After a couple of races at 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” tracks, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is at ISM Raceway this weekend (formerly named Phoenix International Raceway), which is a 1-mile flat track that is very similar to Richmond International Raceway–if we ran that track backwards. In addition to a difference in track length and configuration, the importance of track position is much higher here at Phoenix, while fresh tires mean a little less. Remember, Ryan Newman won this race last season after gambling on pit strategy (staying out) during a late caution.
This weekend’s race at ISM Raceway is also pretty short: the drivers are scheduled to run 312 laps on Sunday, but that also only equals 312 miles. With this race being so much shorter than others, that means that there’s less room for errors for these teams–and these drivers (Denny Hamlin). As far as dominator points go, there will be 78 FPTS up for grabs for laps led on Sunday while probably around 140 FPTS for fastest laps, depending on the number of cautions.
DraftKings Drivers I Love For ISM Raceway
Chase Elliott ($9,800) – You knew Chase Elliott had a good car when he qualified 3rd on Friday. When he ended up with the 2nd-fastest lap in Practice #2 on Saturday morning (and the 3rd-best ten-lap average), that added some more confidence to Chase as a Fantasy NASCAR pick. And when he wound up 6th-fastest in Happy Hour with the 2nd-best ten-lap average? Just keep adding to that confidence. But what really topped it all off for me was when Chase Elliott said that this is the best car he’s ever had here. Obviously any driver can say this at any time, but Chase isn’t one of those to lie about something like that. Additionally, if that is true, let’s not forget that Elliott led 106 laps in this race one year ago. He followed that up with 34 laps led in the fall race. And this is the best car he’s ever had here? Love it. Chase has never finished worse than 12th here at Phoenix, and that’s not going to change this weekend. He has a great long-run car for Sunday, and he’s confident. As long as he can get ahead of Truex and Larson early, I think Elliott can put up a ton of dominator points in DraftKings this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,000) – Two Hendrick Motorsports guys on my “Drivers I Love” list…what could go wrong, right? Yes, this organization has gotten off to a terrible start in 2018, but I’ve found that success in Fantasy NASCAR has a lot to do with timing–specifically jumping on the bandwagon of guys that most people have very little confidence in at that moment. Insert Jimmie Johnson. “Seven Time” will roll off the grid from 17th when the Ticket Guardian 500(k) goes green on Sunday, which means he has plenty of room to move up and get some place differential FPTS. Speed-wise, Johnson probably should have qualified much better than that, and when the #48 Chevrolet was in race trim on Saturday, Jimmie posted the 8th-fastest lap in the morning session before ending up 11th-fastest in Happy Hour. In terms of ten-lap average, Johnson was 8th in both sessions. It’s worth noting that the #48 team rarely shows their hand during practice, so when they look like a solid top 10 pick, they’re probably better than that. And at $9,000 in DraftKings, Jimmie could easily be one of the best value picks on Sunday. Finally, looking at the four recent races here at IMS Raceway, Johnson has posted at least 16 fastest laps in three of them (78 fastest total between the three), points that are obviously very valuable in this fantasy format.
Aric Almirola ($8,100) – The #10 team struggled a bit in qualifying once again this week, and Aric will be starting from back in 22nd when the Ticket Guardian 500(k) goes green. That means that, once again, he’s going to be a great pick in Fantasy NASCAR leagues that award points for positive place differential, even though Almirola’s DraftKings salary is the highest it has been all year. With that being said, hopefully that will keep Almirola’s ownership percentage a little lower. As far as this weekend goes, the #10 Ford was almost a completely different car from Friday to Saturday, and Aric started out the first practice session on Saturday with the 12th-fastest lap before posting the 4th-fastest lap in Happy Hour (along with the 3rd-best ten-lap average). Almirola finished 9th the last time we were here at ISM Raceway, and has ended up 17th or better in four of his last five starts here. He’s in much better equipment now, though, so I’m expecting a very good run out of Aric on Sunday–possibly even a career-best result.
Track position is super important at a track like ISM Raceway, but it’s not impossible to move up after a poor qualifying effort on Friday. The good news is that there were a handful of drivers that should finish much better than they will start on Sunday, and a few of them have pretty good records at this track. Those drivers are: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($7,100), who starts 29th, Ty Dillon ($6,400), who starts 28th, and Brad Keselowski ($9,900), who starts 25th. Other drivers that are starting further back and worth consideration are: Aric Almirola ($8,100), who starts 22nd, Kasey Kahne ($6,200), who starts 26th, Darrell Wallace, Jr. ($6,600), who starts 27th, and Michael McDowell ($5,200), who starts 31st.
Erik Jones ($8,300) – It’s going to be easy to overlook Erik Jones this weekend. First off, he starts 9th for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k), which is right on the borderline of qualifying too high to take a shot with the possibility of dominator points. However, ISM raceway is one of Jones’ best tracks on the Cup Series schedule, and he could very well contend for a legitimate top 5 finish this weekend. Don’t forget, Erik is in the #20 Toyota now, and that’s the car that went to victory lane here in the desert last fall. As far as Jones goes, he wound up 4th in that event, and was 8th in the first Phoenix race of 2017. Looking at the loop data, Erik had 27 total fastest laps at Phoenix last season, and 21 of those came in the second race. This #20 team got their first top 10 of the season at Las Vegas last weekend, and they’ve showed good speed this weekend ever since unloading. Jones was 11th-fastest in Practice #2 on Saturday and then wound up 9th-fastest in Happy Hour with the 7th-best ten-lap average.
Ryan Newman ($7,700) – The defending winner of this race almost made my “Drivers I Love” list, but qualifying 13th wasn’t the best thing for Newman to do when it comes to having a high exposure in DraftKings (for me). With that being said, “The Rocketman” is one of the most consistent drivers here at Phoenix–he’s finished 12th or better in seven of the last nine races here–and he’s also the defending winner of this race. Additionally, (and what I really like most about him this weekend) Newman consistently put up fastest laps at this track last season, and that can be huge on race day; Ryan had 31 fastest laps here last fall, and ended up with 18 fastest laps last spring. This weekend, the #31 Chevrolet has shown more speed than normal during practice, too, with Newman ending up 6th-fastest in Practice #2 and then posting the 15th-fastest lap in Happy Hour.
Ty Dillon ($6,400) – It’s hard to consider Ty Dillon a sleeper here at Phoenix, but I’m going to throw him in this category anyway. One reason is because this team has struggled to start the 2018 season, as their 24th-place effort at Las Vegas last weekend has been their best finish thus far. However, if you remember back to last season, Ty Dillon was a cash cow in DraftKings, and he should be a great option throughout 2018, too. As far as this weekend goes, the #13 Chevrolet will start from 28th when we go green on Sunday, and from the outside, it doesn’t look like Ty will improve much on that; Dillon was 31st-fastest in 2nd Practice on Saturday morning, and ranked 31st-fastest in Happy Hour as well (along with having just the 26th-best ten-lap average). However, Ty is one of those drivers that consistently hits his marks during the race, and more often than not he is able to stay on the lead lap–which is exactly what he’s done in each of his last three starts here at Phoenix. In those races, Ty has wound up finishing 15th, 16th, and 11th, and while I don’t see him ending up that high this weekend, a top 20 is within reach. It’s also worth noting that Dillon started 28th when he finished 15th and started 29th when he finished 11th last fall.
Salary Cap Relief
Unfortunately, DraftKings severely under-priced Michael McDowell ($5,200) this weekend, and then he went out and qualified 31st for Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k), so he’s going to be one of the highest-owned drivers in all contests this weekend. Phoenix is by no means McDowell’s best track on the circuit, but he finished 24th and 22nd in the two races here last season, and the Front Row Fords seem to have decent speed once again this week, as his teammate, David Ragan, qualified 16th for Sunday’s race.
As far as other low-dollar options, really the only thing that’s left other than McDowell in the sub-$6,000 price range are punt options. We’ve seen a big wreck or two happen at this 1-mile track in the past, but it’s not very likely. It’s worth noting that DJ Kennington came home 26th in the fall race last season (after starting 37th), and he was in the #15 Chevrolet. Ross Chastain ($4,600) is in that car this weekend, and he has a couple of top 30 finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas thus far in 2018. Chastain will start 36th on Sunday, so if he can muster a high-20s finish, his point-per-dollar value would probably be worth the risk.
Fade That Pick!
The following drivers qualified too high and have little chance at getting dominator points, so I will have very little exposure (if any) on Sunday: Joey Logano ($9,500), Ryan Blaney ($8,900), Alex Bowman ($7,900), William Byron ($6,900), David Ragan ($5,400).
If you’ve read this far–which, thank you, if you have–you’re probably wondering, “what about Kevin Harvick ($11,400)? … And why are you now mentioning him in your Fade section?” Well, as the saying goes: no nuts, no glory. The #4 Ford has been incredible these first three races, and pretty much unstoppable over the last two. Add in the fact that Harvick is an eight-time winner here at Phoenix and it’s pretty much a no-brainer, right? Especially considering he was the fastest car in both practice sessions on Saturday, and also had the best ten-lap average in Happy Hour. Hear me out here.
Harvick lost his edge here at Phoenix in this race two years ago. Yes, he won the race by edging Carl Edwards, but in the three races we’ve ran here since then, “Happy” has led a grand total of zero laps and has had just 25 total fastest laps (no, that’s not a typo). Of course, Harvick has finished 4th, 6th, and 5th in those three races, but from a DraftKings perspective, not getting those dominator points is a killer–especially on a week like this, when Harvick is priced so high. Now, for the record, I won’t be doing a full-on fade with Harvick, but I’m probably going to be under-weight on him. What will be interesting is just how high his ownership percentage is on Sunday. That $11,400 salary is hard to fit in on a DraftKings lineup, but McDowell’s $5,200 cap relief helps offset that a bit. One thing to note if you’re on the edge when it comes to fading Harvick: he starts back in 10th–which is great for some place differential FPTS–but with how hard it is to pass here, there’s no guarantee that the #4 Ford is going to make it to the front quickly. And if and when Harvick does get up there, he then has to get around guys like Elliott, Truex, Larson, and Kyle Busch.
Driver Point Projections for Phoenix
The following chart takes into account the very basics: the starting position and the projected finish of each driver. The projected finishes are averaged from five different ranking systems, using both mathematical equations as well as personal rankings. This chart also includes the average projected base + laps led + fastest laps DraftKings FPTS as well as the dollar per FPT. This is my first week trying to project fastest laps, so you can take those with a grain of salt. You can click the headers below to sort the chart by that attribute. By default it is sorted by average projected FPTS.
|Driver||DraftKings Salary||Avg Proj Base + Laps Led FPTS||Starting Position||Avg. Projected Finish||Proj Laps Led||Proj Fastest Laps||Dollar Per FPT|
|Martin Truex Jr||$10,900||71.3||1||04.0||56||39||$153|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||$7,100||37.0||29||18.0||0||0||$192|
|Darrell Wallace Jr||$6,600||29.5||27||20.8||0||0||$224|