Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Toyota/Save Mart 350
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 Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): All year long, we've been waiting for Kevin Harvick to break out of his slump. But with the new aero package nullifying his aggressive braking tactics, Harvick has thus far been unable to capitalize on stout speed. Sonoma could present an opportunity to change that.
At tracks like Charlotte, Kansas, and Michigan -- where Harvick had speed but failed to get top-end finishes -- drivers were rarely on the brake, which made it difficult for Harvick to pass. But with 12 turns in play at Sonoma as the series returns to running "The Carousel," there will be abundant braking zones where Harvick can make up time. He has exploited those zones heavily in the past here with plus results.
Harvick enters this weekend with four straight finishes of sixth or better at Sonoma, including a win in 2017 and a runner-up last year. It's a track that suits his strengths well, and he has the equipment to get it done. It's possible Harvick's tough finishing luck may finally come to an end on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr. ($14,000): Although Harvick is the favorite to win at Sonoma, Martin Truex Jr. likely has the best claim to be the Cup Series' "King of the Road."
Over the past two years, Truex has won two of five Cup Series races on road courses, which is a big mark in his favor. But that number easily could have been even higher.
In the first race he didn't win, Truex won the first stage in Sonoma and had the dominant car before mechanical issues ended his day early. In the second, Truex finished runner-up behind Chase Elliott ($13,500) at Watkins Glen. The third one was this past fall in Charlotte, and Truex entered the final corner as the leader but exited it backwards.
Lump it all together, and Truex was just some bad luck and one position away from winning all five road course races the past two seasons. He has been stout in 2019, as well, so Truex may actually be the top dog entering the weekend, ahead of Harvick and Truex's teammate (and fellow road-course extraordinaire), Kyle Busch ($15,000).
Clint Bowyer ($12,000): Truex could have won all five of the races in the past two years, but he doesn't hold the best average finish in that time. That honor actually belongs to Clint Bowyer at 4.8. Bowyer -- like Harvick -- may push to get Stewart-Haas Racing its first win of 2019.
In 13 total trips to Sonoma, Bowyer has rattled off eight top-five finishes, including a win in 2012. He has been great recently, as well, finishing second in 2017 and third in 2018. That's in addition to finishing third at the Charlotte roval last fall, showing Bowyer just knows how to get around this unique track type.
Similar to Harvick, Bowyer has shown plenty of speed throughout this year; he just doesn't have any wins to show for it. Bowyer finished fifth in Pocono and Kansas and has five top-fives in 15 races. Once you get past the top three guys of Busch, Harvick, and Truex, Bowyer has a case to be the fourth-ranked driver independent of salary entering the weekend.
Daniel Suarez ($9,400): Daniel Suarez's best finishes on road courses have come outside of Sonoma, so we're stretching the "track history" definition here. But it's still worth noting that Suarez should be a threat this weekend.
Suarez has six career top-fives in the Cup Series, and two of them have come at road courses. Both were at Watkins Glen as he was third in 2017 and fourth in 2018, and he was also fourth there in the Xfinity Series in 2016. That could simply mean that Suarez mops up at Watkins Glen, but he did finish fourth at Elkhart Lake in the Xfinity Series in 2016, as well. Suarez just seems to have a knack for this track type.
Now, for the first time, Suarez is heading to Sonoma as teammate to Harvick and Bowyer, meaning this team should have a setup to compete at the track. Suarez's current form is also solid as he enters Sonoma with back-to-back top-10s, including a fourth at Michigan. Suarez is 27/1 at FanDuel Sportsbook, which shows that he could be a solid value at this salary.
Michael McDowell ($6,500): With certain drivers priced up due to recent quality finishes, the value tier has gotten thinned out a bit for this weekend. But there are a couple of drivers remaining down here who have flexed muscle at road courses in the past, starting with Michael McDowell.
Before getting a full-time gig in the Cup Series, McDowell used to be a driving-school instructor and helped consult with teams, tutoring younger drivers on road courses. Those tricks he taught others seem to translate well to the Cup Series because McDowell has finished 21st or better at each road course race the past two years, including a 14th in Sonoma and 12th in Watkins Glen. That's all in addition to a win in the Xfinity Series at Elkhart Lake back in 2016.
McDowell's current form is far from alluring, and that does matter even at these tracks, but he did manage a 15th-place finish in Texas along with respectable runs in both Charlotte and Pocono. As long as he doesn't qualify too well, we can feel good about leaning on McDowell's road-course expertise and trusting him in this value tier.
Matt Tifft ($5,500): One of the drivers McDowell taught how to drive road courses is now his teammate at Front Row Motorsports, Matt Tifft. Clearly, Tifft took those lessons to heart because he excelled at road courses in the Xfinity Series.
In six Xfinity Series races at road courses the past two years, Tifft took home four top-five finishes. That includes a runner-up at Elkhart Lake when he started on the pole and led 12 of 45 laps.
Because the Xfinity Series does not run at Sonoma, Tifft will be getting his first upper-level experience here. But he did run the track with the K&N Pro Series in 2014 and 2015, so he has at least been to the track before. Given McDowell's success at these tracks, we know this team can push for a good finish, making Tifft another potential value play to consider if he starts in the middle of the pack or deeper.
Chase Elliott ($13,500): Earlier, we talked about how Bowyer had a case to be made as the fourth-ranked driver entering the weekend. If that isn't Bowyer, the crown likely belongs to Chase Elliott, who has a good blend of current form and road-course acumen.
Starting off with what Elliott has done lately, his string of top-five finishes did come to an end last week in Michigan. But he had five straight top-fives prior to that, and they came on four different track types. It seems like Hendrick Motorsports picked up speed, and it followed them no matter where the series went.
The team didn't really need that up-tick on road courses. As you saw above, Jimmie Johnson ($10,200) nearly won in Charlotte last year, and Elliott did win in Watkins Glen, his first career Cup Series victory. Elliott was also fourth in Sonoma last year, meaning we should view him as being a strong contender for the win entering the weekend.
Alex Bowman ($10,000): Entering last year's race at Watkins Glen, Elliott was on a heater, racking up laps led and stage wins, which he hadn't been doing prior to that. By winning at the Glen, he showed that current form matters at road courses, too. That's a key when discussing his teammate, Alex Bowman.
Bowman -- like Elliott -- has been on fire recently with five top-10 finishes in the past six races, including three runner-up finishes. Those three runner-ups were all on different track types, which means the speed should translate to Sonoma.
Bowman's history at road courses isn't bad, but it also won't jump off the page. He was ninth in Sonoma last year and fourth in Charlotte. That's a good thing as it should allow him to go a bit overlooked in daily fantasy. Bowman has shown in the past that he's not lost at these venues, he has been stout recently, and he's unlikely to command a ton of attention prior to the race. Keep a close eye on Bowman, and if he qualifies in our ideal starting range, feel free to be aggressive in shoveling him onto your roster. He's also highly attractive from a betting perspective at 95/1 on FanDuel Sportsbook.
Chris Buescher ($8,500): Chris Buescher is not as extreme of an example as Bowman, but he's another driver for whom the "current form matters" discussion applies. He has been running well of late, and he has always been competent on road courses.
Despite running at tracks recently where equipment is important, Buescher's finishes have been impressive. He has finished 16th or better in four straight races, including a 10th in Kansas and 6th in Charlotte. He has had a top-20 average running position in 11 of 15 races this year, which is significant for someone who tends to qualify in the range we're targeting for Sonoma.
Buescher was in the perfect lineup in last year's Sonoma race after he started 25th and finished 12th. It was his second quality run at a road course after he was 11th in Watkins Glen the year before. Buescher has five straight top-20 finishes on road courses, so as long as he continues to qualify poorly, he'll remain an option for DFS even at an elevated salary.
Daniel Hemric ($8,200): Daniel Hemric has posted his two best finishes at non-pack-racing tracks in the past two races by finishing 13th in Pocono and 12th in Michigan. He had respectable average running positions in both races, as well, meaning the current form for Hemric is on the up-swing. It's great timing for him as the Cup Series heads to a specialty of his.
During his time in the Xfinity Series, Hemric proved to be a contender on road courses. He finished second and third in Mid-Ohio the past two years, and he was third in Elkhart Lake in 2018.
Hemric showed he could carry that speed into the Cup Series last fall, as well. He had a one-off ride at the Charlotte roval and was in the top five in practice for two out of three sessions. Now, Hemric is more familiar with the Cup Series cars and has been cobbling together better finishes of late. This could be a good opportunity for Hemric to notch his second top-10 of the season.