The summer stretch of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season continues this weekend with a return trip to Michigan International Speedway. It is hard to believe, but including Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at MIS, there are just four races left before the playoffs. A lot has changed over the course of the year in terms of driver performance, so since we are heading back to Michigan, I decided to take a look at which drivers having been trending up and who has gone in the wrong direction since the June race at the two-mile oval.
Consider it a stock report of sorts, and as with any stock, expectations and past performance have a lot to do with how I view a driver’s fantasy value. A driver who is delivering Top 10 finishes can still be a disappointment if they are normally leading laps and contending for wins every week. Similarly, a driver sneaking into the Top 15 can be a great fantasy sleeper if they normally run in the back of the pack.
It doesn’t matter if you are playing season-long Fantasy NASCAR contests that use drivers tiers and limit allocations or if you strictly play NACSAR DFS at DraftKings and Fanduel, knowing when to target particular drivers to get the most bang for your buck is always going to be a recipe for success.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at who’s hot and who’s underperforming ahead of Sunday’s second stop at Michigan International Speedway.
Hamlin has caught fire the last couple of months, and over the last eight races, he has a series-best five Top 5 finishes and leads all drivers with 306 points scored. He ranks fourth in laps led in that same stretch, leading laps in seven of the eight races. Whether you play season-long contests that focus mainly on driver points or DFS contests that factor in laps led and other categories, Hamlin should be a mainstay of all your fantasy lineups right now.
Doesn’t Jones remind you a lot of a young Kyle Busch? He is still looking to put it all together, but when he gets hot, he looks like one of the best to get behind the wheel. Well, Jones is sure locked in right now, and in addition to tying for the series lead with six Top 10s in the last eight races, he has finished fourth or better in each of his last four starts. I wouldn’t worry about trying to target specific tracks to use Jones. Just take advantage of this hot streak as long as it lasts.
Early in the year, Blaney was leading laps and showing tons of speed, but he could never seem to finish off races. At best, he was a high-risk, high-reward GPP option for the DFS sites. Something changed with his approach the last few months because has logged six Top 10s in the last eight races, finishing sixth or better for times and posting a 10.8 average finish. In fact, Blaney’s only finish outside the Top 15 came at Daytona. Yes, he has lost a little upside at the DFS sites since he isn’t leading many laps, but he has become an excellent season-long option with his newfound consistency.
Has any driver done more for their race team this year than Newman? He took over a Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 ride that had been running in the middle of the pack for years, and he is sitting on the cusp of a playoff appearance. He has been running particularly well of late, logging five Top 10s in the last eight races. Newman has an 11.5 average finish in that same stretch, and he is gaining an average of 10.7 spots per race. Between the solid finishes and all the place differential points, he is a lower-priced option you will want to make sure to work into your lineups at the DFS sites on a routine basis.
It took a while for DiBenedetto to find his rhythm with Leavine Family Racing, but he and the one-car operation are both coming into their own. He has posted a 13.0 average finish over the last eight races, notching four Top 10s and finishing 17th or better six times. He is also gaining 7.2 spots per race in that stretch. The guy has been a bargain at the DFS sites, or in any other salary cap-based contest for that matter, and if you play the Driver Group Game, he has emerged as one of the strongest Group C options on a weekly basis.
With five Top 10s over the last eight races, Keselowski hasn’t been terrible, but he has been disappointing by his typical standards. He has just a single Top 5 finish in that same stretch, leading 21 total laps, recording single-digit fastest laps six times and ranking 13th in driver points scored. You just aren’t getting the bang for your buck out of Keselowski at the DFS sites right now, and you certainly aren’t getting the best out of him in season-long contests. He should heat up sooner rather than later, but use him sparingly in the meantime.
Bad luck has played a role, but there’s no denying that Bowyer is in the middle of an awful slump. He has just one Top 10 finish in the last eight races, and he has finished 20th or worse five times, finishing outside the Top 30 three times. Bowyer has a lackluster 21.8 average finish over those same eight starts, losing an average of 10.6 spots per race. More concerning is the fact that this stretch included two road courses races and a trip to New Hampshore, tracks where he typically excels. At this point, I’d just avoid Bowyer completely in all fantasy formats until he snaps out of this funk.
He finished fourth at Michigan in June and led 52 laps from the pole and finished eighth at Kentucky a few weeks back, but those have been the lone bright spots in an otherwise rough stretch. Suarez has failed to crack the Top 15 in six of the last eight races, finishing 24th or worse three times. He’s become a complete shot-in-the-dark, GPP-only play at the DFS sites, and he’s impossible to trust in season-long contests right now.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has been piling up solid finishes, and his six Top 10s in the last eight races are tied for the most in the series. His 301 points in that same stretch rank second, and his 8.1 average finish leads all drivers. However, he has led a total of just 60 laps in those same eight races, and 59 of those came in his win at Sonoma. Truex remains an elite fantasy option in most season-long contests, but his recent lack of dominator points makes him a potential waste of money at the DFS sites.s