Following Kyle Larson‘s second-straight victory at Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Daytona to close out the regular season with the Coke Zero Sugar 400. Let’s dive into the track information NASCAR DFS drivers need to know, what to expect for this weekend’s running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and some early NASCAR fantasy picks.
NASCAR DFS Preview: Coke Zero Sugar 400
Daytona International Speedway Information
- Track: Daytona International Speedway
- Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
- Length: 2.5 miles (asphalt)
- Banking: 31 degrees in the turns, 18 degrees in the tri-oval, two degrees along the backstretch
- Best corollary tracks: Talladega, Atlanta
- Dominator Points:
- DraftKings: 40 – laps led, 72 – fastest laps
- FanDuel: 16 – laps led
- Past winners: Austin Cindric (2022), Ryan Blaney (2021B), Michael McDowell (2021A)
- Betting favorite: Chase Elliott +1000
- Entry List: 37 drivers, including David Ragan (15), Daniel Hemric (16), Noah Gragson (62) and Landon Cassill (77)
- Weather: High of 87, scattered thunderstorms throughout the day
- Watch: NBC
- Listen: MRN (MRN, NASCAR.com, NASCAR Sirius/XM Channel 90)
On Track Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Friday, August 26
- 5:05 p.m.: qualifying
- Sunday, August 27
- 7:00 p.m.: green flag (35/95/160 laps)
2022 Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR DFS Picks
2022 Points Standings
One race remains in the Cup Series regular season and that’s precisely how many playoff seats remain available. Via Kyle Larson’s victory at Watkins Glen, Kurt Busch is guaranteed to still have his spot in the playoffs when they begin at Darlington next weekend. Surprisingly, despite missing the last month, he won’t be fighting an uphill battle to make the second round as he’s currently projected to be tied with Daniel Suarez at 2007 points, more than either Austin Cindric or Alex Bowman and will only be trailing his brother Kyle Busch by a mere point for the 12th spot in the playoff standings. Furthermore, Ryan Blaney still has the last playoff spot with his 25-point cushion over Martin Truex Jr. Oddly enough, should Blaney transfer in following Saturday night, he’ll go from the last driver into eighth in the playoffs with 2013 projected points. Yet, Blaney can’t start counting his chickens before they hatch, as he could easily add stage wins and finish second, but still lose his playoff spot should any number of drivers win the Coke Zero Sugar 400. For those unfamiliar with NASCAR’s Cup Series playoff rules, to be eligible for the playoffs a driver must finish top 16 in regular season points. If they do not meet that criterion, they must have a victory and finish top 30 in points. NASCAR gives credence to drivers with victories over those who do not. Therefore, despite sitting third in the regular season points standings, Ryan Blaney could miss the playoffs if he doesn’t win and someone in the 17th through 30th range does win.
Thursday update: Kurt Busch and Team 23XI have withdrawn their playoff appeal as Busch looks to continue his time away from the sport further than Darlington. Thus, Busch will no longer qualify for the playoffs, and now two spots are up for grabs for the playoffs. With Busch out of the mix, both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. have the final two playoff seats, via points, but one of these two could lose that spot should a winless driver, who’s top-30 in points, win on Sunday. If a repeat winner, for 2022, should win at Daytona then both Blaney and Truex are in on points. If either Blaney or Truex wins, then the other will still make it in via points.
This prospective pool (listed by regular season points) of drivers includes Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Custer, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Todd Gilliland. For those wondering, Corey Lajoie trails Gilliland by 71 points for the 30th spot. With 60 points being the maximum amount that a driver can earn in a single race, Lajoie could sweep both stages and win the race and still not qualify for the playoffs. Regardless, of those 14 drivers, eight of them have won Cup events at superspeedways while five of them have won this race in the past and that doesn’t include Blaney who won this same race last year.
NASCAR Daytona International Speedway Preview
Therefore, everything is on the line this Saturday evening, and that’s precisely how NASCAR envisioned this run-up to the playoffs to be when they scheduled Daytona as the end to the regular season. However, what they probably never foresaw, was 15 different drivers winning through the first 25 races of the 2022 season, thus leaving just one playoff spot open to 18 different drivers. It’s a recipe for chaos and nothing short of that should be expected Saturday night.
The second Daytona race already had a reputation for being more chaotic with a higher DNF rate compared to the Daytona 500. In fact, not counting rain-shortened events, the last time the summer Daytona race ran just its advertised 400 miles was 2012. Add in a “win and in” scenario for a multitude of drivers, and don’t be shocked when a late pile-up occurs and forces the race into overtime. Last year in this race, with two laps left, 11 cars got collected in what is called a “big one”. This is on top of another multi-car incident that happened with just 10 laps remaining. Furthermore, on what would be considered the last lap in that same race, another wreck occurred that collected nine cars as well.
Go back to this race in 2020 and with seven laps remaining, 10 cars get collected in a wreck. On what should have been the last lap, an even bigger wreck occurs with 12 cars this time. In fact, this issue with late wrecks even proceeds with the change in the calendar. 2019 is removed from the data as it was a rain-shortened event but 2018 had a multi-car wreck with three laps left in the event and another nine-car wreck on lap 163 pushing the race into a second overtime.
Daytona Lineup Construction
With this chaos in mind, most NASCAR DFS players understand the concept of “stacking the back”. This idea toward roster construction of purely playing drivers in the back-half of the field places an emphasis on place differential potential and finishing position points, disregards dominator points for the most part and adds a layer of safety to a race filled to the brim with variance. In fact, what was once one of the best-kept secrets of NASCAR DFS, in its infancy on DraftKings, has become an overused schtick as people fail to account for the nuance and just blindly roster drivers starting 20th or worse. In this season, simply building a lineup for a floor has missed being optimal in the four superspeedway races thus far.
The drivers with their starting positions highlighted in green would have been the chalk plays or 11 of the 24 drivers. The drivers in blue, who started first through ninth, make up six of the 24 optimal drivers and constituted two positions out of six in three of four races. This is consistently the “dead zone” of picking drivers in superspeedway races as they rarely do enough with laps led points, finishing position and place differential to make the optimal lineup. However, in 75% of this season’s superspeedway races, these drivers have managed to do so. Before anyone starts writing off “stack the back”, gauge these lineups against the past four optimal summer Daytona events.
Now, the place differential scoring metric is king, accounting for 20 of the 24 drivers. As the wrecks mount up, so do the chances that a driver who started in the latter half of the field ends up being optimal simply by avoiding the crashes. With no change in expectations for this version of the Coke Zero Sugar 400, it appears that building a lineup of drivers who starts 20th or worse is back in play, despite what the 2022 numbers show above. For those looking to avoid a duplicated lineup or otherwise chalky build, they can include drivers starting 19th or higher. On the other hand, like Chris Buescher last year or Denny Hamlin and William Byron in 2020, since these drivers lose place differential upside, they must be able to finish in the top three. One common theme, whether looking at just 2022 or the past four summer Daytona events, if a driver can’t finish in the top 12, regardless of where they start, they won’t be optimal. It’s not good enough to just have place differential upside, a driver has to be able to finish high and capitalize on finishing position points as well.
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