The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season started off with plenty of excitement, as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won his first ever Daytona 500 and third-career race in a photo finish.
By virtue of Stenhouse’s win — and the rain that washed out qualifying — he’ll start on the front row alongside Christopher Bell for today’s Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Because qualifying was rained out, the starting lineup was set by a formula that includes the driver’s previous finish, his car owner’s previous finish, his car owner’s point standing, and his previous race fastest lap. Because so many good drivers were taken out early in the Daytona 500, that means there are several drivers starting at the rear of the field for today’s race.
Unfortunately, that makes cash-game lineups completely obvious on DraftKings. In all honesty, if you don’t play the obvious cash-game lineup, you probably shouldn’t play double-ups or 50/50s at all. That is, unless you want to take a serious risk and go against the obvious chalk.
Even then, with everyone on the same lineup, it may be a good week to just sit out cash games.
However, tournament strategy becomes quite fun. It’s pretty unlikely that all six drivers from the obvious cash-game lineup make it into the optimal lineup, so we need to choose our tournament targets wisely. So that’s what I’m here to help you do.
Before we jump into my picks, don’t forget all my NASCAR projections can be found in the NASCAR Models on FantasyLabs, complete with floor, ceiling, median, and ownership projections.
Let’s not skip the best part — my Perfect% metric — a metric that tells you how often certain racers appear in the optimal lineup when running 10,000 race simulations.
Here are my NASCAR DFS picks for Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Auto Club DraftKings DFS Tournament Picks
Martin Truex, Jr. ($9300): Truex is exceptional at high tire-wear tracks, ranking inside the top three in most metrics last year. Over each driver’s last eight incident-free races at high-speed, high-wear tracks, Truex comes in second in driver rating behind only Kyle Larson.
Larson’s price point is $1500 more than Truex, and he also projects to be in more lineups. In fact, the gap between the two is six percent in projected ownership, but less than two percent in terms of optimal lineup chances.
So while people may pivot off of the chalk-six onto Larson, I’d rather pivot onto Truex because he’s right in the same ballpark as Larson, but he should come at a usage discount.
If you aren’t in a state with legal betting, PrizePicks has set Truex’s net cars passed line at 5.5.
Ross Chastain or Alex Bowman ($9900 or $8300): I’m listing these two drivers together, because I’m recommending playing only one or the other in a single lineup. I wouldn’t play them together, unless you’re mass multi-entering and are looking to get quite contrarian.
While Bowman and Chastain both project to be in more lineups than their projected Perfect %, they both don’t project to be extremely overused.
Bowman has wins at Chicagoland and here at Auto Club in his career, two high-speed, high-wear tracks. Meanwhile, Chastain is one of the best at taking advantage of high-wear tracks, and he could be under the radar if people read too much into last year’s finish. In that race, Chastain started at the back of the field but worked his way into sixth place before spinning out and damaging his car. He was on the charge toward the front, and now he has a better handle on what was then a brand-new car.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the two either winds up in victory lane or ends up in the optimal lineup thanks to a combination of early dominator points and a solid finish inside the top three (Chastain) or five (Bowman).
Ty Gibbs ($6100): I do expect Gibbs to draw plenty of usage, but he’s still worth mentioning because he’s in top-tier equipment and starts in the back half of the field. He’s a solid pivot off of Ty Dillon and a good option to build around if you want to leave off Chase Briscoe or Erik Jones as well.
Gibbs is the reigning Xfinity Series champion, and he posted solid results at high-wear tracks in the Xfinity Series. He’s yet to put it all together in a Cup car, with just one top-10 result in 16 races, but in a race with tons of chalk, he won’t command a ton of usage, so he’s a viable tournament option.
Ryan Preece ($6700): I fully expect people to pivot off of William Byron, Chase Briscoe, or Erik Jones onto Austin Dillon, but I don’t expect as many people to pivot off of Briscoe, Jones, or Ty Dillon onto Ryan Preece.
That’s reflected in his projected usage, where he should only wind up in approximately 10% of lineups. However, my model has him ending up in the optimal lineup closer to 14% of the time.
Honestly, Auto Club Speewday isn’t a good track for Preece. In fact, he’s downright bad at it. His track quality rating is -15.5%, which puts him third worst. However, two drivers in the lower price range are among the bottom four: Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland. Preece is in better equipment than both and starts behind both, giving him slightly more upside.
At some point, we’re going to have to drop down in price, so I prefer Preece to McDowell or Gilliland. However, I wouldn’t mind if you skipped Preece altogether for my Paul Menard Pick of the Week…
Auto Club DraftKings DFS Paul Menard Pick of the Week
My super low-owned play this week that I love is Harrison Burton ($5500).
Burton has been very strong at high-wear intermediates in the Xfinity Series, with wins here at Auto Club and at Homestead. He also pulled off two top-five finishes at old Atlanta, another high-wear intermediate, and a runner-up finish at Darlington.
In the Cup Series, his second-best, non-drafting, non-road course result of the year came at Darlington.
I fully expect people to pivot off of Ty Dillon, but they are likely to pivot onto McDowell, Preece, or Gibbs. Harrison Burton should fly under the radar.