Who will survive and thrive In NASCAR's final restrictor plate race of 2017?
DraftKings’ daily fantasy NASCAR game heads to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the Alabama 500. This race marks the second event of the second round in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The green flag flies Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
Position differential is the key scoring statistic on DraftKings this weekend. The scheduled number of laps at Talladega (188) are much lower than any 1.5-mile track or short track, so the need for dominators is almost nonexistent. It is difficult to take the lead and keep it during plate races. As a result, races like these can lead to a high number of drivers leading a few laps.
It will be tough to think about roster construction until the starting grid is set. That said, here are eight drivers who historically do well in these races, courtesy Frontstretch.com's Corey Brewer. If any qualify in the middle to back end of Sunday's starting lineup, they should be the first drivers added to your DraftKings contest.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Brad Keselowski ($9,800)
Talladega: 17 starts, four wins, six top fives (35.3 percent), 10 top 10s (58.8 percent)
Average finish at Talladega: 14.9
Keselowski finished seventh at Talladega back in May, marking his 10th top 10 there in 17 career starts. He has two wins the past three seasons at this track and four wins overall. Keselowski is great at manipulating the draft in plate races and working his way to the front.
While laps led is not a category to base a lineup around, Keselowski has led 16.2, 46.8, and 24.5 percent of all laps the past three Talladega events. That's a potential formula for success if he, like all other competitors, can avoid the big wrecks this place is known for.
Kevin Harvick ($9,700)
Talladega: 33 starts, one win, six top fives (18.2 percent), 14 top 10s (42.4 percent)
Average finish at Talladega: 15.3
Harvick is an interesting study at Talladega. His career average starting position here is 21.8, which includes only three qualifying efforts inside the top five. Compare that to his career average starting position on all tracks: 16.0 through 604 starts.
That means Harvick has been the epitome of positive position differential at this track. His average finishing position at Talladega is 15.3, paired with 14 top 10s. An expert plate racer, this veteran knows how to work his way to the front.
If Harvick qualifies at, around, or worse than his career average, he will be a must add this weekend.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($9,200)
Talladega: 34 starts, six wins, 12 top fives (35.3 percent), 16 top 10s (47.1 percent)
Average finish at Talladega: 15.6
While other drivers may be good at working the draft, Junior is great at it. He is actually one of the best all-time, tied for second behind his father for the most wins in Talladega history with six. Surprisingly, Earnhardt has never won the pole here. Unfortunately, for DraftKings purposes, NASCAR's Most Popular Driver still starts at the front. He has started inside the top five in the past four Talladega events.
Junior will be a popular pick this weekend due to the fact he is making his last start in “Earnhardt Country.” But, buyer beware. If he starts up front for the fifth race in a row, avoid rostering him. There is not enough upside over only 188 scheduled laps.
Chase Elliott ($9,000)
Talladega: Three starts, one top five
Average finish at Talladega: 15.7
Elliott has been fast in every start he has made on restrictor plate tracks. A great qualifier, he started on the pole at Talladega last season, as well as for the last two Daytona 500s. But an aggressive nature at superspeedways has hurt: he wrecked out of both Daytona races last season and at Talladega earlier this year.
In plate races in which Elliott has completed every lap, he has an average finish of 10.3. Yet, in races where he did not, his average finish is 30.3. That makes Elliott boom-or-bust this weekend, and the stakes are high. The sophomore is racing for a first career win and the hopes of continuing his playoff chances. Expect the same aggressive style we have seen in the past.
Clint Bowyer ($8,100)
Talladega: 23 starts, two wins, six top fives (26.1 percent), 12 top 10s (52.2 percent)
Average finish at Talladega: 14.7
Bowyer has the second best average finish at Talladega among all active drivers with more than one start (14.7). He has made 23 starts here and notched two wins, which came back in 2010 and 2011. He also had a pair of third-place finishes back in 2014.
Bowyer has recorded positive position differential points at Talladega in four straight races. He has two top-10 finishes in that span as well. That makes the Stewart-Haas Racing driver a cheaper option for the middle of a lineup if his qualifying efforts match up with your strategy.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,000)
Talladega: Eight starts, one win, three top fives, five top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 10.4
Stenhouse shocked the NASCAR world back in May when he held off a charging Kyle Busch to pick up his first career Cup win at Talladega. More impressively, he won from the pole, which had only been done twice in the past 20 years at the track. He then won another restrictor plate race in July when taking the checkered flag in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
Stenhouse has a knack for the front at Talladega, earning an average finish of 10.4 through eight starts. That ranks him first among all active drivers. He has three top-five finishes, finishing outside the top 20 only once. He has also completed all 1,523 laps attempted, an impressive eight-for-eight on lead-lap efforts at a track that'll swallow you up in a heartbeat.
Stenhouse could lock himself into the next round of the playoffs with another win this weekend. Don't underestimate his ability to pull off an upset here.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Austin Dillon ($7,400)
Talladega: Eight starts, one top five, two top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 18.9
Dillon held the top mark for average finishing position at restrictor plate tracks before he wrecked at Talladega in May and then again at Daytona in July. Still, he sits in sixth with an respectable average mark of 16.9.
Dillon had five top 10s in seven restrictor plate races before those two DNFs. Back in 2016, Dillon finished third in the first Talladega race and then followed that up with a ninth-place finish. But those wrecks have dropped his salary for this race, making him more appealing given the overall resume. Pick him up.
Aric Almirola ($6,300)
Talladega: 15 starts, one top five (6.7 percent), three top 10s (20 percent)
Average finish at Talladega: 18.7
Almirola finished fourth in the Daytona 500, and then again at Talladega back in May. That finish came just one week before a horrific wreck at Kansas left him sidelined for seven races. This weekend will mark the first plate race since his return, so it will be interesting to see just how aggressive he runs in the No. 43 Ford.
Almirola has not started inside the top 20 at Talladega since 2014. That makes him a bargain candidate for positive position differential on Sunday.
(Top photo by ASP Inc.)