NASCAR Fantasy 2015: Quaker State 400 Top Drivers and Sleeper Picks

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2015

SPARTA, KY - JUNE 30:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Youth Foundation Chevrolet, and Carl Edwards, driver of the #99 UPS Ford, lead the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on June 30, 2013 in Sparta, Kentucky.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Sparta, Kentucky, this week for the Quaker State 400. The secret to winning your DraftKings contest will be to select the perfect combination of top drivers and add in a couple of sleeper picks at bargain prices.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has decided to make some rule changes for the cars this week. The cars will have less downforce, which should provide for more side-by-side racing.

This change could affect your picks for the Draftkings contest this week. Drivers who dominated the intermediate track races may lose their advantages this week. Seven hours of practice have been scheduled before the race, so fantasy teams should have no problem figuring out which drivers have the fast cars.

Although Kentucky is a considered a “cookie-cutter” track, it is very different from other 1.5-mile tracks. Kentucky is narrow and has many bumps in the corners. Drivers who learn to navigate the rough surface will have the fast cars Saturday night.

The best strategy will be to select a combination of drivers who start up front with an opportunity to lead many laps and a couple who start in the back with a good chance to make their way through traffic. This strategy will allow your team to earn maximum bonus points for laps led, fastest laps and finishing differential.

By looking at the starting grid for Saturday’s race and the Happy Hour speed from Friday, fantasy teams will be able to figure out which drivers would be best for this strategy.

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Top Drivers

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevy ($13,100)

LONG POND, PA - JUNE 06:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 at Pocono Raceway on June 6, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jerry
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Johnson is the best pick for your DraftKings contest this week. He has four wins and led the second-most laps on tracks similar to Kentucky's this season. Johnson has never finished a race at Kentucky outside the top 10. Each season, Johnson has improved upon his finishing position for the previous season. Last year he finished third in this race, a good sign heading into Saturday night.

Spending $13,100 for one driver is tough in a salary-cap game, but Johnson is worth every penny this week. He is the safest pick in the field, and the points he earns Saturday will be enough to justify having to select cheaper drivers to pair with the six-time champion.

Jimmie Johnson Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
0148.57.0
Racing-Reference.Info

Johnson has never won a race at Kentucky, but do not be surprised to see him in Victory Lane Saturday night. He has been the best driver on the intermediate tracks and is very good at Kentucky.   

Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevy ($13,900)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's/Budweiser Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The driver to watch this week is Harvick.

He has dominated most of the races this season and it will be interesting to see how the new rules change affects the No. 4 team. Will the gap close between Harvick and his competitors, or will crew chief Rodney Childers make the car even better than it was before?

There is a good chance the new rules package could make Harvick the driver to beat this week.

Harvick has been so good this season on the intermediate tracks (one win and five second-place finishes) that he must be considered for your contest. Although he has never won a race at Kentucky, it does not mean he will not have a fast car. Last year, Harvick started fifth and finished seventh; expect the same type of race from him Saturday night. 

Harvick is the highest-priced driver in the DraftKings contest this week. If Harvick dominates practice and looks like he has a fast car, there is a good chance he will live up to his price. If you do decide to select Harvick, make sure you have a good cheap driver to pair with him to balance out your lineup. Casey Mears could be that driver.

Kevin Harvick Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
00212.511.0
Racing-Reference.Info

Although Harvick has never won a race at Kentucky, do not be surprised to see him lead the most laps and find his way to Victory Lane for the third time in 2015.

Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Chevy ($13,000)

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Rob
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Truex Jr. is having a career season, and fantasy teams need to start realizing he is in the same category as Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

He dominated the last two races on 1.5-mile tracks. Truex led a series-high 95 laps at Kansas and a series-high 131 laps at Charlotte. His best finish at Kentucky is a seventh-place finish in 2013, but Truex has never had cars as good as what he is driving this season. 

This week, Truex’s price increased to $13,000 in the DraftKings contest. While that is a lot to spend on a driver, if Truex can duplicate his success at Kansas and Charlotte, he will be well worth the money. There is no reason to believe he cannot run up front Saturday night.  

Martin Truex Jr. Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
00216.013.0
Racing-Reference.Info

One of the best strategies is to choose drivers with little risk of finishing the race in the back of the pack. Truex has finished 14 of the 17 races in the top 10 this season and every race on the intermediate tracks in the top 10. It does not get much safer than that.

Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota ($11,300)

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Kenseth is the driver you want for your contest if you select your team purely on stats.

No driver has been as consistent as Kenseth at Kentucky. He has one win and finished every race in the top 10. What makes Kenseth an even better choice is that his average starting position is 15.8. He will have a good chance to earn points for passing cars and finishing differential in this week’s contest. 

Kenseth is the eighth-highest-priced driver in DraftKings this week. It is hard to believe there are seven drivers better than him in the field. Whenever you can get a driver who can perform better then where he is priced, you must select him for your team. Kenseth is one of the best choices in the field Saturday night.

Matt Kenseth Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
12415.84.5
Racing-Reference.Info

The only concern with Kenseth is whether or not his car has the horsepower to keep up with the Hendrick Motorsports engines. Joe Gibbs Racing has continued to show more speed throughout the season. The new rules package could be just what the team needs to compete with the drivers from Hendrick.

Sleepers

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota ($10,800)

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Busch is an excellent choice for your contest this week. Kentucky could be considered his best track. Busch has a series-best driver rating and average finish position at Kentucky. He has finished every race at the track in the top 10, including a win in the inaugural race at Kentucky.

Busch is a steal at $10,800. He has the best stats in the field this week at the track, but there are eight drivers who have a higher price. Busch should be selected for every contest this week.

Kyle Busch Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
1346.24.5
Racing-Reference.Info

The only scary thing about Busch is that he does not need a win; he needs points. The logical way to race for a driver in his position is to play it conservative and take what points he can get.

But we are talking about Rowdy Busch here. The chances of his playing it safe and not going for the win are slim. Look for the No. 18 car to be up front Saturday night.

Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing, Chevy ($9,300)

David Graham/Associated Press

Newman is not the first name that comes to mind when people think of racing at Kentucky, but he is on this list because he is Mr. Consistent.

He has finished five of the eight races on the intermediate tracks in the top 10. Last year he started seventh and finished third in this race. Do not be surprised to see the same results from Newman Saturday night.

Newman is a bargain at $9,300. Whenever you can get a driver who has a good chance at a top-10 finish for under $10,000, you have to select him for your contest. He will outperform many of the drivers who have a higher price this week.

Ryan Newman Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
0229.213.8
Racing-Reference.Info

When you start building your team for your contest, you should start with drivers like Newman. He is underpriced, and fantasy teams can feel confident he will not have a bad race. Newman is one of the most consistent drivers on 1.5-mile tracks, and fantasy teams need to take advantage of him.

Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy ($9,800)

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Most people will look at Larson’s stats and stay away from the young driver. That will be a mistake this week.

Yes, Larson’s average finish position at Kentucky is 40th, but that stat is very misleading. Larson only competed in one race at Kentucky. He qualified sixth and was running well when he was involved in an accident. Larson will have a good chance for a top-10 finish this week.

Larson is at a good price in DraftKings contests at $9,800. There are 13 drivers with a higher price, but he should finish higher than some of them. He would be a good selection to balance out your team.

Kyle Larson Stats at Kentucky (1 Career Races)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
0006.040.0
Racing-Reference.Info

Larson has been showing signs of getting back to his rookie-season form. He has run well in the last three races on the intermediate tracks but still has not been able to finish up front. He is too talented to continue to finish outside the top 10. Larson will surprise many people with a good race Saturday night.

Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy ($9,500)

Nick Wass/Associated Press

McMurray is one of the best-kept secrets in the DraftKings contest.

He is often overlooked because he does not race for one of the premier teams in the sport, but he has no problem keeping up with them. McMurray is coming off seventh-place finishes at Dover and Michigan. He finished second at Kentucky two years ago, so McMurray has the potential to finish in the top five at the track. 

McMurray is priced just about right in the DraftKings contest. There are 14 drivers with a higher price than him this week. His average running position on the intermediate tracks in just inside the top 15, but McMurray is starting to perform better than his average this season.

Jamie McMurray Stats at Kentucky (4 Career Race)
WinsTop 5'sTop 10'sAvg StartAvg Finish
01120.522.5
Racing-Reference.Info

McMurray is the highest driver in the standings without a win. Although he has a good chance at making the Chase on points, a win would make the rest of his season much easier. Do not be surprised to see the No. 1 team gamble in the pits to try to steal a win Saturday night.

DraftKings Picks for Kentucky

Driver 1: Jimmie Johnson ($13,100)

Driver 2: Kyle Busch ($10,800)

Driver 3: Ryan Newman (($9,300)

Driver 4: Jamie McMurray ($9,500)

Driver 5: Brett Moffitt ($6,900)

Advanced stats courtesy of Racing-Reference.info.

If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR

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