After 25 points-paying races and six months of competition, we've reached the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Let Frontstretch.com's Joy Tomlinson get your daily fantasy NASCAR DraftKings lineups prepped for the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
The race will air on Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, so be sure to check your DraftKings lineups before then.
Daytona, which has long been run around July 4, was moved to the final race before the playoffs last year. It definitely is a wildcard event, as anyone in the field could win if they are in the right position at the right time.
As is often the case at pack-racing superspeedways, crashes can occur at any time, wiping out many top contenders. In this race, it’s likely that Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick will push themselves in the first two stages to earn as many stage points as they can, as both are fighting for the final playoff spot on points. But expect some other top drivers to hang back, understanding the need for patience and avoiding those major wrecks.
In stage three, however, all bets are off. It should be every man for himself, trying to be the first to take the checkered flag.
Since intensity is already heightened in this race, crashes might occur more often. But what do all these trends have to do with daily fantasy sports? Well, in pack races, drivers who started further back are far more likely to finish in the top 10 or 15. They usually avoid the big wrecks and can produce incredible value plays on both DraftKings and FanDuel.
However, DraftKings has caught on to this trend and gave several drivers starting near the rear a higher salary. It could still work out for them, providing they either lead laps or win.
Also, consider drivers who tend to perform better at these kinds of racetracks. They have found out how to be in front at the end.
Lastly, be sure to keep an eye on pre-race inspection in case any drivers starting near the front have to go to the back during pace laps. If a crash occurred early in the race and swept up some of the drivers in the back, it could be detrimental to your lineup.
Before I share my DraftKings picks, let's go over what happened at Michigan International Speedway.
Both Richard Childress Racing cars of Dillon and Reddick were doing OK; in fact, Dillon had the best car he's had all year. Unfortunately, Dillon crashed just after stage two ended, whereas Reddick suffered a flat tire in the closing laps of the race. At least Chase Briscoe had a good day but it wasn't enough to salvage this lineup.
In the $1 Happy Hour tournament, you needed to score 229.35 to earn $1.72. 193.45 was the minimum cashing score in the $1 single-entry double-up.
By the way, there’s a free NASCAR pool you can enter on DraftKings. It asks which drivers will have the best finishing position (two questions with six options and two with a pair of drivers). Additionally, it asks which manufacturer will win the race and whether Reddick, Bubba Wallace or Kurt Busch will finish inside the top 10.
Note: It might be easier to access the contest within the DraftKings app if the online site gives you trouble.
As for scoring, DraftKings lowered the points for each fastest lap to 0.45 this season, as well as the points awarded for first place to 45. DraftKings has also put more emphasis on drivers who finish inside the top 10 and top 20. For example, the gap between 10th and 11th place is now two points instead of one: 10th gets 34 points, while 11th gets 32, etc.
Here's a complete rundown of DraftKings' NASCAR scoring rules.
Note: the following is a sample NASCAR DraftKings lineup; you can use the information to create your own.
Daily Fantasy NASCAR DraftKings Plays/Sample Lineup for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway
Austin Dillon ($10,300)
Career at Daytona: 16 starts, 1 win, 3 top fives, 8 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 14.8
Dillon’s salary is a bit high this week, but he can still get a good finish. He needs one after crashing out of last week’s race at Michigan.
Historically at Daytona, the No. 3 RCR pilot has earned top 10s in half his starts. However, he’s only had two top fives and three top 10s in the past seven races. That includes a third in this year’s Daytona 500 as well as a 2018 Daytona 500 victory. Unfortunately, he’s finished 25th or worse in the past two summer races there.
Also, at Talladega Superspeedway in April, Dillon earned eighth just behind his cohort Reddick. He also claimed a sixth in the fall 2019 Talladega race.
Starting 27th, that means a top-five result for Dillon would produce at least 61 fantasy points on DraftKings. He’s battling his teammate and others below him in points for the final playoff spot, so know there's some risk here. More aggression sometimes leads to more wrecks; hopefully for Dillon, that won’t be the case this week.
Denny Hamlin ($9,400)
Career at Daytona: 31 starts, 3 wins, 11 top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 16.0
Hamlin has had some better results at the 2.5-mile track, as he’s found a way to usually avoid calamity and be up front at the end. The driver has three Daytona 500 victories in 2016, 2019 and 2020. He also has earned nine top fives and 10 top 10s since 2014. In February, he placed fifth after starting 25th and was third in last summer’s Daytona event.
The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver has also done well at Talladega, earning two trophies in fall 2020 and spring 2014. Hamlin has earned four top-five finishes in the last six races there, though he unfortunately crashed out earlier this season after leading 43 laps.
Expect Hamlin to be a bit of a risky pick this time around despite rolling off in third. Hamlin is in a points battle with Kyle Larson for the regular-season championship, which means aggression will be high. Expect Hamlin to try and get out front, collecting points in the first two stages.
Kaz Grala ($8,900)
Career at Daytona: 1 start, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 28.0
Grala didn’t have a good run in his Daytona 500 debut back in February. His rear wheel area caught fire and Grala ended up in 28th. But he did lead 10 laps and record four fastest laps in the race. He also earned a sixth at Talladega earlier this season.
Daytona has been one of Grala’s better racetracks in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series. He has two top fives in NXS there in 2018, while in Trucks, he won the 2017 event after leading 14 circuits.
Grala may have shown his talent on road courses more often in recent years, but don’t count him out here. Besides, AJ Allmendinger just scored Kaulig Racing’s first Cup victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course a few weeks ago. An improbable Grala win at Daytona would spoil the party for those wanting to be in the playoffs.
William Byron ($8,000)
Career at Daytona: 7 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 2 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 20.7
Byron is usually not a driver DFS users roster at superspeedways, but I’m keeping an eye on him this week. In July 2019, Byron finished runner up in the weather-shortened race, while last year, he earned his first victory and snagged a spot in the playoffs after leading 24 laps. He also led 44 laps in the 2019 Daytona 500 but crashed out near the end of the race.
The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports speedster also has a couple of top fives at Talladega, including a second-place showing earlier this year. Byron’s other top five — a fourth — came last fall. He’s also led 11-14 laps in four of seven Cup races at the 2.66-mile course.
Since Byron is on the front row Saturday, he’ll have a chance to lead some circuits, which would help boost your DraftKings score. As long as Byron gets a good finish, he’ll be a fine DFS play.
Landon Cassill ($7,100)
Career at Daytona: 15 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Daytona: 23.4
Welcome back to the Cup Series, Landon Cassill! He’ll wheel the No. 96 of Gaunt Brothers Racing this time around in his first Daytona start in two years. Though he hasn’t finished in the top 10 there yet, he did get an 11th in the summer 2019 race, 22 positions up from where he started. The veteran also has four other results between 12th and 19th, all of which were several spots up from his qualifying position.
Cassill has similar outcomes at Talladega in Cup; in the fall 2019 race, he gained 11 positions to grab 14th. He also was 11th in 2014 and 2016, 16th in 2011 and fourth in the fall 2014 event.
He currently competes in Xfinity for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller, though he hasn’t fared as well for this team in seven of his eight Daytona starts. He did get a third in 2011 in his Xfinity debut at the track. Cassill also has a couple of top 10s at Talladega in NXS.
Since Cassill's starting almost dead last, a top 15 would yield a great DraftKings score, even for his salary. Hopefully the GBR equipment will hold up and he’ll steer clear of trouble.
Dark Horse Performer
Justin Haley ($5,500)
Career at Daytona: 2 starts, 1 wins, 1 top five, 1 top 10
Average finish at Daytona: 7.0
Haley is generally good on superspeedways. So good, in fact, that he won his first race in Cup at Daytona two years ago. Though he really didn’t have to do anything to win, the rookie was still in the right place at the right time. Those in front of him pitted, thinking the race would restart soon. Unfortunately for them, lightning struck near the track, prompting an extended delay. Then it rained, allowing Haley to claim the victory for Spire Motorsports. He also claimed a 13th in the 2020 season opener at Daytona after starting 33rd for Kaulig.
Haley hasn’t been as good in Cup at Talladega, though, as he has just one good result in three races -- an 11th in the 2020 playoff event. However, he has some good finishes at both Daytona and Talladega in Xfinity. At Daytona, he won the August 2020 race and earned a second and sixth in 2019 and the 2020 season opener, respectively. He’s been even better at Talladega, sweeping the 2020 events and nabbing top 10s in 2019 and 2021.
Like Cassill, Spire’s cars aren’t as strong as other teams and can sometimes break down. But if Haley’s car stays on track without too much damage, expect the No. 77 driver to be around at the end. He’ll take the green flag from 28th Saturday.