One of the feel-good stories of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has been the rise of Matt DiBenedetto. Looking to prove himself in his first year with Leavine Family Racing, DiBenedetto has elevated the team the No. 95 into a weekly Top 15 threat with legitimate Top 10, nearly winning at Bristol.
His performance landed him a ride in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 for next season, and in the meantime, he has become a fantasy darling in both season-long and DFS contests. Whether he is outperforming his price tag in salary-cap based games or offering more upside than the alternatives in tiered contests like the Driver Group Game, DiBenedetto has been the Fantasy NASCAR equivalent of a late-round sleeper that turns out to be a star.
While DiBenedetto has been the biggest overachiever of 2019, he isn’t the only unheralded driver who fantasy owners should be paying attention to. After slow starts, both Ryan Preece and Ty Dillon have enjoyed a noticeable uptick in performance the last couple of months, and it is time to start taking advantage of both drivers as we enter the home stretch of the season.
His rookie year started on a high note when he survived all the wrecks and finished eighth in the Daytona 500. Unfortunately, the Top 10 effort in the opener was one of the only bright spots for Preece over the first several months.
He did dodge the wrecks again at Talladega in the spring and finish third, but outside of those two superspeedway events, he didn’t manage a single Top 15 finish in the first 22 races, and he only cracked the Top 20 on two other occasions. Preece posted a 24.86 average finish over those 22 starts, and that mark drops to 26.8 if you throw out his Top 10s at Daytona and Talladega.
His season was going nowhere fast, but then came a surprise seventh-place finish at Michigan in August. The Top 10 run turned out to be the start of his best stretch to date, and Preece has notched six Top 20s in the last 10 races, posting a 19.0 average finish, and he has finished 22nd or better in eight of those nine races.
He has also shown improvement in several scoring loop categories used to measure a driver’s overall performance during a race.
|Races 1-22||Races 23-32|
|Average Running Position||24.23||22.6|
|Top 20 Finishes||4||6|
Looking ahead to next season, he could make the leap to consistent Top 20 driver. If you plan on playing any season-long, salary-cap based games in 2020, check out Preece’s price tag. He could end up being a bargain when all is said and done.
It is baby steps, for sure, but for a first-year driver for a mid-level team, the improvement is encouraging. Preece is currently running well enough to be used as a source of cap relief at the DFS sites when he qualifies poorly, and if you play the Driver Group Game, he’s become a viable Group C alternative to Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto.
Armed with a little more experience at the Cup level, Dillon enjoyed a few more solid runs than Preece in the first half of the year. Like Preece, his best performances came at the superspeedways, and for the most part, he was lucky to crack the Top 25 most weeks.
The last 10 races have been a much different story, and Dillon has suddenly become a staple of the top half of the field. He has finished inside the Top 20 in seven of his last 10 starts, doubling his total from the first 22 races. He has actually finished 16th or better five times in that same stretch while compiling a 17.6 average finish.
By comparison, he posted a 21.68 average finish in the 22 races prior, a mark that dips to 23.35 if you throw out his Top 10s in the two Daytona races. Dillon has also shown an upward trend in the scoring loop categories that suggest his recent success is more than just a run of good luck.
|Races 1-22||Races 23-32|
|Average Running Position||23.5||21.4|
|Top 20 Finishes||7||7|
I’m not sold on Dillon’s talent by any means, and if he wasn’t the grandson of Richard Childress, I doubt he has a racing career. Still, there is no denying that he knows how to take care of his equipment and grab spots when other drivers make mistakes. Now that he is running a little better overall, those Top 25s are becoming Top 20s, and his Top 20s are becoming Top 15s.
In years past, Dillon didn’t have any real fantasy value outside of the superspeedways, but that has changed. He has quietly become one of the safer sources of cap relief at the DFS sites, and I’ve had a lot of success using him in cash lineups the last few weeks.
Even in season-long contests, he has become a useful asset. In the Driver Group, Matt DiBenedetto is the only Group C option who has scored more points than Dillon over the last 10 races. If you are out of starts from DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher, you now know where to turn.