Are you ready for one of the wildest nights the NASCAR Cup Series will see this season? Let's get your NASCAR DraftKings lineups prepared for Saturday's Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Two weeks ago, the Cup Series competed on Daytona's road course for the first time; this week, however, they'll take on the 2.5-mile oval. This race used to be run on July 4 Weekend, but now it's been shifted to the regular-season finale. Several drivers are vying for the final few spots in the playoffs, including Jimmie Johnson in his final year before retirement. It's not exactly an ideal position to be in when heading to a superspeedway, so Johnson will need to work together with his teammates and fellow Chevrolets if he wants to make the playoffs.
After all, this is Daytona, where madness and mayhem ensues. It's also the first time back since Ryan Newman's horrific crash at the end of the Great American Race. NASCAR investigated the incident and instituted several changes to make the cars safer, including two more roll bars, no aero ducts and a smaller throttle body. These (and other changes) are also designed to reduce the closing rate of cars.
In a normal race, you'd want to find lap leaders to help boost your DraftKings score, but at Daytona it's a little different. You'll likely want to find drivers who have the best chance of winning, even it means hanging back most of the race, as well as drivers with luck on their side. Simply a driver who can avoid all the wrecks will finish well and produce a good score. Oftentimes, those drivers will start further back in the pack, and those position differential points will be key to cashing in your DraftKings contests.
It may feel a lot easier this week choosing competitors for your lineups, and it is, thanks to DraftKings' pricing. As a result, several drivers will be popular in both cash games and tournaments. However, if you want to win big, you might want to go an unconventional route and choose alternates that won't be as common. Here's a complete rundown of DraftKings' NASCAR scoring rules.
Before I move onto this week's picks, here are the results from Dover International Speedway (Saturday only).
NASCAR DraftKings Score
Martin Truex Jr.
Christopher Bell and Ryan Preece both didn't finish as high as I would have liked, which lowered my score. But Johnson was the biggest disappointment, despite a sixth-place starting position. From there, he needed to lead laps and win in order to really put this lineup over the cash line; the No. 48 team didn't have winning speed that day (seventh place).
Nearly 300 (286) DraftKings points were needed to cash the big $1 single entry double up, while 294 was enough to win $1.50 in the $1 Happy Hour tournament.
DraftKings Daily Fantasy NASCAR Plays/Sample Lineup for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway
Denny Hamlin ($10,400)
Career at Daytona: 29 starts, 3 wins, 9 top fives, 10 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 16.8
Hamlin is the favorite to win this race, as he's won the last two Daytona 500s (and three out of the past five). However, his summer events at this superspeedway haven't had good results the last few years, as he's finished 17th or worse since 2016. Can Hamlin turn his luck around with this new August date? He's been one of the hottest pack racing driver on the circuit; at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this year, he finished fourth after leading 18 laps, and was third there last fall with a wrecked racecar.
Last week at Dover International Speedway, Hamlin earned his sixth victory of the season, matching 2019's performance. He doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon, though it will be harder to win this week as Daytona is more volatile in nature. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has plenty of race-winning experience at the 2.5-mile track, so he could break the summer Daytona slump Saturday night. Hamlin starts 10th, so look for him to work with fellow Toyotas to stay stable and avoid carnage.
Ryan Blaney ($10,000)
Career at Daytona: 10 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 3 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 21.6
Remember who finished second in the Daytona 500? That's right, this guy. Blaney was just edged out at the line by Hamlin, but had a good result otherwise after starting 27th. Additionally, Blaney has won the past two 'Dega events and led a combined 98 laps between both races. Unfortunately, he hasn't done well in the July Daytona events, a trend which does make him a bit risky.
Another reason why other DraftKings players may avoid Blaney is the fact that he's only had two top 10s in the eight races since the All-Star Race in mid-July. The No. 12 Team Penske pilot finished fourth at the first Michigan International Speedway event and was seventh at Texas Motor Speedway last month. Still, his superspeedway prowess places him as a favorite on DraftKings, especially if he's able to lead some laps. Blaney starts ninth Saturday and will likely link up with his Penske teammates to get to the front early on.
If you wish to pivot off Blaney for your NASCAR DraftKings lineup with a similar salary, Erik Jonesstarts 20th and won this race in 2018. The driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota needs a win in order to make the postseason.
Austin Dillon ($9,000)
Career at Daytona: 14 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 14.9
Dillon might not be the first name you'd think of at superspeedways, but he should be near the top of your list. The Richard Childress Racing veteran has earned top 10s in half of his starts at Daytona, a percentage that's fairly difficult to accomplish at this track. He also won here, snatching the 2018 Daytona 500 after hooking Aric Almirola on the final lap in overtime. He also led an additional 46 circuits here last summer before crashing out of last year's rain-shortened race. Lastly, at Talladega last fall, he ended in sixth place, 14 spots higher than where he began.
That's a decent track record. Dillon is aggressive to begin with in pack racing, but he might be even more so this week after locking in a playoff spot. The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet nabbed the win at Texas last month after taking two tires on the final round of pit stops. Additionally, he scored over 60 DraftKings points in two of the past three races.
That total might be difficult to match on Saturday, considering Dillon starts 12th and won't get many bonus points for position differential. Still, if he can hang around until the end of the night, a top-10 finish or better should score enough points to help you cash your NASCAR DraftKings contests.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,300)
Career at Daytona: 16 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 3 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 18.8
Speaking of aggressive, there's probably no one else known for that at Daytona more than Stenhouse. He'll be sure to be charging hard this week, as this race marks his final chance to make the playoffs. That creates a risky proposition; know Stenhouse can be feast or famine here, crashing out of two races while causing major wrecks in another. But he did win this event and the spring 'Dega race in 2017, then ended runner-up to Blaney earlier this year down in Alabama.
After enduring a rough July with his JTG Daugherty Racing team, Stenhouse has had some better finishes this month. Last Saturday at Dover, he ran 10th in the first race of the doubleheader and notched 15 fastest laps in that race, boosting his DraftKings score to 50.8. Unfortunately, he was turned into the inside wall on Sunday and ended several laps down in 37th.
Hopefully, Stenhouse will be much more strategic when he makes his moves to the front this week. He'll certainly be a popular play on DraftKings, since he's starting 31st, but there's a reason why: valuable points could be produced through position differential.
Michael McDowell ($6,900)
Career at Daytona: 18 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 6 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 20.7
I was honestly surprised DraftKings placed McDowell's salary this low, as he's a really good superspeedway racer. He'll probably be one of the highest-drafted drivers on the slate as a result, but you should still consider him for your lineup. Since 2016, McDowell has ended nearly every race at Daytona several positions greater than where he qualified. In the 2019 Daytona 500, McDowell crossed the line fifth, and in the past two events, he gained 15 and 12 spots on the track, respectively.
This season, the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports wheelman has improved greatly and has finished on average four positions higher than last season. Although he struggled last week at Dover, McDowell was 10th at Daytona's road course the week before and earned 54 DraftKings points. He'll start 25th Saturday and, like Stenhouse, he'll need to make the right moves to ensure a good finish at the end of the night.
Tapped out on McDowell? His FRM rookie teammate John Hunter Nemechek is a good option, too, as he ran 11th in February.
Dark Horse Performer
Corey LaJoie ($5,300)
Career at Daytona: 7 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 2 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 19.7
LaJoie has also gained several positions at Daytona, especially in the past two races. Most notably was earlier this year when his car hit Newman's driver's side window when crossing the finish line. While LaJoie might remember that moment during Saturday's race, I expect he'll stay focused on the task at hand; that eighth-place finish has been his lone top 10 of 2020 thus far.
Earlier this month, LaJoie announced that he would not be returning to Go Fas Racing next season, so this weekend could be one of his final chances to prove why he should be considered for another team. LaJoie definitely knows how to avoid carnage at the superspeedway tracks and will likely need to do just that this week. If he does, he's sure to score more than 30 DraftKings points, which is fairly good value for this salary. Already, at Talladega earlier this year, LaJoie earned a 16th-place finish and scored 39.5 DraftKings points.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)