Jones Vs. Suarez
At the beginning of the season most Fantasy NASCAR experts expected the battle between Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez to be fierce, but no one knew how strong they’d be.
Overall Jones wound up being the best overall value with five top-five finishes compared to Saurez’s one—and it appeared Jones might actually visit Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway in the August Night race. His former mentor and car owner Kyle Busch denied him the ultimate accolade, but Jones’ second-place finish caused most of the field to stand up and take notice. That was especially true as it came on the heels of a third at Michigan International Speedway the week before.
The short track in Tennessee and the two-miler in the Midwest are quite dissimilar and Jones’ ability to run well on both courses point to his overall strength. His other top-fives showed that same well-rounded skill with solid runs on the flat 2.5-miler of Pocono Raceway, the short, flat track of Phoenix International Raceway, and the Too Tough To Tame Darlington Raceway.
Meanwhile, Suarez’s single top-five came at Watkins Glen International—and that limited his usefulness to fantasy rosters. The road courses are tracks that can be unpredictable, but they also are venues where fantasy players often take risks on road racing specialists.
The difference between these two drivers likely comes from their formative years. Jones cut his teeth on paved late model tracks in the Southeast while Suarez graduated from the NASCAR Mexico series with a heavier reliance on road courses.
Once players look beyond the top-fives, however, the battle between the two drivers was much more intense. Jones scored 14 top-10s and 21 top-15s. Suarez was not far behind with 12 top-10s and 20 top-15s. For a time, it appeared both rookie contenders could be placed-and-held, which is not something most consider for freshmen racers.
As a result, their value was immense. Salary cap managers are reluctant to start rookies at a very high rate. They are also less likely to make major changes early in the season or provisionally for big events like the restrictor-plate, superspeedway or marquee races. That meant that both Jones and Suarez lagged behind other drivers with similar records.
Suarez ended the season with three top-10s in the final 10 races and an average finish of 17th. Jones actually faded in those closing races with an average finish of 20th, although he was also able to capture three top-10s.
Both drivers struggled in the season-ending Ford 400 and that means they will need to rebound during the off-season. The sophomore slump is a powerful curse that must be overcome and there are going to be some fresh rookie faces challenging for Young Gun supremacy, but look for Jones and Suarez to run side-by-side in the first 10 races of 2018.