In the past two weeks, we looked at the 10 highest performing drivers and those who landed between 11th and 20th on our Fantasy Power Rankings chart.
Last year some 33 drivers ran at least three-fourths of the races and they were the ones that garnered the lion’s share of attention. Three of the drivers at this level will not compete in 2020 for a variety of reasons, but their performance last year is germane because the teams are intact. Tyler Reddick should be able to pick up next year where Daniel Hemric left off, and so will the drivers behind the wheel of Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 and 38 teams.
Top-10 finishes were a little rarer for this group of drivers, but with the exception of a single driver they all scored at least one in 2019. David Ragan came close with an 11th at Martinsville in October.
When the season was over, this group of 10 drivers earned 29 combined top-10s, so if you were lucky or prescient enough to activate them at the right time, they were the best differentiators in your league.
21. Austin Dillon
Top-10 finishes: 6
Dillon earned six top-10s in 2019 – the second-most of anyone at this level – but he was never able to crack the top 10 in the weekly Power Ranking formula. One reason for that was because he was unable to sustain momentum. None of his top-10s came in pairs although he backed up three of them with top-15s. At the beginning of the season he was able to score six consecutive top-15s from Auto Club through Talladega. He had two poles in that span and made this team fantasy relevant.
22. Chris Buescher
Top-10 finishes: 4
Buescher’s four top-10s all came on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with a ninth in Week 2 at Atlanta, back-to-back strong runs at Kansas (10th) and Charlotte (sixth) in May, and a 10th at Kentucky in July. He earned another top-15 at Kansas in the fall and was never outside the top-20 on this course type. That is going to be very significant heading into 2020 because his new team Roush Fenway Racing was once great on unrestricted, intermediate speedways and are poised to be so again.
23. Matt DiBenedetto
Top-10 finishes: 7
DiBenedetto got off to a slower start than we expected. We believed he would pick up where Kasey Kahne left off last year and immediately challenge for results in the front half of the pack, but it took five weeks before he finished in the top 20 or on the lead lap. The first top-20 came at Auto Club and he followed that up with a 20th at Martinsville. Two weeks later, he earned a top 15 at Bristol. He started to make his presence felt on the road course of Sonoma with a fourth-place finish and was fantasy relevant in nearly every race after that. DiBenedetto came very close to winning at Bristol in the fall by leading some laps late and finishing second.
24. Daniel Hemric
Top-10 finishes: 2
The NASCAR Cup series is tough. Hemric won the 2019 Rookie of the Year honors and still lost his ride. Richard Childress Racing had Reddick waiting in the wings and with the amount of attention that will be placed on next year’s freshman class, the decision was made to bring the Xfinity championship challenger up to the Bigs. This team should be able to pick up where they left off because there was not enough time for driver and team to become enmeshed in habits that cannot be transferred to the new talent.
25. Ty Dillon
Top-10 finishes: 3
Dillon got as much out of this team as it had to offer. He is one of only two drivers who kept running until the end of every race last year and the other, Joey Logano, almost qualified for the Championship 4. The secret to Dillon’s success was in keeping his car clean and undented. Dillon completed 99.18% of the laps available and sustained damage in only three events during the year.
26. Michael McDowell
Top-10 finishes: 2
McDowell was the best of the Front Row Motorsports drivers last year in terms of the strength-based stats tracked for the Fantasy Power Rankings. That is good news for an organization that will turn over two of its seats in 2020. McDowell will give them stability and could well be the top performer again as the senior driver. His two top-10s came on aero-restricted superspeedways and were both top-fives with a fifth in the Daytona 500 and again at Talladega in the fall.
27. Ryan Preece
Top-10 finishes: 3
Preece did not win ROTY honors, but he is the only 2019 freshman who will see a sophomore season. It is going to be difficult to know exactly how he will perform because the JTG-Daugherty Racing team is going to experience some major changes in 2020 with Chris Buescher being recalled to Roush Fenway Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heading to the No. 37 as a replacement. While Stenhouse and Preece have shown some promise, both lack consistency and that makes it hard to place-and-hold them.
28. Bubba Wallace
Top-10 finishes: 1
Wallace experienced a bit of a sophomore slump in 2019. He showed a lot of promise in his pre-rookie season in relief of Aric Almirola and that carried over to 2018. We really expected a few top-10s for the season and looked for them on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. That is where he showed promise in the past. Instead, fantasy players watched as he scored three results in the low-teens on short tracks plus one more at Daytona. The highlight of the year was easily his third-place finish in the Brickyard 400. For a little while that week, it appeared he might even score his career-first victory in one of NASCAR’s Crown Jewels.
29. David Ragan
Top-10 finishes: 0
Ragan is the only driver in the Fantasy Power Rankings without a top-10 finish. His best effort netted an 11th at Martinsville and that did not come until October with the races winding down. His only other top-15 was earned at Charlotte in the Coke 600 – a race with heavy attrition. Ragan was a solid value on two other occasions in 2019 with a pair of 16ths at Atlanta and Michigan, but whoever takes over this ride is going to have an uphill battle.
30. Matt Tifft
Top-10 finishes: 1
Tifft battled back from brain tumor surgery to land a senior series ride and make a solid charge as one of the three rookie contenders of 2019. Scans proved negative for a recurrence, but dizzy spells late in the season will force him to concentrate on his health in 2020. One reason to feel optimistic about how the No. 36 will run next year is because John Hunter Nemechek slotted easily into the cockpit and ran at least as well as Tifft did when he was driving.