This week, the NASCAR Cup Series makes its way to Austin, Texas for the Next Gen car's road course debut. Let Joy Tomlinson of Frontstretch.com set your daily fantasy NASCAR DraftKings rosters for the Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, airing on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
COTA is the first of six road-course races of the season for the Next Gen cars, so we don't really know what exactly to expect for Sunday (sound familiar?). However, several drivers tested at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL this past offseason, so you could use the unofficial lap times from that to help set expectations. (Though at the time, drivers weren't as worried about speed as they were about the cars themselves).
You can also look at the data from past road course events, as certain drivers stand out at these tracks more than others (hello, Chase Elliott!).
Be sure to check out practice and qualifying results Saturday, because some drivers might adapt quickly and post a fast lap right away. If what you consider a top-tier driver starts at the back, they would be popular on DraftKings and might record a high score if they finish well.
Before I share my picks for this week, here's a look at the scores from last week's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Well, this lineup wouldn't have done quite as badly if Ryan Blaney hadn't hit the wall on the last lap. He likely would've had a top five, but instead finished 17th. Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric were caught up in crashes as well, though much earlier in the race.
In the 200-player free contest, the top score was 275.1 and had Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
As far as DraftKings scoring, the rules are the same as last season: 0.45 points for each fastest lap and 0.25 for each lap led. Additionally, drivers can earn a point for each position they gain on the track (relative to where they start). They can also lose a point for each spot lost, so keep this fact in mind if you decide to play the pole-sitter.
The DraftKings setup is bigger and better for 2022. Here are their rules for the road this season.
Note: The following drivers are part of a sample NASCAR DraftKings lineup; you can use this info to make your own.
NASCAR DraftKings Plays/Sample Lineup for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas
Chase Elliott ($10,500)
Career at COTA: 1 start, 1 win, 1 top five, 1 top 10
Average finish at COTA: 1.0
Elliott is still the road course king, even though he only won two of the seven such races run in the Cup Series last season. He's the defending winner at COTA, leading five laps in the rain before the race was halted. He also came from the back at Road America and led 24 circuits last July en route to the victory.
But the main reason why he's favored this week (and the most expensive driver on DraftKings) is because he has seven road-course victories, 11 top fives, and 13 top 10s in 19 starts. He also has the best average finish on this track type by a large margin over his competitors; Elliott crosses the line in eighth on average.
All of Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports teammates have won already this season, so I expect that it's the No. 9's turn to take home the trophy.
Austin Cindric ($9,500)
Xfinity Series career at COTA: 1 start, 0 wins, 1 top five, 1 top 10
Xfinity Series average finish at COTA: 5.0
Cindric has five road course victories in the Xfinity Series, at the Daytona International Speedway road course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Watkins Glen International. He also has led several laps at these tracks, and not just when he wins.
Last year, Cindric took home a fifth-place finish at COTA while Kyle Busch dominated. He went on to lead a few laps there in his first Cup Series outing at the 3.41-mile course, though a finish of 25th wound up below expectations. Still, he's experienced at this track type and should perform well.
I'm only a bit hesitant because of his salary. With the 2022 Daytona 500 winner starting 10th, it's OK to branch off to alternatives: Joey Logano or Chase Briscoe come to mind.
Tyler Reddick ($8,400)
Career at COTA: 1 start, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10
Average finish at COTA: 9.0
Reddick won the pole for this race last season and dropped to ninth by the time the race was called for too much rain. He also finished eighth at Road America after taking the helm for five laps and earned a 10th at Watkins Glen last summer. Lastly, at the Charlotte ROVAL, the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing driver drove up to second by the end of the day, tying a career-best performance.
The third-year Cup wheelman was one of the drivers who participated in the Next Gen test at the Charlotte ROVAL last October and was quick there, too. Reddick posted a top-five lap time on day one and was second on day two. If he has truly adjusted this well to the car on road courses, he could sneak in a win at COTA this weekend.
Kevin Harvick ($8,000)
Career at COTA: 1 start, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at COTA: 37.0
Harvick's first time out to Austin was not ideal. The rain and spray from the cars were so bad that he couldn't really see what was in front of him, so when he slowed down for a wreck that was further up ahead, Bubba Wallace ran into the back of the No. 4 car, ending both of their days. Thank goodness it's expected to be nice and sunny all weekend at COTA.
Though he only earned one top 10 on a road course last season, Harvick still has a couple of wins at Sonoma Raceway in 2017 and Watkins Glen in 2006. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing pilot didn't finish worse than sixth at WGI from 2015-19.
I was surprised Harvick's salary was this low, especially since he has a couple of top 10s this year at Phoenix Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. He also was third quickest on the second day of the Next Gen test at the Charlotte ROVAL. If he adjusted well back then, watch out for him on Sunday.
Dark Horse Performers
Erik Jones ($7,400)
Career at COTA: 1 start, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at COTA: 16.0
In the inaugural race at COTA, Jones was able to drive up to 16th after starting 29th, which no doubt produced some position differential points on DraftKings. In fact, that's how much of last year went for Jones on road courses. He finished 14th at the Daytona road course, 11th at Sonoma, and seventh at the Indianapolis road course, all of which were much further up than where he started.
This year, Jones has been running better than where he finishes, as flat tires and other problems have happened late in the race, usually ending his day. But Jones showed a lot of speed at Auto Club Speedway, leading 18 laps on the way to third place.
A 30th-place starting spot, while disappointing for the No. 43 team, makes him even more attractive for your DraftKings lineup. Expect Jones to move his way through the field and be a contender.
Michael McDowell ($6,200)
Career at COTA: 1 start, 0 wins, 0 top five, 1 top 10
Average finish at COTA: 7.0
McDowell is known for his road course skills and showed it at COTA last year, as he earned a seventh-place finish in the rain. He also was eighth at the Daytona road course, part of an early-season momentum swing for Front Row Motorsports after capturing the 2021 Daytona 500.
As far as other courses, McDowell was 14th at Sonoma Raceway in 2017 and finished in the teens from 2016-19 at WGI. And don't forget about his 2016 victory at Road America in the Xfinity Series, where he led 24 laps.
The former Daytona 500 champion is super inexpensive on DraftKings and could be a popular play. But if he performs the way he did last season, putting him on your roster will be well worth it.
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