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 Gander RV 400 in Pocono.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Salary: $15,000): A discussion of Pocono can’t lead off with anybody other than Kyle Busch. He mops up here, and he pairs all that with elite current form.
Busch won the first race here in June, his third Pocono win within the past four races. He was third in the other, and Busch has led at least 50 laps in four of the past five Pocono races. Whenever the Cup Series comes here, you know Busch is going to be running at the front.
Busch has had similar levels of dominance in 2019, even outside of the win at Pocono. He hasn’t won since that race, but he did lead 72 laps in Kentucky and 118 in Loudon, boasting a top-six average running position in both. Busch is almost in a tier of his own entering the weekend.
Denny Hamlin ($12,000): Denny Hamlin has four career wins in Pocono, the most among active drivers. However, none of those wins have come since 2010, and two of them happened during his 2006 rookie season. Even with that in mind, we should view Hamlin in a positive light at this track.
Hamlin ripped off a sixth-place finish here in June with an eighth-place average running position, showing that the finish was not a fluke. He also had a seventh-place average running position for the July races in 2017 and 2018, and he has had a top-10 average running position in 7 of the past 13 races. His wins were a long time ago, but Hamlin has still run well here in recent events.
Hamlin has two straight top-fives and three within his past five races, and all three have come on different track types. That’s in addition to his strong run in Pocono before that stretch. Hamlin’s firmly over an early-summer slump, and we can absolutely consider him, even at an elevated salary of $12,000.
Erik Jones ($9,400): In five career races at Pocono, Erik Jones’ average driver rating is 102.1, the highest for him at any track the Cup Series runs twice per year. It’s mixed with plus current form, meaning Jones should keep his hot streak rolling this weekend.
In those five Pocono races, Jones has four top-10s and three top-fives. One of those top-fives was back in June when he finished third, a run strengthened by his eighth-place average running position. His average running position has been 10th or better in all of his top-10 finishes here, and you can’t fake that.
Jones’ third-place finish in Pocono is one of four third-place finishes within the past nine races, and he has finished in the top 10 in each race where he hasn’t had issues. Jones is capable of netting his second career win soon, and there aren’t many spots better for him to push for one than Pocono.
William Byron ($8,800): Twenty percent of William Byron’s 10 career top-10s in the Cup Series have come in Pocono. His overall current form should make his record at this track even more interesting.
Five of Byron’s six top-10s in 2019 have come in the past 10 races, a stretch that included the best finish of his career, a runner-up in Daytona. One of the top-10s in that stretch was in Pocono when Bryon led 25 laps from the pole, had an eighth-place average running position, and finished ninth.
In addition to a sixth-place finish during his rookie campaign, Byron also won in Pocono in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series back in 2016. With Byron showing increased speed recently and this being a clear plus track for him, it’s worthwhile to consider Byron as a mid-range play even if he winds up starting near the front.
Daniel Hemric ($6,000): Daniel Hemric has had a rough go of it in his rookie season, notching just one top-10 finish in 20 races. But his third-best finish was a 13th-place run in June in Pocono, which at least merits mentioning here.
In that race, Hemric had a 17th-place average running position. That was his fourth-best mark of the year, which makes it even more of a positive. Hemric’s best average running position was 14th in Michigan, another larger track where speed is a necessity. The Richard Childress Racing cars of Hemric and Austin Dillon ($7,000) have had fast equipment this year; they just haven’t always been able to cash that in with quality finishes.
Hemric’s speed is noteworthy entering the weekend. He’s a value play who has the potential to churn out a top-15 finish, and that carries weight with his salary being this low. If Hemric fails to qualify well, he could provide us with plenty of savings, just as he did back in June.
Kevin Harvick ($13,500): Kevin Harvick finally got his long-awaited first win of 2019 last week, outrunning Hamlin in the latter laps at New Hampshire. That win was bound to happen eventually, and Harvick will likely have speed again this weekend in Pocono.
That stout equipment was present in the first trip to Pocono this year, as well. Harvick was running down Busch under green-flag conditions, but a penalty for a tire violation flushed Harvick’s speed down the drain. He still had a 10th-place average running position, something he has had in all but six races this year. Speed hasn’t been the question; it has been rebounding when put behind in the running order.
New Hampshire was a bit different, though. There, Harvick didn’t have the best car and started in 14th. But he worked his way forward and put himself in position to capitalize on plus track position late. Don’t be shocked if the tide starts to turn for Harvick, and he could flex some muscle again here at Pocono.
Ryan Blaney ($10,700): Ryan Blaney is a former winner in Pocono, getting his first win here back in 2017, so we could have plugged him into the track history section. He has showed enough speed recently, though, to justify discussion here, as well.
Blaney enters Pocono with four top-10s and two top-fives in the past six races, including a fourth-place run last week in New Hampshire. Blaney had major speed in practice there and was strong in the race, too, but some early miscues on pit road forced him to dig his way out of a hole. One of the other top-10 runs was in Michigan, another track that emphasizes speed, similar to Pocono.
Blaney had a seventh-place average running position in Pocono’s June race last year, further legitimizing that 2017 win. Using Blaney means adding volatility to your lineup, but that’s not a bad thing when that volatility includes the ability to net a top-five finish.
Kyle Larson ($10,500): Pocono has never been Kyle Larson’s best track. He has two top-fives here in 11 races, but he also has just five top-10s. Coupled with Larson’s overall form in 2019, it may push you to stay away from him on Sunday. But Larson has been trending up in a hurry, and that improved form did include an impressive run in Pocono earlier.
In that June race, Larson was pretty clearly racing for points. His team decided to prioritize points and leave Larson on the track when other teams pitted at the ends of stages, allowing Larson to win both the first and second stages. Unfortunately, Larson couldn’t convert that into a solid finish as he hit the wall late, but being in position to win both stages shows that Larson’s speed has shot up recently.
The concern with Larson is that points may — once again — be a larger priority for Larson than finishing position, and we don’t get points for stage finishes in fantasy. Larson’s just 31 points ahead of the playoff cutline, which is firmly in the danger zone. But if Larson can get a win, he’ll be locked into the playoffs and allowed to breathe a bit easier. Wins seem to be more realistic now for Larson than they have been all year, so we shouldn’t avoid Larson solely out of fear that they’ll go for the stage wins rather than the race win.
Ryan Newman ($8,000): Speed has not been Ryan Newman’s strong-suit this year, and that does matter at such a large track. But Newman’s finishes of late force us to consider him even with those concerns in mind.
Newman enters Pocono having gotten a top-10 finish in five of the past six races. Those five top-10s have come on five different track types, including a large, two-mile track in Michigan where speed is also necessary. That should elevate Newman a bit in our mind.
This run for Newman started right after the first trip to Pocono when Newman finished 16th with a 17th-place average running position. Although that’s not setting the world on fire, it’s also not terrible. When you combine that with his run in Michigan, it’s clear that Newman’s lack of top-end speed should not prevent him from making another run at a top-10 finish this weekend. As a result, Newman should be someone we feel pretty safe targeting once we get below $9,000.
Michael McDowell ($4,000): In general, you’re going to want to avoid punting at Pocono. Most of our fantasy points will come via finishing position, and most punt plays aren’t going to churn out a good enough finish to nudge us in the right direction there.
But if you’re going to punt, Michael McDowell seems to have the best combination of current form and track history.
McDowell got off to a sluggish start, but over the past seven races, he has produced four top-20 finishes, including three within his past four races. McDowell’s average running position has also been 21st or better in that four-race stretch, which is certainly palatable for someone in this salary tier.
The turnaround for McDowell seemed to start at Pocono in June when he had a 20th-place finish and a 22nd-place average running position. He had an 18th-place finish here in 2017 and a 16th last year, so he clearly knows how to wheel his way around the track. As such, if you do decide you need to punt in order to generate upside elsewhere, McDowell seems to be a solid option, as long as he doesn’t qualify well.