Dale Earnhardt Jr. Goes for Third Win at Pocono
Thanks to an issue with the integrity of the way pass differential was calculated, DraftKings has chosen to overhaul its game in two ways. First, pass differential is no longer a category. Second, rosters will now consist of six drivers – it used to be five – with the salary cap remaining at $50,000 but with base lower base salaries.
The question Fantasy owners should be asking is, “Is this a big deal?” I say it is.
In the previous iteration of the game on DraftKings, the average salary allotment was $10,000 per player. With the added roster spot, the average salary drops to $8,333. At first glance, there aren’t many quality options in this price range. Figuring out how to structure a roster under the new format will be an interesting exercise.
[caption id="attachment_95864" align="alignright" width="374"] Dale Earnhardt Jr. won both 2014 races at The Tricky Triangle. Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps[/caption]
I’ll start with this caveat: After careful consideration, I don’t really see the value in starting a driver who costs over $10,000 in this new format. That said, Kyle Busch ($10,800) is absolutely insane, and if there’s a driver out there worth sacrificing the bottom half of your roster for it’s Rowdy. He’s only won each of the last three Sprint Cup races leading 163 (Kentucky), 96 (Loudon) and 19 laps (Indy) in the process. Historically, Busch isn’t very consistent at Pocono Raceway, trading Top 10s for DNFs. He’s led zero laps at the site since 2011, but something tells me he will be highly motivated to get out front. Busch’s rise to the Top 30 in the point standings was supposed to be somewhat in question. Now it’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Fantasy owners can bet Busch wouldn’t mind sealing the Chase deal on Sunday. While I can’t recommend rolling Busch in DFS, it’s definitely a justified move. As for Tiered/Grouping formats and Salary Cap leagues, Busch is an elite option.
Back during Denny Hamlin’s ($9,300) reign as king of Pocono, he logged back-to-back wins (2009-10) and led at least 19 laps in six consecutive races. Ever since then he’s been good, but not great. However, things are trending upwards for the No. 11 driver. He’s logged one Top 5 and three Top 10s with an Average Finish of 7.7. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Hamlin leads all drivers in Fastest Laps Run (437) and Laps Led (667). My strategy moving forward will likely hinge on the top half of my roster consisting of drivers in the low $9,000s. Hamlin is right in that sweet spot and has a boatload of upside at one of his best tracks.
When you sweep any site on the NASCAR circuit in any given year, you deserve a look that week in Fantasy leagues. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($9,200) did just that at Pocono in 2014, hence the look. On top of the two wins, Junior also finished fifth in the August 2013 event. What’s so impressive about Earnhardt Jr.’s recent renaissance at PR is that he’s never been particularly good there. But this is a new No. 88 driver, one who adapts to uncomfortable surroundings, as evidenced by improvements at tracks he’s never been great at (Sonoma comes to mind). His recent success at Pocono is not a flash in the pan. His years of collecting data (31 starts) are finally paying off. Junior is a solid DFS play.
I bet you didn’t know Jamie McMurray ($8,100) has logged three consecutive Top 10s at Pocono. Don’t worry; I didn’t either until I looked it up. And he’s even better this year than in the past two; he currently has the ninth-most Sprint Cup points. He has 16 career Fastest Laps Run at the site, a nice bonus for Fantasy owners. But the reality is, with his price coming in under the average per player allotment in DraftKings, he’s a serious bargain. Roll him if you can make it work within your cap.
There was a time when Tony Stewart ($7,900) would be a lock for any and all Fantasy lineups at the Tricky Triangle. And while he’s shown some signs of life over the past month, the fact is Fantasy owners cannot trust The Artist Formerly Known as Smoke the way they used to. His decline stretches back a couple of years, so any data compiled in that time period is valid. In the June 2014 event, Stewart led 24 laps and finished 13th, a feat that seems next to impossible right now. But at least it lets us know it’s happened in the recent past. Stewart’s DFS price is hovering right around the average, so out of all three formats I like him in DraftKings the least. That said, if you’re a true believer he’s an excellent value in Tiered/Grouping and Salary Cap formats.
Prior to his 39th-place DNF in the June race at Pocono, Ryan Newman ($7,600) posted five straight finishes of eighth-or-better and 14 straight finishes of 15th-or-better. To get legitimate Top 10 upside at this DFS price is an oversight by whoever makes the prices, and Fantasy owners need to capitalize on it.
It feels like Austin Dillon ($7,500) comes up every week in this piece. But if DraftKings is going to undervalue him, I cannot and will not ignore that. He’s logged seven consecutive Top 25s, showing some much needed consistency at a very high level. In his three career starts at Pocono, Dillon has never finished worse than 19th with an Average Finish of 17.0. He’s also completed 100 percent of his laps run at PR, making him a very safe bet to continue his Top 25 streak this weekend. I back him in all formats.
Greg Biffle ($7,100) might not be a sexy pick by anyone’s standards, but the price is right this weekend. The Biff won this race in August 2010, and he’s posted eight consecutive Top 25s with an Average Finish of 16.0. His second-place finish in June 2013 is one of the few times Biffle has shown any signs of life the last few seasons. If any track can pump life into a lifeless Biffle it’s this one. His price fits the new mold of roster composition and is a top value play in DFS.
If you’re looking for some roster flexibility, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,400) has posted one Top 15 and two Top 20s in two of his last three PR appearances. He’s by no means a lock to repeat that; then again, no one in this price range is a lock for anything.
A.J. Allmendinger ($6,300) makes this list simply on name recognition. In his last six PR starts, four of them have resulted in DNFs. One of them resulted in a 21st-place finish (June 2014), which makes him a borderline option on the low end of rosters.
Justin Allgaier ($6,200) is a good value every week, but this week he’s a particularly great option. He’s run three races at Pocono. In the first he led six laps. In the last two he’s posted Top 20 finishes with a place-differential of +16. He’s has run 31.9 percent of his Laps in the Top 15 at Pocono. DFS and Tiered/Grouping formats remain Allgaier’s wheelhouse.
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