There is a buzz in the Fantasy NASCAR space this week unlike any other in the past , as DraftKings prepares to drop the Daily Gaming Flag on the first-ever DFS events in Fantasy Auto Racing history. Meanwhile, for competitors in season-long leagues, it’s another week of trying to stay near the top of the standings pack until you can make a serious move later in the schedule when it really counts.
In most formats, the big question is whether to opt for Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick this week. On DraftKings, frontloading your lineup with both of them seems to be nearly impossible. When you combine them at DK, they eat up $22.600 of total salary. On Yahoo, you can only pick one in the A list. On NASCAR Fantasy Live, you should be able to frontload the lineup with two of them if you get creative with the rest of your squad. I have been able to utilize Harvick and another elite driver every week.
While Harvick has been the hottest driver in the sport since Johnson was dominating during his championship years, there is no question that Charlotte Motor Speedway is Johnson’s turf.
Johnson seems to have his name attached to the top of every meaningful stat category associated with the Coca Cola 600. Johnson has the most wins at the site and most among active drivers in this event. He won this event from the pole last year. He leads all competitors in key Loop Data stats, including the all-important Driver Rating (111.6), and he has an Average Running Position of 7.6. Most notable for players on DraftKings is the fact that he leads in Fastest Laps Run (688) and Quality Passes (passes of cars in the Top 15 while under green flag conditions) with 1,031. He has also spent 87.5 percent of his laps in the Top 15, best for any driver as well.
Harvick, however, has won two of the past four races at CMS. He does not rank higher than fourth in any of the primary Loop Data categories at the site but he is best among Closers (positions improved in the last 10 percent of laps in each race). Past trends at CMS indicate that Johnson may lead more laps but Harvick could snatch victory away late, as we have seen him do so often before.
Fantasy players should simply pay close attention to the practice runs, especially the Best Consecutive 10 Lap Averages, available on NASCAR.com and Jayski.com. The final practice could be a strong indicator of who may run better between the two. Ultimately, your choice may come down to pricing and season usage depending on your format. On DraftKings, Johnson is $13,200 , which is $1,000 less than Harvick, and if he is running anywhere close to Harvick in pre-race events, I would save the money there. On Yahoo, if you have burned too many Harvick starts, this will be a prime week to use Johnson.
This is the longest race of the season; endurance will be a prime factor. So you will want to avoid Tony Stewart again, considering he has three DNFs. Keep a close watch on starting positions here. The second place position has produced 17 CMS winners, more than any other starting slot. A total of 32 races have been won from the front row. Naturally, Johnson and Harvick finished one-two in this event last season. You must also strongly consider that 75.8 percent of the CMS races have been won from a Top 10 starting position. Of course Johnson has defied logic, winning once after starting 37th.
There are questions about whether Kyle Busch can handle the length and demands of this event after finally returning from a broken leg and foot. Yes, he did finish sixth in the All-Star Race last week at CMS. Plus, he ranks second in DR (106.7), Average Running Position (9.8), Quality Passes, Average Green Flag Speed and Laps in the Top 15 at the site. But at $10,300 on DraftKings and with the lure of saving his starts on Yahoo, or using a driver with more seasonal experience in NASCAR Fantasy Live, it’s best to avoid him this week.
Denny Hamlin won the All-Star race last week, and while the format is certainly more unique than the CC 600, it has to be noted that seven drivers who won the AS race went on to win this week’s event. Kurt Busch was the last to turn the trick in 2010. Hamlin is fifth in DR, fourth in ARP and third in Laps in the Top 15 at CMS, so he is a solid choice. His $10,900 tag on DK is sensible if you do not want to frontload with a Harvick or Johnson and want to balance your top selections a bit more. Inconsistency, however, has been an issue for Hamlin this season. I would not lock him in based on the AS race result, but if he qualifies up front and runs very well in the final practice session, I may boost my estimation of him.
Kurt Busch has finished in the Top 15 in every race since he returned to the circuit, and is a very safe pick for this event. His CMS Loop Data stats are unimpressive overall, but he did win this race in 2010 and he has been maintaining strong momentum. Kasey Kahne, however, is the must- have on DraftKings at $10,100 and the Yahoo B list, and is worth maneuvering for in NASCAR Fantasy Live. He has two Top 5s at CMS over the last two years and has led nearly 300 laps during that span. He has four wins at CMS, and ranks third in DR, Quality Passes and Green-Flag Passes. He is second in Fastest Laps Run and fourth in Laps in the Top 15.
Pairing Johnson with Kahne on DraftKings allows for both a strong core and good overall balance. Plus, they are Hendrick Motorsports teammates and the team leads all with the most CMS victories (18). Any Hendrick driver makes for a good selection this week. Jeff Gordon has five CMS wins and ranks third in Average Green Flag Speed. He has taken the pole nine times, but could be a risk for pass differential on DraftKings if he starts on the front row. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is always a viable pick at a “cookie cutter” track.
Despite his outstanding season so far, Martin Truex Jr. has never recorded a Top 5 at CMS. Matt Kenseth is fourth in DR, Fastest Laps Run and QPs and can never be written off. Brad Keselowski won the second CMS event in 2013. Joey Logano has four Top 5s and seven Top 10s in 12 CMS starts and he, along with Kenseth and Keselowski, should be monitored closely for where they start and how well they practice. Jamie McMurray has won twice at CMS and has 10 Top 10s.
Among the lower-priced and tiered drivers, Austin Dillon finished in the Top 16 in both CMS races last season. Ryan Blaney should be watched closely in pre-race events. Chase Elliott is a future star in Hendrick equipment and he is a must-start in most formats this week. Justin Allgaier finished among the Top 15 in the second CMS race last year and Sam Hornish Jr. is capable of a decent finish for a low price.
Ultimately, your decisions will come down to a combination of past numbers, current momentum and pre-race performances, especially the final practice. I’m locking in Johnson, Kahne, Dillon and Elliott in many lineups initially but will be waking up for early-morning tweaks on Sunday.