With the NASCAR Cup Series season getting closer and closer, as is the Fantasy NASCAR season, and while daily fantasy sports platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel offer some great, fun options for the weekly races, don’t forget that season-long contests still exist. And a big part of finding success in season-long games often involves finding “diamonds in the rough.”
One of those games is the Salary Cap Challenge here at Fantasy Racing Online, in which all drivers are assigned a salary and you have to put together a team of 8 drivers and score the most points throughout the course of the season. Think you can do it? Click here to sign up. It’s only $30 to play–for the whole year!–and in 2019 the game paid out over $12,000 in prizes (and we’re on pace to exceed that this year).
But getting back to the point here…every year, there’s usually at least a couple of drivers that you say to yourself, “yeah, he could be in position to win more than usual” or really out-perform his expected value. This year, though, it seems like we could see a major shift in the weekly contenders–especially now that we have a year full of data with this ‘new’ rules package. Yes, NASCAR is tweaking it a bit on the shorter tracks and road courses, but the majority of the Cup Series schedule is still the 1.5-milers, and those aren’t changing.
2 Cup Series Drivers That Could Have A Breakout Season in 2020
Ryan Blaney – It’s going to be an interesting year for Penske Racing, as the organization decided to switch around the crews and crew chiefs during the offseason. As far as Ryan Blaney goes, he now gets Todd Gordon atop the pit box, along with Joey Logano’s old pit crew. Gordon led Joey to a championship in 2018 as well as a runner-up finish in 2016, so getting that kind of leadership should be good for Blaney in 2020.
But what really makes Young Ryan Blaney poised for a breakout season this year is that fact that he’s coming off of his best statistical season in the Cup Series, as the driver of the #12 Ford had an average finish of 13.7 in 2019. Additionally, in the second half of the season, Blaney had an average finish of 11.5, which ranked 5th-best in the series–behind only the Championship Four. Finally, Blaney ranked 2nd-best in another important statistical category last year: quality passes, as he was only behind Champion Kyle Busch in that category.
So far in his young career, Ryan has wins at Pocono, the Charlotte ROVAL, and Talladega, but has yet to put together a multi-win season. That has a very good chance of happening in 2020. Last year, Blaney solidified his status as one of the best short track racers in the Cup Series garage, posting top 5 finishes at Phoenix (twice), Martinsville (twice), Bristol, and Loudon. Add that to Penske’s power at Daytona and Talladega, where this #12 Ford went to victory lane last season. If Ryan Blaney can improve his consistency at 1.5-mile tracks this year, he’s going to a force to be reckoned with, especially in the NASCAR Fantasy world. He’s priced at $177.50 in the Salary Cap Challenge, the 8th-highest-priced driver.
P.S. Want some more statistics on Ryan Blaney? He ranked 3rd in average mid-race position last year (10.1) and was one of just four drivers to have a quality pass percentage above 59%. The other three? Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano.
William Byron – Yep, cliché pick here, but at least it wasn’t Kyle Larson, right? William Byron had an abysmal rookie year in 2018, posting an average finish of 22.1 with just four top 10s and zero top 5s, but made incredible gains during his sophomore season, averaging a finish of 14.9 (a 7.2-spot improvement) while posting 13 top 10s, five top 5s, and five poles. That number is noteworthy because, as we saw in 2019, it’s difficult to pass with this rules package, so starting at or near the front is a major advantage for these Cup Series drivers. What you really have to like about William Byron, though, is the momentum he has going in to 2020; of those 13 top 10 finishes he had in 2019, nine of them came in the second half of the season, meaning he finished inside that mark in half of the 18 races after the midway point.
Where Byron made his biggest gains last season was on the 1.5-mile tracks, which, as we discussed before, still make up the majority of the Cup Series schedule. He has yet to really find much success on the shorter tracks, but a 2nd-place finish at Martinsville last October is definitely a step in the right direction.
The 2020 season will be the second full term with William Byron paired with crew chief Chad Knaus. And with Jimmie Johnson retiring from full time racing at the end of the year, it’s finally time for the Hendrick Motorsports torch to be passed to the younger drivers in the organization. We already know that Chase Elliott is ready to lead Hendrick back to its glory days, the question now is whether he’ll have the Jimmie to his Jeff (or vice versa) with Byron alongside. Don’t be surprised if the #24 Chevrolet makes it back to victory lane in 2020.