It's time for the duel in the desert as the NASCAR Cup Series finishes up its west coast swing at Phoenix Raceway. Let set your daily fantasy DraftKings lineups for the Ruoff Mortgage 500, airing on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Phoenix is a much different track from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. It's one mile long and has a dogleg, a wide apron in a turn that allows drivers to slide down and try to pass those cars ahead of them. It will be interesting to see whether they'll try this tactic in the race, as it could mess with the diffuser underneath the rear end of the new Next Gen car.
Since Phoenix marks the first smaller oval on the regular schedule, we don't really know for sure how the Next Gen cars will react to the track and the resin NASCAR put down. However, you can look at previous Phoenix events to see which strategy may be best this time around. You can also see which drivers have performed well there as well as checking other shorter, flat racetracks like New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Last year's Phoenix races saw one driver lead more than 100 laps in each event, while a few others led under that amount (but still a large portion). So whoever gets out front of the pack to start out will likely lead a lot of laps. If you miss out on these dominators, you likely won't win your DraftKings contests because the past few races saw mostly top-tier teams inside the top 10.
Of course, anything can happen in practice and qualifying, so be sure to check out the starting lineup to find out if any strong cars are set to start near the back.
Before I share my picks for this week, here's a look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Note: These scores and salaries are from the original contests DraftKings made before qualifying.
I can describe this score in one word: horrible. Ouch. But at least Kyle Larson led some laps and earned a second-place finish. Still, it's not good when one driver scores half of your total by himself (unless the others aren't in the negative). Sometimes, luck just doesn't go your way.
In the $10,000 Quarter Jukebox tournament, 254.75 DraftKings points were needed to win $0.50. The highest score that won $500 had Kyle Busch, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain, Aric Almirola and Harrison Burton, scoring 394.60 fantasy points.
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.
Now, on to my picks!
Note: The following drivers are part of a sample NASCAR DraftKings lineup; you can use this info to make your own. DraftKings may decide to make another set of contests after qualifying for Sunday; these are from the first set opened during the week.
NASCAR DraftKings Plays/Sample Lineup for the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway
Kyle Larson ($11,800)
Career at Phoenix: 15 starts, 1 win, 6 top fives, 9 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 10.9
Same song, different verse for Larson as he's once again in my pre-qualifying lineup for the second week in a row. Since fall 2016, he's only had two results outside the top 10 at Phoenix, and none since fall 2018. Larson was strong there even before he joined Hendrick Motorsports last year, but didn't get his first win until the championship race in November. No better time for your first victory, I'd say. The veteran didn't just win, though; he led 107 laps, more than anyone else in the race.
Last week, the 29-year-old gambled with teammates Bowman and Byron on the final pit stop at Las Vegas, taking two tires and controlling both lanes in overtime. While it didn't work out in Larson's favor, he still came home second after leading 27 laps.
Larson may be driving a new car, but don't let that stop you from placing him in your DraftKings lineup.
Martin Truex Jr. ($9,800)
Career at Phoenix: 32 starts, 1 win, 6 top fives, 14 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 15.0
Truex has done fairly well at Phoenix in the last 10 races, earning five top fives and seven top 10s in that span. He's also the defending race winner, grabbing his first track victory after leading 64 circuits last spring. He followed that up with a second place in the championship event in November, leading 72 laps in a losing effort.
Plus, in the last 10 races at tracks one mile or less in length, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver totaled two other victories: the spring Martinsville Speedway race and in the fall at Richmond Raceway. Truex was out front for 80 laps in the latter event, which ultimately boosted his DraftKings score.
At Las Vegas, Truex was hot on teammate Kyle Busch's tail in the closing laps until a late caution came out for Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace. Unfortunately, he wound up eighth following the overtime finish, but 34 fastest laps increased his fantasy score to 55.6 on DraftKings.
I made this lineup before qualifying but Truex wound up 20th, putting some position differential points in play. If he has another fast car in race trim, expect more fastest laps this week along with a little extra bonus for moving through the field.
Kevin Harvick ($9,100)
Career at Phoenix: 38 starts, 9 wins, 18 top fives, 27 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 8.8
I'm honestly surprised that Harvick has this salary because of his Phoenix history. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 since 2013, a streak of 17 straight events. Six of his victories came between 2013-2018. Though Harvick hasn't earned a win at Phoenix since 2018, he led 67 laps as recently as March 2020. I mean, just based on these statistics, you should strongly consider him for your roster.
The Californian's DraftKings scores this season haven't been all bad, either (except for the Daytona 500). Harvick earned 62.3 fantasy points at Fontana and 44.9 at Las Vegas, mostly because he started in the back. He even made the main in the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and finished 10th, earning 48.9 DraftKings points in the process. Attrition might help him move up again this weekend, but it would be even better if he had a fast car out of the gate so he could earn bonus points for fastest laps.
Aric Almirola ($7,900)
Career at Phoenix: 22 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average finish at Phoenix: 14.2
Let's just disregard Almirola's Phoenix stats for a second. He's supposed to retire from full-time racing at the end of the season, but so far has not finished worse than sixth place. He's earned 52 or more DraftKings points in each of the first three events, which (like his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Harvick) is mostly thanks to position differential. Somehow, he's overcome spins and other problems to hang around in the top 10 at the end of the race.
But this top-10 streak stretches back to last fall at Martinsville, where the Florida native closed out the year with back-to-back sixth-place finishes. He also won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2021 after leading 25 laps.
If Almirola keeps up these consistently strong results, there's no reason why I wouldn't play him on DraftKings. A fifth-place starting spot bodes well for Sunday.
Dark Horse Performers
Bubba Wallace ($6,400)
Career at Phoenix: 8 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10
Average finish at Phoenix: 21.8
As I previously mentioned, Wallace crashed into the inside wall in turn 1 at LVMS after he narrowly avoided Jones on the track. Before that, he was running inside the top 15 and was about to notch a quality result. Instead, he finished 25th, eight spots further down from where he started the race.
In last year's championship event at Phoenix, the 23XI Racing pilot exited early after getting in a wreck with Corey LaJoie. However, Wallace does have a few top 20s at the one-mile course, including a 10th in fall 2018. These kind of results help his DraftKings score, especially when starting further back in the pack. At this salary, you could use every position differential point you can get.
Todd Gilliland ($4,900)
Truck Series career at Phoenix: 5 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 3 top 10s
Truck Series average finish at Phoenix: 11.0
I think this is the first time I'm playing a driver in the $4,000 range at a track that isn't Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. I mean, there's always a risk having any driver in your lineup; that's just a part of daily fantasy. But Gilliland is a rookie who came up from the Camping World Truck Series — not exactly the type of driver you'd play at Phoenix.
So why pick him? Gilliland does have some respectable finishes this year: at Auto Club, he ended 20th and at Las Vegas, he was 23rd. That led to 29 and 26 DraftKings points in each race, respectively. You don't really need a whole lot from him to help your DraftKings score, especially if one of your other drivers wins and/or leads a lot of laps. Choosing a guy like Gilliland also allows you to fit some of the top-tier drivers on your roster.
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