Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: 1000Bulbs.com 500
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 1000Bulbs.com 500.
Joey Logano (FanDuel Salary: $14,500): Joey Logano has been in a slump recently with just one top-five in the past 13 races, meaning it may be tough to swallow him as the most expensive driver on the board. But all that gets thrown at the window when Penske Racing drivers like Logano go to a pack-racing track.
It's hard to be consistent at pack-racing tracks with all the volatility, so in the past seven such races, only two drivers have more than two top-fives. One is Denny Hamlin ($14,000) with three; Logano has five. That includes going three-for-three in the Talladega races in that time with a win in the 2018 spring race. Logano has won three of the past eight Talladega races, and he has been in the top five in all six races where he hasn't crashed. It doesn't get much better than that.
The slump is real for Logano, but he has been far from an embarrassment. He led 105 laps in Las Vegas during the first round of the playoffs, and he was runner-up in Indianapolis the race before that. The speed is still there, so Logano should be one of the first drivers we turn to when picking an assumed winner in tournament lineups.
Chase Elliott ($12,000): Logano is not the most recent winner in Talladega, though; that honor belongs to Chase Elliott, and his Hendrick Motorsports cars have been lightning quick on the pack-racing tracks this year.
It started back in Daytona, where Elliott's teammates -- William Byron ($10,000) and Alex Bowman ($10,500) -- swept the front row in qualifying. Elliott then led 45 laps and won in Talladega with Bowman in second, and Byron finished second in the July Daytona race with Jimmie Johnson ($9,500) third. Hendrick cars have four top-three finishes in three pack-racing races, and that speed has been present in all four cars in the stable. That means we should view them in a positive light entering the weekend.
The one downside of the Hendrick cars being this fast is that they'll likely qualify well, which lowers their appeal for DFS. But because there are four of them, there's always a chance that one of them slips, in which case we'd want to hop all over them. That speed also means we can use this team for our assumed winner slot, so be sure to at least consider all of Elliott, Bowman, Byron, and Johnson for tournaments regardless of where they start.
Aric Almirola ($9,000): In last year's fall Talladega race, it wasn't a Penske or a Hendrick car in victory lane. Stewart-Haas Racing dominated that one, leading 153 of the first 190 laps. Even when Kevin Harvick ($13,500) and Kurt Busch ($9,700) ran out of gas, Aric Almirola was there to snag his first win since 2014.
There was a bit of luck involved in getting Almirola that win as Harvick and Busch had been the two leading the pack all race, but it wasn't a fluke. After a ninth-place finish this spring, Almirola now has six straight top-10s in Talladega, a span that stretches back even to when he had poor equipment with Richard Petty Motorsports. His other Cup Series win was also at a pack-racing track when he won the July Daytona race, and five of his 16 career top-fives have come at either Daytona or Talladega.
Almirola has been eliminated from the playoffs, so he doesn't have to worry about chasing points, unlike Harvick and teammate Clint Bowyer ($11,000). That's not a major concern with the cutoff being next week, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Almirola's an elite play if he slips in qualifying, and he's a fairly attractive part of a Stewart-Haas stack if you decide to go that route.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,700): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is erratic and volatile, two attributes that likely contributed to his removal from this ride for next year. But that driving style can work on pack-racing tracks, as Stenhouse has shown multiple times in the past.
Back in 2017, Stenhouse won a pair of pack-racing races, one in Talladega and the other in the July Daytona race. He enters this weekend with four straight top-fives in Talladega races he has finished and just two crashes in that time. For a guy nicknamed "Wrecky," that's not too bad.
Because of this finishing upside, Stenhouse is in play as an assumed winner regardless of where he starts, so we can consider him in tournaments for sure. If he slips back in qualifying, then he can be a cash-game play despite his reputation. His driving style is more likely to lead to wrecks than that of other drivers, but truthfully, anybody can crash at a track like this. As such, we shouldn't ignore someone like Stenhouse if he fits our process just because his wreck odds are slightly higher than those of other drivers.
Ryan Newman ($7,500): Stenhouse could not be more different than his teammate, Ryan Newman. Whereas Stenhouse is always jockeying for the lead at the front, Newman tends to chill in the back, hoping to avoid wrecks and be around at the finish. They're very different strategies, but both have proven to be successful.
This conservative driving style has allowed Newman to scoop five top-10 finishes at pack-racing tracks since the start of 2018, tied with Logano for the most in the Cup Series in that time. Two of those top-10s were in Talladega, and he added a second-place finish here back in 2017. There's value in ensuring you're not caught up in a big wreck, and Newman has worked this strategy to perfection.
The other perk of Newman is that he doesn't tend to qualify as well as Stenhouse, further boosting his floor. He qualified 24th here in the spring while Stenhouse was 6th, and Newman cranked out a 7th-place finish. Assuming this trend continues, Newman will be a high-floor value play who will also carry a bit of a ceiling due to the place-differential points he can rack up en route to a respectable finish.
Kevin Harvick ($13,500): Kevin Harvick's track record at Talladega is far less sparkly than most other tracks with his lone win here coming all the way back in 2010. Those finishes can be misleading, though, and Harvick's current form is as good as anybody else in the series.
Last year's race is the best example of why it can be tricky to fixate on finishing positions. There, as mentioned in the Almirola blurb, Stewart-Haas Racing controlled the entire event, and Harvick led 46 laps before running out of gas. He was fourth in last year's spring race before crashing in the spring of this year and finishing 38th.
Speed matters in Talladega, and the Stewart-Haas cars are very likely to have it, based on what they showed last year in Talladega and this year at bigger tracks like Michigan, California, and Indianapolis. Harvick has had a top-six average running position in five straight races, so even with a mediocre record at Talladega, he is still someone we should assume will contend this weekend.
Clint Bowyer ($11,000): The other guys in the Stewart-Haas stable (outside of the aforementioned Almirola and Harvick) are Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez ($8,000). Both should be fast this weekend, and Bowyer has the added bonus of very respectable current form.
Bowyer has notched top-10 finishes in six of his past seven races with a pair of top-fives in that time. He needed to crank things up for the playoff run, and he has done exactly that. Those strong finishes have come with a top-10 average running position five times in the past seven races, so Bowyer is earning these points, and it means we can feel better about him continuing that success going forward.
Bowyer occasionally takes a similar approach to Newman, lurking back further in the pack, but he enters this weekend four points behind the cutline to advance to the next round. He's probably going to have to gun for stage points, which does increase the risk around Bowyer, and we should take that into consideration. However, Bowyer was second in Talladega last year, so he has plenty of finishing juice, which makes him interesting despite the potential emphasis on points.
Erik Jones ($8,300): In the past eight races, Erik Jones has one finish better than 15th, and he has finished 36th or worse in half of those races. Sub-optimal!
But those poor finishes have pushed Jones' salary way down, and he has still flashed upside in that span. We shouldn't give up on him yet, even while acknowledging that there's plenty of volatility here.
In that same eight-race sample, Jones has had a top-10 average running position four times. One of them was a win in Darlington, and another was a fourth-place finish in Richmond. That Richmond run was wiped out by disqualification, but he was strong again in Dover last week before late issues pushed him back to 15th. The speed has still been there, even if it's not always resulting in good finishes.
Jones has just one finish better than 19th in Talladega, so he has struggled here, but he won in Daytona last year and was third in this year's Daytona 500. He's a volatile driver at a volatile track, meaning it's hard to feel safe with Jones, but the upside is still high enough to justify continued investment.
Paul Menard ($7,000): Paul Menard may be making his final pack-racing start as he prepares for retirement in 2020. But he's still running well enough where we can look his way this weekend.
At a salary of $7,000, you really need only a top-15 finish for a driver to be a pretty solid outlet. Menard has been pumping those out recently with finishes of 12th or better in three of the past six races, including a pair of top-10s in that stretch. His average running positions the past two races have been 12th and 13th, respectively, meaning he's not lucking his way into the good runs, either.
Menard isn't quite the savant he used to be on pack-racing tracks, but he has still been solid recently. He has four finishes of 13th or better in his past four trips to Talladega, including a ninth-place run last year after starting back in 30th. He's in a technical alliance with the Penske cars in Logano, Brad Keselowski ($12,500), and Ryan Blaney ($10,200), meaning he stacks well with those cars, and he is a bit more likely to start deeper in the pack. As long as that does happen, Menard figures to be a solid value this weekend.
Matt DiBenedetto ($6,500): The guy replacing Menard at Wood Brothers Racing next year will be Matt DiBenedetto, and getting him access to the Penske Racing engines will be a major upgrade for DiBenedetto. But even as he finishes out the year with Leavine Family Racing, DiBenedetto is in play at Talladega.
As mentioned seemingly thousands of times recently, DiBenedetto has consistently run well at tracks where the driver carries more weight than the equipment. That trend continued last week in Dover as he logged a seventh-place finish, his seventh top-10 in the past 15 races. Equipment matters at Talladega, but it's far from being the end-all, be-all, which means he is in play again here.
DiBenedetto's best runs at pack-racing tracks have come in Daytona. He has a pair of top-10s in the past two July races there, and he was pushing for a win in the 500 before this happened.
A similar thing happened in Talladega this spring. DiBenedetto started 26th but had a 16th-place average running position before getting caught up in another late wreck.
Neither of these incidents were of DiBenedetto's doing; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's got the talent to run at the front, and he still comes with a bargain-bin salary. DiBenedetto would be one of the top value plays if he were to qualify poorly again.