Katelyn Mulcahy | Getty Images
When playing NASCAR Fantasy Live, the biggest key is to maximize your uses — especially with the star drivers since you only get 10 over course of the regular season. How do you maximize your uses? Well, you can look at track history, recent performance trends for the season and recent performance trends at a particular track. All that is used in a predictive way along with lap averages and the starting lineup to build a lineup that will score as many points as possible. Some weeks that goes well. Other weeks — looking at you, Daytona — it is not as successful.
So with all those thoughts in mind, we thought we’d examine how drivers are performing points wise against how much they’ve been used. The chart below looks at the ranking of a driver for Fantasy Live points against their ranking via usage with some observations to follow below. For the purposes of the +/- column, the equation is simply: Fantasy use rank minus Fantasy points rank. A (+) plus indicates an underused driver or, as we will call it, an opportunity to take advantage of an underutilized play thus far. A (-) minus indicates an overused driver to date and players need to proceed with caution when the 2020 season resumes. A driver with an even designation would be, in the words of Goldilocks, “just right” with how they have or haven’t been utilized thus far.
|Driver||Fantasy pts rank||Fantasy use rank||+/-|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||15||15||Even|
|Martin Truex Jr.||16||6||-10|
|John Hunter Nemechek||27||31||+4|
|Ryan Newman* (only ran one race so far)||36||20||-16|
We promised some takeaways from this compiling of data so here they are. For more early-season takeaways from the first four races and strategies to consider adopting, read my piece from last week on those very topics.
1. Hendrick’s hot start shows in the numbers. Three (Elliott, Bowman and Johnson) of their four drivers are on the plus side of the points against usages chart, meaning there is room to use them more. Further evidence that the start has been strong? Those three are in the top six in Fantasy Live points with Elliott showing speed everywhere, Bowman serving as a major factor on intermediates and Johnson carrying more speed on that track type as well. Byron’s slow start is a little concerning since most had him pegged for a breakout year, but he and crew chief Chad Knaus’ propensity last season to attack the stages for points makes him a driver to consider plugging and playing as opportunities arise when the season resumes.
2. Plot out full uses for this group. The numbers show Harvick, Logano and Elliott to be the top three drivers so far this season in Fantasy Live points and they will be factors all season. Once the revised 2020 schedule is known, Fantasy Live owners should be plotting the 10 races (or fewer depending on how many uses you have already gone through) to play this trio at. For starters, Harvick is a lock for me at Michigan, New Hampshire, Texas*, Atlanta* and Miami*. Logano is a lock for me at Michigan, Chicagoland and Richmond*. Elliott is a lock for me at Dover*, Kansas, Michigan and Watkins Glen. (The * marks a race that was scheduled to be part of the regular season, but has been postponed as of now.) Based on their histories and early returns in 2020, there’s little reason to suspect this trio will not be among the top five Fantasy Live drivers at season’s end. Other drivers will join this group as results dictate (Blaney, Larson, Bowman, Johnson perhaps) and slow starts subside (Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Truex — more below on that group).
3. The Fantasy Live funk is real with Joe Gibbs Racing. Their entire four-car stable (Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Truex, Jones) as well as an affiliated team (Bell) are all on the negative side on the ledger and those numbers would look worse if it wasn’t for Hamlin’s season-opening last-lap win in the Daytona 500. Truex has been hurt by some pit road issues and bad luck, but as a whole, the points just haven’t been there for the Gibbs camp and Bell. This may become a tiring refrain, but proceed with caution with this camp when the season resumes. For me, all but Truex are in prove-it-to-me mode on the intermediates while Busch and Hamlin are still solid short-track plays as the Phoenix results proved out with the new package. Jones is in a similar spot to Byron’s slow start at Hendrick, but given the speed of that camp, I’m more inclined to go with the driver of the No. 24 over Jones right now. Bell is a complete “avoid” for me for quite a while — frankly speaking, I’d rather be late to the party on that one. If you are inclined to consider a rookie, I’d look at Tyler Reddick over Bell for the foreseeable future.
4. Bullish on two familiar faces in new places. Prior to the start of the season, myself and Jonathan Merryman debated which driver outside the playoffs in 2019 was most likely to jump into the playoff puzzle in 2020. I took Matt DiBenedetto, while Merryman took Chris Buescher. The early returns indicate we both may have been right there. These two drivers have two of the bigger positive totals on the ledger with DiBenedetto at +7 and Buescher at +8. DiBenedetto has been a surprising source of stage points early to provide owners with an added points boost. Buescher has been his steady self as he keeps his car clean and grabs somewhere in the range of 20-24 points a race. DiBenedetto is a driver I plan to be aggressive with when the season resumes to take advantage of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford team’s strong start, while Buescher is a driver to use in the dog days of the season when uses get tighter and you want a driver that maybe doesn’t make your day but doesn’t destroy it either.
5. Sneaky plays for the superspeedways. Looking ahead slightly to the unpredictability of superspeedway races at Talladega and Daytona later in the year, Buescher is a driver who jumps out for a use there since his third-place Daytona 500 finish contributes to his +8 total. Two other full-time drivers on the plus side that pop out due to their Daytona 500 results are Corey LaJoie (+10, finished eighth in the Daytona 500) and John Hunter Nemechek (+4, finished 11th in the Daytona 500). LaJoie has long been as steady as they come on superspeedways. He won’t collect the stage points but he’ll be typically be in the top 15 of late as the checkered flag falls. Nemechek is an intriguing name to keep in mind as well especially given Front Row Motorsports’ solid history at this track type.