Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Consumers Energy 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 GoBowling at the Glen.
Kevin Harvick (FanDuel Salary: $13,000): At Michigan, speed is the name of the game. And speed hasn't been the issue for Kevin Harvick this year; it has been converting that speed into high-end finishes.
Harvick has seemingly been making gains of late, though, and now he heads to a track that can emphasize his biggest strength.
Since the start of last year, Harvick has led 172 laps over the three Michigan races. That's more than any driver has led within the past five races here, much less the past three. He has turned those into finishes of second, first, and seventh, with that seventh-place run coming in June after Harvick led 15 laps at the beginning of the final stage.
Following his win in New Hampshire, Harvick has finished sixth in Pocono and seventh in Watkins Glen. That doesn't blow you away at first glance, but Harvick led 62 laps in Pocono and was mowing cars down in the final stage; he just dipped on a late restart. And Watkins Glen isn't one of Harvick's strongest tracks. Harvick's not a value play by any means, but the speed in his car makes him a lethal option for DFS, especially if he qualifies on the front row.
Joey Logano ($13,500): As mentioned, it wasn't Harvick who won the June race here; that was Joey Logano, who led 163 laps en route to his second victory of the season. In seven races since then, though, Logano has just one top-five finish and three top-10s, forcing us to ask whether he has the speed to pull off the double this weekend.
Something that should bolster Logano's case is the string of tracks the Cup Series has been to during his (relative) cold streak. Since the Michigan win, the subsequent races have been at these track types: two road courses, two 1.5-mile tracks, a pack-racing track, a flat one-mile oval, and a 2.5-mile triangle. None of those are akin to a two-mile tri-oval like Michigan, and only three of those races have used the same rules package that will be in place this weekend. In those three races, Logano has finished third, seventh, and 13th.
What will bolster Logano's appeal even more is that he had a ninth-place average running position in Pocono, much better than you'd think for a 13th-place finish. Logano also finished second in Fontana in March, the other two-mile oval on the schedule. As such, we should view Logano as being a legit contender entering the weekend even if his recent finishes don't reflect that.
Kyle Larson ($10,200): Michigan -- like a lot of tracks for Kyle Larson -- has been feast-or-famine. He has three of his five career Cup Series wins here, but he has also finished 13th or worse in six of his 11 career starts at the track. Volatility isn't bad if you can hit the top end of it, but with Larson held winless since 2017, is that something he can still do?
Based on Larson's recent speed, the answer is likely yes. Three of his four top-fives this year have come within the past six races, including a runner-up in Chicago. The other two top-fives also came at tracks using this same rules package, a major deviation from the struggles Larson was having earlier in the year.
As noted in the track preview, mid-range drivers with big finishing-point upside are super valuable at a track where punting is less viable, and Larson fits that mold. We'll have to track his times in practice on Saturday, but as of right now, it seems like Larson is someone whose upside isn't being fully accounted for in his salary.
Austin Dillon ($7,200): Richard Childress Racing isn't generally an organization that comes to mind when we think of "fast" teams. But Austin Dillon has still managed to have recent success here, making him a potential value at $7,200.
Two of Dillon's 11 career Cup Series top-fives have come at Michigan, one in 2015 and one last year. He had a ninth-place average running position in last year's August race, the best run for any driver with a salary below $8,500 in the past three races here by a full five spots. Dillon's also tied for second there with a 14th-place average running position in the June race from last year.
The current form is lackluster, including a 26th-place finish in the first Michigan race this year. With that being said, Dillon did have a 15th-place average running position in that one, and he finished 10th in Chicago a couple weeks later. It's a track where speed matters, and Dillon seems to have that, meaning we can look his direction as long as he doesn't qualify at the front of the pack.
Denny Hamlin ($12,000): Before each race, I create a model that evaluates each driver's current form, track history, and practice times in order to give me an idea of who figures to stand out that weekend.
Entering this week, the leader in the current-form section of that model is Denny Hamlin. And I'm not going to push back hard against that.
The obvious draw for Hamlin is that he got a win two weeks ago in Pocono. But he also has three other top-fives in his past four races with a top-nine average running position in all four (and a top-six average running position in three straight). Both the Pocono win and a fifth-place showing in Kentucky came using this same rules package, which makes Hamlin's muscle a bit more noteworthy.
It also helps that the market still may not fully reflect how well he has been running. Hamlin ranks sixth in both FanDuel salary and win odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, and current form matters even when it comes on tracks different from the one they'll race at in the upcoming weekend. We should view him as being someone in the same tier as Logano and Brad Keselowski ($12,500) even if Hamlin's salary isn't quite as lofty.
Erik Jones ($10,600): There are four mid-range guys who have a win within their range of outcomes. One is the already-discussed Larson, along with his teammate Kurt Busch ($11,000), the runner-up in the June race here. The other two are Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney, so let's go through them, starting with Jones.
Jones' upside is obvious when you look at his elite runs of late. He heads to his home track riding a streak of four straight top-five finishes, all coming at wildly different track types. He has finished fourth or better in six of the past 11 races, which is an insane run for someone who doesn't carry a top-end salary.
Although Jones is a Michigan native, it hasn't always translated to success at this track. He was third here in a race his rookie season, but he has finished 13th or worse in the other four runs. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars weren't the fastest in the June race, but Martin Truex Jr. ($14,000) and Kyle Busch ($15,500) both knocked out top-five finishes, so it's not as if they were duds. That should give us confidence in Jones again, especially if he is competitive in Saturday practices.
Ryan Blaney ($10,400): Unlike Jones, Blaney has had success at this track. He has three straight top-10s here, and he had a top-six average running position in both races last year. The Fords absolutely have a speed edge at this track.
Although Blaney's current form isn't as stout as Jones', it's still pretty good. Starting with the Michigan race, Blaney has six top-10s in the past eight races. Three of them were top-fives, but two were on road courses, and one was at New Hampshire, none of which bear any resemblance to Michigan. Still, Blaney did finish sixth in this package at Chicago, and he was fifth earlier in the year in Fontana.
Because Blaney's teammate, Logano, won the race in June, we have to view Blaney as being someone who could crank out a win on Sunday. And at this salary, Blaney helps push you toward a balanced lineup, meaning we should be actively monitoring him -- along with Larson, Jones, and Kurt Busch -- throughout the weekend.
William Byron ($8,800): Once again, the name of the game at Michigan is speed. William Byron has that, as evidenced by his three poles and eight front-row starts this year. Recently, Byron has been converting that speed into better finishes.
Of his seven top-10s, half have come within the past 12 races, including top-five runs at both Daytona and Pocono. In Pocono, Byron failed post-qualifying inspection, started in the back, and still got a fourth-place finish. That came a couple weeks after he also started in the rear in Chicago but worked his way forward and eventually took the lead under green-flag conditions. The kid can scoot.
Byron struggled at the first Michigan race, finishing 18th, and he was just 15th in Fontana earlier in the year. But the speed has been there, and he's finally putting together full races. That makes Byron an exciting option at $8,800, especially if he doesn't qualify at the front.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,700): At first glance, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s results this year seem a bit sporadic. He has just two top-10s, and he has finished outside the top 20 in 9 of 22 races. Consistency is a myth here.
But most of his steady runs have come using the rules package in place for this weekend, meaning we need to give him a long look.
Both of Stenhouse's top-10s -- and his lone top-five -- came using this package at races in Las Vegas and Charlotte. In 10 total races running the full rules package they'll use this weekend, Stenhouse has seven finishes of 14th or better, and he has been outside the top 20 just twice (both Pocono races). He's erratic overall, but he's far less erratic in races like the one we'll see on Sunday.
That matters for someone in this salary range. If we can get someone who is projected to be better than their average in the upcoming race, we're likely to get them at an inefficient salary. That seems to be the case with Stenhouse, meaning he could provide some salary relief if he puts up respectable times in practice on Saturday.
Daniel Hemric ($6,800): In this week's track preview, we mentioned that "punting" is not generally a good idea at Michigan. Lower-salaried drivers tend to drive slower cars, and it's hard for them to finish well at such a fast track.
Daniel Hemric is an exception to that.
Hemric is a rookie driving for Richard Childress Racing, and as mentioned with his teammate, Dillon, they have the speed to run well at this track. Hemric showed that in June with a 12th-place finish and 14th-place average running position, his second-best average running position of the season. And Hemric hasn't been bad since then, either.
Hemric's top average running position of the season came at another high-speed track in Pocono. There, he turned an 11th-place average running position into a 7th-place finish, his first Cup Series top-10 at a non-pack-racing track. He was also 13th in the first Pocono race, so they've clearly got the necessary speed to run well at this track type.
Hemric is someone who could qualify well because of that speed, which makes him risky in DFS. But as noted in the track preview, it's hard to find guys who qualify poorly and get good finishing points. That means Hemric can be on our radar for tournaments even if he pumps out a top-15 qualifying run, and he's a cash-game consideration if he dips lower than that.