Applying the tricks of the trade to the Tricky Triangle
DraftKings daily fantasy NASCAR turns toward the Tricky Triangle in northeast Pennsylvania this weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway for the Axalta presents the 400 this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. Cars hit the track on Friday at 11 a.m. for first practice; Coors Light Pole Qualifying follows at 4 p.m.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Kyle Larson ($9,900)
Pocono: Six starts, one top five (16.7 percent), three top 10s (50 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 8.8
Larson picked up his fifth runner-up finish of the season last week at Dover. He was leading by a large margin late in the race before a caution brought the field back together. While it was tough to miss out on the victory, the fourth-year driver remained within striking distance of point leader Martin Truex Jr.
Larson’s average finish of 8.5 on the season is almost exactly the same as his average at Pocono over six career starts. Over that span, he has not recorded a finish outside the top 12 at the facility. Add in 37 laps led, en route to a sixth-place finish last summer and it seems likely he'll be battling up front once again.
Brad Keselowski ($10,100)
Pocono: 14 starts, one win, six top fives (42.9 percent), seven top 10s (50 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 11.3
Keselowski has had terrible luck lately. He was caught in a Kurt Busch wreck while running inside the top five last week, a crash which ended his Dover race before it even started.
But Pocono is a great place for Keselowski to get things back on track. He has finished inside the top three in each of the last three races here. He started on the pole and finished third in this race in 2016; then, he finished second in the fall.
Running well at Pocono comes down to fuel strategy and track position. Crew chief Paul Wolfe is one of the best when it comes to stretching his driver out until the end and Sunday should be no exception. Expect a resurgent run from the No. 2 team that rights the ship over at Team Penske.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,300)
Pocono: 22 starts, one win, three top fives (13.6 percent), seven top 10s (31.8 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 16.5
Truex is on an incredible three-race streak at the moment. He won the race at Kansas Speedway and has finished third in the past two Cup Series events. Not only has Truex run up front, he is absolutely dominating. In those three races, he has led over 100 laps in each.
Truex is the series points leader for a reason and is as sure of a bet as it comes this week. Keep in mind he won this Pocono race in 2015, albeit before the Furniture Row Racing alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400
Denny Hamlin ($8,900)
Pocono: 22 starts, four wins, nine top fives (40.9 percent), 14 top 10s (63.6 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 12.1
Hamlin is the active leader in wins at Pocono with four. He won both races at the track back in 2006 (his rookie season) and has been successful there ever since. More recently, he has four top-10 finishes in the last six Pocono races. He finished 14th in the first event at the 2.5-miler last season and seventh in the second.
Hamlin is priced right below the top-tier drivers but brings just as much value when it comes to his history at Pocono. That makes the No. 11 car a great fit in the middle of a DraftKings lineup.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,500)
Pocono: 33 starts, two wins, 11 top fives (33.3 percent), 15 top 10s (45.5 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 14.4
It looks as though Earnhardt is starting to get his groove back. He finished 10th at Charlotte two races ago and followed that up with an 11th-place run at Dover.
Now, the sport's Most Popular Driver heads to arguably his best track on the schedule as of late. The past four years have been exceptional for him when it comes to this raceway, a track Earnhardt once loathed. In 2013, he finished third and fifth, the start of his turnaround with the No. 88 team. He then swept both races in 2014 and followed that up with an 11th and a fourth-place result in 2015. In his one and only Pocono start last season, he ran second.
Add all that up and the average finish is an exceptional 3.9 during that stretch. Yet Earnhardt is still priced relatively cheap, making him a great pickup for Sunday's roster. This track is one of the best shots for him to lock a spot in the playoffs.
Ryan Blaney ($8,400)
Pocono: two starts, finishes of 10th and 11th
Average finish at Pocono: 10.5
Although he has only run two races at the track, Blaney has managed to stay clean and run up front at Pocono. In both races, he finished with positive position differential points.
The only risk? In 2017, Blaney has been all boom or bust. He has only one top-20 finish in the past six races, a fourth at Kansas and has broken axles in two straight weeks. Let’s hope Pocono is a boom track.
Kurt Busch ($8,200)
Pocono: 31 starts, three wins, 13 top fives (41.9 percent), 18 top 10s (58.1 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 14.5
Busch got loose underneath the leader and lost control in what was his first of two wrecks at Dover this past Sunday. As a result, he ended up with a 37th-place finish, tying his worst of the season.
But Busch seems to have mastered his way around Pocono. He is first among all active drivers with 13 top-five finishes over his career. One of those includes the win in this very race last season. He led 32 laps and saved enough fuel to outlast the rest of the field. That win was followed up with a respectable 10th-place performance in the fall race.
Before last week, Busch seemed to have rebounded from his early season slump. He has three top-10 finishes in his last five races, making this year's Daytona 500 winner a high ceiling pick for this week.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Ryan Newman ($7,600)
Pocono: 30 starts, one win, nine top fives (30 percent), 14 top 10s (46.7 percent)
Average finish at Pocono: 12.7
Newman finished fourth last weekend at Dover, taking advantage of a late-race caution to gain track position. That finish was his second top 10 in as many weeks, boosting him up inside the top 16 in points.
Newman has one win on the season and has put together some great performances within middle-class Richard Childress Racing. He has led at least one lap in five different races this season and has generally looked more competitive than in recent years driving the No. 31 Chevrolet.
Newman is fifth among active drivers in average finish position at Pocono. His 11 top-12 results in the past 13 races is a testament to how well he runs here. Newman is priced well and deserves a look when comparing him to similarly-priced drivers.
Ty Dillon ($6,800)
Pocono: two starts, finishes of 18th and 21st
Average finish at Pocono: 19.5
Dillon makes this list solely based on his performance last week at Dover. Although the box score shows a 14th-place result, Dillon was inside the top five heading into the backstretch on the final lap. Prior to the wreck which ended that race, Dillon had led 27 laps. The move to the front was thanks to great strategy from crew chief Bootie Barker.
A similar strategy at Pocono this Sunday could pay off huge for the rookie. Could he be the first freshman to post a top-five finish in 2017?