono race in June. As long as he shows speed in the five-lap averages during practice, we can give Bowyer a look as he tries to punch his ticket to the postseason.
Paul Menard ($6,500): Paul Menard is a former winner at Indianapolis. That should not factor into our process because the win occurred all the way back in 2011. But he has had solid runs since then, as well, and he has shown speed at times in 2019.
Menard has top-10 finishes in two of his past three trips to Indianapolis, including a ninth-place run here last year. That was his first while in a technical alliance with Penske Racing, and it was Penske's Brad Keselowski ($13,300) won the race. Menard's going to have the equipment necessary to keep up on Sunday.
The big plus within Menard's current form is how he ran in the two Michigan races. He had a 14th-place average running position in both races -- tied for his second-best mark this year -- and he finished 13th and 15th in those races. Menard wasn't as strong in Pocono, finishing 18th both times, but he did have a 16th-place average running position in the first race there. Not many drivers in this salary tier have raw speed on par with Menard's, and it should put him on our radar as long as he shows life in practice.
Kevin Harvick ($13,600): If we're going to put extra weight on Michigan and Pocono, we've got to view Kevin Harvick as being in the same tier as guys like Busch and Hamlin.
In the first Pocono race, Harvick was chasing down the leader, Busch, prior to green-flag pit stops. But Harvick was tagged with a tire violation during his pit stop and had to serve a pass-through penalty.
In the return trip to the Tricky Triangle, Harvick sat on the pole and led 62 laps. He opted for four tires when others took two, putting him further back in the pack, but he was slicing and dicing his way through traffic before a late-race caution pushed him back to sixth spot. His average running position there was fourth.
Then, two weeks later in Michigan, Harvick notched his second win of the season, both of which have come within the past six races. Given the overlap between Indianapolis and those other tracks, Harvick's recent runs are abundantly noteworthy.
Harvick hasn't won at Indianapolis since 2003, meaning he's less likely to get buzz this week than Busch, Hamlin, and last year's winner, Keselowski. But with this much speed on his side, we should view Harvick as being much more than just a sleeper this weekend.
Erik Jones ($11,300): Erik Jones has been knocking on the door of a second career victory for a long time now, and he finally got it done in the wee hours of Monday morning.
That win was Jones' fifth top-four finish in the past seven races, a stretch that included a runner-up finish in the July Pocono race. He was also third in the first Pocono race, showing that Jones' speed has been apparent at tracks similar to Indianapolis.
That was true last year, as well. In that running, Jones worked his way forward and finished runner-up behind Keselowski. Jones has the combo of current form and track history that we so desperately want, meaning that we're not point-chasing if we dig on Jones on Sunday.
Alex Bowman ($8,800): Since his win at Chicago a few months ago, Alex Bowman's best finish is 10th, and that's his lone finish better than 14th in that span. That's why his salary has slid back down into this range. But his cars are better than that, which presents a good buying window.
Despite the poor finishes, Bowman has had a top-15 average running position in four straight races, the only driver with a salary below $10,000 who can claim that. One of those good runs was in Michigan where Bowman converted his ninth-place average running position into a 10th-place finish. He was also 10th in the first Michigan race back in June.
More than anything, it seems like Bowman has had some bad luck that has prevented him from capitalizing on decent runs. His track history is ghastly, which may scare people off, but the sample there is just three races, two of which came before he was a full-time driver in the Cup Series. Especially if he qualifies poorly, Bowman is a driver we should look to invest in before his salary re-adjusts.
William Byron ($8,600): When you're looking for drivers who have had speed at tracks like Michigan and Pocono this year, William Byron is one of the drivers who has to catch your attention.
Across the four races at those tracks, Byron has three top-10 finishes and two top-10 average running positions. One of the races where Byron's average running position was a bit lower was the second Pocono race, but that was largely because he started in the back after failing post-qualifying inspection. Byron steadily picked his way forward and put himself in position to pounce on a late-race restart. He did exactly that and came home with a fourth-place finish, his second-best run of the year.
Byron also does have experience in Indianapolis. He had a 14th-place average running position here last year (though he finished just 19th), and he won an Xfinity Series race at the track in 2017. Interestingly, that Xfinity win came when the series was tinkering with a higher-downforce package similar to what they'll be using this weekend. If you want a value play with great finishing upside, Byron's likely your best bet.
Daniel Suarez ($7,900): Daniel Suarez is another of the drivers -- like his teammate, Bowyer -- fighting for the final playoff spot, entering this week in a tie with Ryan Newman ($8,300) for 16th. Based on Suarez's runs at relevant tracks, he likely holds the upper hand prior to practice and qualifying.
Suarez has just three top-five finishes this entire season, but two of them have come at tracks similar to Indianapolis.
|Suarez in 2019||Finish||Average Running Position|
Those average running positions show that Suarez benefited from late-race surges and could indicate that he's due for regression. But that 12th-place run is also tied for his best mark all year long, so it does seem as though his performance shifts in the right direction at tracks like this.
Suarez finished 7th and 18th at Indianapolis in his two races with Joe Gibbs Racing, showing that he's not inept at working his way around the track. Now that he's with SHR, which has thrived on these tracks the past few years, we should expect Suarez to put forth a good effort in trying to lock in that last playoff spot.
Daniel Hemric ($5,500): Daniel Hemric's unfiltered current form is straight doo doo right now. He has finished 24th or worse in five of the past seven races, which is why his salary has plummeted this far. But his relevant current form is far cheerier, which is why we're talking about him here.
On the season, Hemric's best finishes at non-pack-racing tracks are 7th, 12th, 12th, and 13th. Those finishes came at Pocono, Michigan, Bristol, and Pocono, respectively. Notice a pattern? At tracks where you can hold that sucker a bit more wide open, Hemric is consistently showing some juice. That's what we'll have this weekend in Indianapolis.
This is Hemric's first Cup race in Indianapolis, but he did run here in the Xfinity Series last year, leading 25 laps en route to a fifth-place finish. It's not completely foreign to him. Given how well he has run at Pocono this year, we definitely need to keep an eye on him, and he could be an exception to the no-punting rule discussed in this week's track preview.