After two weeks with practice and qualification, NASCAR is back to the rules put in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. The starting lineup for the Toyota / Save Mart 350k at Sonoma Raceway has been set by the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway finish.
The salary cap managers knew ahead of time where drivers would line up and they could factor in the impact of place-differential points to compliment a driver’s record on road courses. There will be some strong racers salted throughout the field and the cap levels.
Road courses, more than ovals, are sensitive to track position. If a driver is patient, he will methodically pick his way through the field. If he’s not, he runs the risk of sustaining damage that could derail his entire day.
Fortunately, even in 2021 road courses tend to be more predictable than ovals. The usual caveats apply as ill-timed caution flags can throw a monkey wrench into the works, but there is no way to factor that into a handicapping formula.
Group A: Most Expensive (>=$10,000)
Chase Elliott ($10,500)
Most players and bettors are undoubtedly getting sick of the hyperbole surrounding Chase Elliott on road courses. With five wins in the last six road course races, it will come as no surprise that Elliott has been the top or second-best performer in DraftKings on this track type in six of his last seven attempts. The downside to starting him is that everyone will have him on their roster, so there is no advantage to be had.
Joey Logano ($10,300)
This week there are only four drivers with caps greater than $10k, which makes the choice a little easier. Whereas everyone will have Elliott and most will have a lineup with Martin Truex Jr. on it as well, Logano and Kyle Busch are going to be the difference makers this week. If you are setting multiple lineups, the rationale is strong to create one with the No. 22 and another with the 18. We lean toward Logano for the top lineup, however, because he’s finished first or second in his last three road course races.
Group B: (Between $9,900 and $8,000)
Kyle Larson ($9,700)
It will cost you $9,700 to see if Larson’s second-place finish in the Echo Park Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was a fluke. It is one of four consecutive results of second or better that culminated with last week’s win at Charlotte. In equipment equal to his ability, Larson is finally getting to show his strength and that means you can toss out his old stats. Larson might not win, but unless something goes wrong, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t finish in the top five.
Kurt Busch ($9,100)
Last week’s heartache for Busch is a boon for players. The engine issue that sent him home early in the Coke 600 lines him up 30th at Sonoma. This is a track that has been extremely kind in the past with a win in 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2015. He will be fighting for track position all afternoon. This is a short race at 217 miles. That will probably keep him from contending for a win, but a top-10 finish is going to add at least 20 place-differential points to his total.
Group C: (Between $7,900 and $6,500)
Michael McDowell ($7,600)
We’ve been shaking our heads all week long about why the oddsmakers continue to undervalue McDowell on road courses. His three top-10s in the last four races on this track type should prove that his results are not a fluke, but he’s still shows plus odds for a finish in that range. The cap managers are not showing him much respect either – although for the record, he is nearly $2k more expensive than he was last week. He rolls off the grid 21st and should finish between seventh and 11th. That gives him a prominent spot on your roster.
Erik Jones ($7,000)
In the balance of man versus machine, road courses favor the driver more heavily than unrestricted, intermediate speedways. Jones finished 14th on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course and was 16th at COTA in the rain, but we think he is overdue a top-10. The reason for that is even with those two results in his cannon, he still has a top-10 average of .500 – and half of those have been top-fives. At his cap level, he’s a good value even if he misses by a spot or two.
Group D: (Less than or equal to $6,500)
Corey LaJoie ($6,000)
The pickings are pretty slim in Group D this week and if you don’t want to reach all the way down to the low $5k range, you’re going to have to take some risks. LaJoie earned a career best finish on the road courses at COTA with his 20th-place result. Granted, there were several drivers who exited early and cleared a path to the top 20, but Sonoma is also fraught with peril.
Anthony Alfredo ($5,800)
Like LaJoie, Alfredo was a pleasant surprise at COTA in the Texas Grand Prix with an 18th-place finish. Better still, he has shown some consistency because he finished 22nd on the Daytona road course. It’s too soon to know if that was a fluke, but it won’t cost much to find out.
The top-10 points’ earners from this year’s Texas Grand Prix were: Chase Briscoe (59), Chase Elliott (58.65), Ross Chastain (58.35), Michael McDowell (54.65), Ryan Preece (49.5), Joey Logano (48.4), Chris Buescher (45), Kyle Larson (44.34), Anthony Alfredo (44), and AJ Allmendinger (41.45).
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