It's time for pack racing as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 on Sunday (Oct. 13). The race is scheduled to begin shortly after 2 p.m. ET with television coverage provided by NBC.
Talladega is a 2.66-mile racetrack, the largest on the NASCAR circuit with high banking in the turns. Cars will again use the lower-horsepower package with aero ducts in just the third superspeedway race in 30 years to run without restrictor plates.
In pack racing, there can be instability and unknown occurrences that lead to some wild results. For example, in the July Daytona International Speedway event, a large crash took out multiple front-runners and inclement weather forced an early ending. As a result, Justin Haley won his first Cup race for Spire Motorsports.
There's also a threat of rain Sunday, which adds to the unpredictability already in play. Will drivers play it safe to ensure a good finish, or will they be aggressive to earn points for the playoffs? And how will their behavior affect your daily fantasy strategy?
Well, you can study trends from past Talladega races and compare drivers' current form to their superspeedway history. One thing's for certain, though: you will want the winner in your DraftKings lineup. Picking out which driver will win can be a difficult task, but it is possible.
Additionally, in Friday's practice sessions, manufacturers worked together in the draft, and that is often the case during the race, too. Earlier this year in April, three Chevrolets finished first-second-third, and in this race last season, three Fords took the podium. The same pattern also happened in the 2019 Daytona 500, where three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas survived the mayhem and swept the top three spots.
Of course, when it comes down to the final few laps, every driver wants to win.
Before I get to this week's picks, I want to review what happened last week.
Right off the bat, what stands out is Chase Elliott's negative DraftKings score. That was an unfortunate end to a driver I considered a lock based on his history at Dover International Speedway. But at least I had the winner (Kyle Larson) in this lineup.
If you wanted to win money last week, you needed a minimum score of 311.50 in the $1 Happy Hour contest and 295.75 in the $1 single entry double up.
Brad Keselowski ($9,600)
Career at Talladega: 21 starts, 5 wins, 7 top fives, 11 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 15.6
Keselowski's five wins here are a NASCAR best, making it easier to ignore some recent history (three straight runs outside the top 10). The Team Penske driver's last victory at this track came two years ago, and he also has 11 top 10s. Additionally, he's led a total of 271 laps in 21 career starts; that could lead to bonus points for laps led.
Finally, in the past 11 races this season, Keselowski has five top fives and eight top 10s. He's been fast, but just hasn't had much luck to win. Talladega is a track where he could use a bit of luck to stay out of harm's way; if that happens, he'll have the speed to contend.
Joey Logano ($9,400)
Career at Talladega: 21 starts, 3 wins, 8 top fives, 10 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 16.4
Keselowski's Team Penske cohort has had a rough stretch of 10 races lately, but he does have three top 10s. I am a bit concerned that Logano might not qualify as well as his teammate, since he has three starts in the 20s in the last 10 races. Still, his Talladega track history proves that poor track position could turn advantageous for daily fantasy.
Logano is on a four-race top-five streak at this track; his three victories all came in the last four years. He did crash out a couple of times, but that happens at superspeedways. The reigning Cup Series champ has also led many laps here -- 303, to be exact.
Check to see where Logano and his teammates qualify. Even if it's mid-pack, I'd lock him into your roster.
Clint Bowyer ($9,200)
Career at Talladega: 27 starts, 2 wins, 7 top fives, 13 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 16.1
Much of Bowyer's Talladega success occurred before the fall 2016 event, but he was able to finish second last year. In fact, all four Stewart-Haas Racing Fords had formed a four-car train away from the rest of the pack for much of the race. Unfortunately, two ran out of gas, but Aric Almirola and Bowyer finished first and second. You're going to want something similar from Bowyer if you pick him in your lineup, as he qualifies well here.
After a very discouraging summer, Bowyer picked up the pace right when he needed it the most. He has two top fives and six top 10s in the last seven races, sneaking into the playoffs and then advancing.
Ideally, you would want Bowyer if he doesn't qualify as well, as he would produce a higher DraftKings score. Either way, he's a good choice, and could be paired with his other SHR teammates.
Aric Almirola ($7,600)
Career at Talladega: 19 starts, 1 win, 3 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 15.9
Speaking of other SHR teammates, Almirola's lone win at Talladega came last year. What's even more appealing is that he has three top fives and six top 10s in the last six races. That's right, he's on a top-10 streak at a superspeedway!
Unfortunately, Almirola's no longer in the playoffs this year, but he could consider pushing one of his fellow comrades to victory. Should he play the role of good soldier and avoid mayhem on the track, the No. 10 team would be a solid value play for your lineup.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,900)
Career at Talladega: 9 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 27.8
Yes, I know DiBenedetto's finishes at Talladega have been less than ideal. However, stats and finishing position don't always show a driver's capability. DiBenedetto was poised for a good finish in the spring race, riding near the front when he smashed into Chris Buescher. Sometimes, it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But his year (aside from that event) has been nothing short of phenomenal. Driving the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, which has an alliance with JGR, has helped DiBenedetto show off his ability. Just last week at Dover, he finished seventh after starting 20th. Even better for your fantasy team is he doesn't usually qualify well, so if DiBenedetto can survive the big ones on track, he has a good chance to finish well and earn your team some extra points.
Dark Horse Performer
Brendan Gaughan ($5,700)
Career at Talladega: 8 starts, 0 wins, 1 top fives, 2 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 18.0
I think that Gaughan will be a popular play in DraftKings lineups since he seems to perform well at superspeedways. In fact, in the GEICO 500 earlier this year, he qualified 29th but earned an eighth-place finish. Gaughan also led five laps, totaling up 58 DraftKings points for those who rostered him.
In the rain-shortened July Daytona event, Gaughan was also successful, concluding the race 20 positions higher than he began. It's this kind of upside for his price that you definitely want for your daily fantasy lineup.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)