The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend for the Gander RV 400 and filling out your daily fantasy NASCAR FanDuel roster is always difficult for the track affectionately known as the Tricky Triangle. This 2-and-a-half-mile, three-turn course is one of the most unique on the NASCAR schedule, making it a track that some drivers have a knack for — and others not so much.
The Cup Series raced at the Long Pond, Pa., track in early June in an event dominated by Kyle Busch. Denny Hamlin said passing in that race wasn’t hard, “it was impossible.” With NASCAR using the same high-downforce, tapered-spacer package this weekend that was used for the June race, you can expect another race with minimal passing. This means track position and pit strategy will be even more important.
With Pocono being a track where differing pit strategies normally come into play — and the Cup Series playoffs starting in just six more races — expect teams outside the top 16 in points to take gambles to try to win their way into the postseason. It worked for Chris Buescher in 2016 and it could certainly work again. At the same time, don’t stray too far away from those who have excellent Pocono track records.
FanDuel has put more emphasis on finishing position than other DFS sites. For this reason, it allows you to look at the entire field instead of just dominators and big movers.
Also, with only 0.1 points awarded for each lap led by a driver, the need for a dominator is less important when building a winning lineup. The 160-lap race will only have a total of 16 points up for grabs in this category. Take note when building your roster and focus on mid-pack competitors who can climb up toward the front on race day.
Here are a few drivers to keep an eye on for Sunday afternoon’s race.
ELITE TIER: $10,000 and up
Kyle Busch ($15,000)
Career at Pocono: 29 starts, 3 wins, 8 top fives, 14 top 10s
Average Finish at Pocono: 15.9
Busch is the most expensive driver this week, and for good reason — Pocono has become his playground. After going winless in his first 25 Pocono starts, Busch has won three of the past four races there. In each of those wins, Busch has led 52 or more laps, and he has led laps in eight straight Pocono races.
In the past five Pocono races, Busch has led 318 laps — the most of all drivers in those races. Kevin Harvick has led the second most with 119, and no one else has led for triple digits. With numbers like that, Busch is worth every dime this week.
Denny Hamlin ($12,000)
Career at Pocono: 27 starts, 4 wins, 10 top fives, 17 top 10s
Average Finish at Pocono: 12.4
There was a time in the late 2000s where Hamlin was the guy to beat at Pocono. His four wins are the most of all active drivers. He hasn’t won since the track repave in 2011, but he hasn’t been bad there either.
Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in four of the past six Pocono races, and he’s led laps in four of the past five. He might’ve had the second-fastest car in the June race, but the inability to pass relegated him to a sixth place. With the track surface starting to age to how it was when Hamlin was dominant, the No. 11 Toyota should get better with each trip to Pocono.
After just missing out on winning last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, expect Hamlin to be a threat for the win.
ALL-STAR TIER: $6,000 – $9,999
Erik Jones ($9,400)
Career at Pocono: 5 starts, 0 wins, 3 top fives, 4 top 10s
Average Finish at Pocono: 9.6
Why not keep riding the Joe Gibbs Racing train? The team has only won half the races this season. In the June Pocono race, three JGR cars finished in the top six, including Jones, who finished third. Coincidentally, Jones has finished third in each of the past two weeks. It seems to only be a matter of time before he joins his three teammates as winners in 2019.
Pocono could be the place for that to happen, as Jones has the best average finish among active drivers. Even if Jones doesn’t have race-winning speed, he’s one of those drivers around the playoff bubble who could gamble to win this race. Either way, the most affordable JGR driver is not a bad one to have in your lineup.
Ryan Newman ($8,000)
Career at Pocono: 35 starts, 1 win, 9 top fives, 15 top 10s
Average Finish at Pocono: 13.1
Newman continues to be one of the most valuable FanDuel picks. He currently has the seventh-best points-per-game average, but all of the ones ahead of him are way more expensive. His PPG is higher than 11 drivers who are priced higher than him, including Harvick, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson.
He finished eighth in this race one year ago. Newman placed 16th in the June Pocono race, but that was before he went on his current streak of five top 10s in the past six races. Expect another consistent run out of Newman.
BARGAIN TIER: $5,999 and below
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,500)
Career at Pocono: 9 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average Finish at Pocono: 31.0
Don’t pay attention to DiBenedetto’s past Pocono results. He was never before in a car as good as the No. 95 he drives now. DiBenedetto had his best Tricky Triangle result in June when he finished 17th, and his team, Leavine Family Racing, has immensely improved since then.
DiBenedetto has finished in the top 10 in three of the past five races, including a fourth at Sonoma Raceway and a fifth last week at New Hampshire. Those two top fives were not flukes. DiBenedetto drove his way through the field and passed good cars to get those results.
With Pocono being more reliant on car than driver, don’t expect DiBenedetto to back up those top fives. But he could easily get a top 15.