Talladega Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events are often survival of the fittest (or even just survival). Collisions lurk around every corner, waiting to claim their next victim. The Big One is just one ill-timed bump away, disrupting the race and your daily fantasy NASCAR DraftKings roster.
This week's event, the 2019 GEICO 500 (Sunday, April 28, 2 p.m. ET on FOX) will be even crazier than normal. It's the first race at Talladega Superspeedway without a restrictor plate in over 30 years. NASCAR's "temporary" solution has been replaced by tapered spacers while the rear spoiler and the rear of the car are raised one inch apiece. The cars will also have lower horsepower than the previous two races before Easter break along with those pesky aero ducts.
Talladega produces parity, one of a handful of races all season where anyone in the field has a real shot to win. But despite that reality, know winners began eight of the last 10 Talladega races within the top 10.
You may not need the victor in your lineup, however, to win money at DraftKings. At drafting tracks like Daytona and Talladega, a driver could start 36th and finish second. Position differential points become increasingly important when a driver can bounce up (and down) so quickly. Here's a closer look at the DraftKings rules.
Be sure to check where the field qualifies and make any adjustments you think will benefit your lineup. Talladega is an impound race, so inspections occur before Cup qualifying. However, it is possible for a driver to need to go to a backup car if they wreck, turning into great value for your DraftKings lineup.
Joey Logano ($11,200)
Career at Talladega: 20 starts, 3 wins, 7 top fives, 9 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 17.1
Logano has great recent history at Talladega. His manufacturer, Ford, has won eight of the last 10 races here, flexing teamwork to pull away in the draft and seize control.
In Logano's last seven 'Dega races, he has five top fives, including three wins. One of those came a year ago, pushing up his price to $500 more than his Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski ($10,700).
Both Keselowski and Logano have high upside, as they both scored over 100 DraftKings points at two different races in 2019. Such a score is unlikely for this track; there aren't as many laps available to lead here. However, Logano did score 44 DraftKings points at Daytona (another superspeedway) earlier this year.
Look for Fords to try to defend their Talladega dominance. This time, I expect Team Penske to lead the way over last fall's Ford powerhouse, Stewart-Haas Racing.
Aric Almirola ($8,100)
Career at Talladega: 18 starts, 1 wins, 3 top fives, 6 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 16.3
I'm featuring this SHR driver due to his success in recent years at Talladega. Almirola scored his first win at this track last fall after starting in fourth place. He's now finished in the top 10 five straight times here, almost impossible to do with the Big One lurking.
Three of those races, Almirola started in the 20s, and one other he started 40th. If history repeats itself, he could give you a large amount of bonus points for positive position differential.
Almirola's other SHR teammates are also good options. But Almirola is definitely the best value price compared to Daniel Suarez at $7,900.
If you're looking for alternatives, both Kevin Harvick ($11,600) and Clint Bowyer ($8,900) won at Talladega, too. Bowyer's got two victories, the last of which came in 2011, and Harvick won the 2010 Spring race. They have all performed well so far this year; in particular, Bowyer has four straight top-10 finishes coming to Talladega. Each one could help you cash in your lineups.
Chase Elliott ($9,500)
Career at Talladega: 6 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 2 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 16.2
Elliott is one of the more risky drivers here due to recent (and limited) track history. He's qualified in the top 10 in every Talladega start but only has two top fives to show for it. Elliott did finish the 2018 spring race in third after starting fifth, his best career finish here.
However, since Elliott should run up front, he has the potential to lead laps and give you major bonus points for your DraftKings score. But if you choose to use him in your lineup, be wary of the risk involved late in the race.
Kurt Busch ($9,000)
Career at Talladega: 36 starts, 0 wins, 8 top fives, 19 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 15.4
Kurt Busch has never won a race at Talladega but he does have five top 10s in the last seven events. In the 2018 GEICO 500, he began and ended the race second, leading five laps along the way. He could also give you bonus points for fastest laps (though in practice, speeds reached over 200 mph for over half the field).
Busch was first in practice one Friday (April 26) and 15th in the afternoon session. He is one of the fastest Chevy drivers so far this season and could be a great inclusion to your roster. Remember, Busch remains hungry for a win at the sport's largest track on the schedule.
David Ragan ($5,400)
Career at Talladega: 24 starts, 1 wins, 4 top fives, 10 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 19.0
"What? David Ragan???" Yes. He historically has great speed at these superspeedways, one of the few chances his Front Row Motorsports team has a chance to win. In fact, the FRM driver captured the 2013 Aaron's 499 with this very team.
More recently, Ragan finished in the top 10 in three of the past four 'Dega races. He and teammates Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft are all great value drivers for your lineup. They can help you fit in one or two of the more expensive drivers, too, with lower pricing.
This trio landed in the top five in either practice (Ragan and McDowell in practice one; Tifft in practice two). If they start the race in the 20s or below, they could give you tremendous value DraftKings points for positive position differential.
Chris Buescher ($6,900)
Career at Talladega: 7 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 21.0
Ty Dillon ($6,500)
Career at Talladega: 4 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Talladega: 13.5
I'm including both Buescher and Ty Dillon for my honorable mentions because both could finish higher than where they qualify Sunday. Though neither driver has a top 10 here, they still finished within the top 20 recently.
Buescher, who drives for JTG-Daugherty Racing, completed the 2018 GEICO 500 11th after starting 25th. Dillon (with Germain Racing) began both Talladega events in 29th and ended 15th. In fact, he has four top-15 finishes thus far in four career Talladega starts.
These drivers are certainly risky lower-end options. But they can provide good value as well if they stick in the draft and avoid the Big One.
Dark Horse Performer
Justin Haley ($5,100)
Making MENCS Debut
I wavered between Jeffrey Earnhardt and Justin Haley for my Dark Horse Performer, but ultimately settled on Haley. He is making his MENCS debut Sunday, driving the No. 77 car for Spire Motorsports.
Haley, a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, has a unique history at superspeedways. In last year's July Daytona NXS race, he almost won. However, NASCAR said he crossed the double yellow line illegally, stripping him of the victory despite crossing the checkered flag ahead of Kyle Larson.
Haley finished fourth at Talladega last year in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. This year, he's driving for Kaulig Racing in NXS and has six top 10s in eight starts. Perhaps he can win on his birthday Sunday? What a present that would be.
One last thing for this week; don't feel like you need to use up all your DraftKings salary. Sometimes, you can cash with some money on the table in your lineup. That's especially true here where a lot of your lower-end options provide better value.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)