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NASCAR DFS: Toyota/Save Mart 350 Cash and Tournament Picks for Draftkings and FanDuel

Phillip Bennetzen

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After a little R and R, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads west to the wine country of California for the Toyota/ Save Mart 350 at Sonoma. Infineon, as I grew up knowing Sonoma, is the first of three road courses the Cup series will visit this season and perhaps the best test of a driver’s skill of all three tracks based on its unique elevation changes, and little chance to overpass someone based on pure horsepower.

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Track Preview

Coinciding with Sonoma’s 50th anniversary, the Cup series will use the infamously neglected “carousel” turning this track from its typical 1.99-mile length into a half-mile longer version measuring more than 2.52 miles. This will be the first time the Cup series has used this layout since 1997 which means that no active driver has raced this layout although Jeff Gordon might try to remember a race from 1996 just like DW reminisces about Bristol races from forty years ago.

One added benefit of reintroducing the carousel is that it will create extra places for passing, especially in turn 6A where drivers quick to the throttle can pass someone as they approach the hill where turn 7 rests, but until we actually see the carousel in use this is all conjecture. One added aspect of the carousel’s introduction is a “shorter” race going from 110 to 90 laps.

While this doesn’t mean the race is going to be any shorter time-wise, it does mean that roster construction evolves now that this race has removed 20 laps and thus 10 fastest laps and 5 laps led points. Before we get into what lineups “should” look like let’s stop for a second and investigate what type of racing we should see this Sunday afternoon. First off, road races have infamously been races that some teams have attempted to race backward as they anticipate green flag runs and start reverse engineering the intervals at which they need to stop and essentially have enough gas to run to the end of the race.

This strategy works fine until an untimely caution comes and out forces the field to sync their pit road stops. However, now that NASCAR uses mandatory segment breaks the teams know exactly when the yellow flags will come flying which means teams don’t have to start overthinking strategy until thirty laps to go putting everyone on basically the same strategy. Furthermore, because coming across the line first to tenth awards playoff and regular season points some teams have turned this into their pit road strategy exchanging track position in the upcoming segment and a better shot at a win as opposed to those before mentioned points.

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It took the 2017 season for teams who wanted a playoff securing win to realize this strategy was viable, although 2017 race winner Kevin Harvick was very aware as he sacrificed points in both segment breaks for the win. In 2018 we saw the top teams embrace this strategy as the drivers finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th all finish with exactly zero stage points from segments one or two. When you consider what this involves it makes perfect sense, a driver confident that he won’t need those few points to sneak into the playoffs or that singular playoff point can pit early in exchange for track position and be up front come the start of a new segment as opposed to getting how many ever points, pitting and possibly getting stalled in traffic, repeating this once again, and never really being a threat to contend for the win.

This is all just a long, convoluted way of saying that the drivers who legitimately believe they can win will probably swap pre segment break stage points for post-break track position. It should be noted that the drivers that did this pattern last year (Martin Truex Junior, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch) all had the buffer of multiple wins notched in their belts so even if their pit strategy failed in an attempt to win the race and further cement their playoff standings, they had those previous wins to fall back on.

Roster Construction

So… how does this information look when converted into a fantasy lineup? Well, that’s the complicated part and it’s the reason why I advise playing lower bankroll than you normally would this weekend. If drivers and teams are going to play three-dimensional chess with one another as some chase track position versus regular season points while they all do their best to anticipate the yellow flags they know about versus the ones they don’t then we’re going to end up with lots of drivers on different strategies. Furthermore, with so few bonus fantasy points available (only 45 fastest laps and 22.75 laps led points) the margin for error becomes smaller between cashing and not.

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Let’s get back to that point about Hog points as our jumping off point. First off, the package being utilized this weekend should have little to no impact on the style of racing, so we should see racing reminiscent of the past two seasons. Within those two races, we have the race from last year where the top two lap leaders ended up hogging the fastest laps compared to the 2017 race where several drivers hit fastest laps marks. If you climb through the lap data of previous races at Sonoma you’ll find in about half the races the lap leaders were grabbing those fast laps while in the other half the fast laps were dispersed through the field like it was a plate race.

Thus, what you do with Dominators is going to be based on the style of racing you anticipate. How so? With only 22.75 laps led points available, you’re going to need potential Hogs to grab those fast laps points as well in order to make them viable. It would make sense that the greener a race is the less likely the lap leader is to get those fast laps because eventually they will find the backend of the pack and get slowed down by those backmarkers as he attempts to pass whereas a caution-filled race would mean the field continually gets pulled back together and the lap leader continually gets clean track and air to navigate through.

However, the very opposite appears to be the case at Sonoma as last year’s race had only one true caution and saw two lap leaders hog the fast laps whereas the 2017 race had four real cautions and the fast laps got jumbled up. Thus, if trends remain static, you should probably look to begin rosters with a single dominator if you anticipate a green race. However, if you foresee a few extra cautions outside of the stage breaks, then chasing drivers with place differential/finishing position may be the preferred outlet.

I say this because those drivers who offer both place differential, as well as high finishing position upside, continue to be the drivers who knock down top ten fantasy scores.

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Driver Start Finish Place Diff Fast Laps Fast Lap Laps Led Laps Led Total
Kevin Harvick 6 2 4 42 21 35 8.75 75.75
Martin Truex Jr 2 1 1 19 9.5 62 15.5 72
Clint Bowyer 19 3 16 8 4 0 0 61
Kurt Busch 23 6 17 1 0.5 1 0.25 55.75
Aric Almirola 24 8 16 1 0.5 0 0 52.5
Erik Jones 20 7 13 1 0.5 1 0.25 50.75
Denny Hamlin 21 10 11 6 3 4 1 49
Chris Buescher 25 12 13 1 0.5 0 0 45.5
Kyle Busch 9 5 4 3 1.5 0 0 44.5
Alex Bowman 17 9 8 0 0 0 0 43

Above are the top ten fantasy scores from last year’s race. Besides our two Hogs who outscored everyone with laps led and fastest laps points, what does everyone have in common – top twelve finishes with six of the top eight also gaining double-digit place differential.

Driver Start Finish Place Diff Fast Laps Fast Lap Laps Led Laps Led Total
Brad Keselowski 23 3 20 5 2.5 17 4.25 67.75
Kevin Harvick 12 1 11 5 2.5 24 6 65.5
Denny Hamlin 14 4 10 5 2.5 11 2.75 55.25
Clint Bowyer 13 2 11 3 1.5 0 0 54.5
Jimmie Johnson 24 13 11 11 5.5 12 3 53.5
Kurt Busch 17 7 10 6 3 0 0 50
Matt Kenseth 38 20 18 0 0 0 0 42
Joey Logano 18 12 6 2 1 0 0 39
Kyle Busch 4 5 -1 0 0 3 0.75 38.75
Chase Elliott 8 8 0 4 2 0 0 38

These are the top ten fantasy scores from the 2017 race with nearly matching results – top twelve (on in this case thirteen) finishes coupled with double-digit place differential gained. The lone exception was Matt Kenseth who finished 20th but his 18 spots gained helped propel him to the 7th best fantasy score. Yes, there were Hogs up top but keep in mind those dominator points were minimal at best and by minimal I mean single digits.

Thus, the constant in your lineups this week should be drivers who have place differential upside but also possess the ability to record a top ten finish. If you can luck your way into a driver who also leads laps, sort of like what happened with Ross Chastain in the truck race last Sunday, then drinks are on you but the constant theme should be the two factors of places gained and or a probable high finish.

Potential Dominator Options

Martin Truex Junior (8th) – Whether you look at recent form at Sonoma or form at road courses from last season, Truex is the man to beat this Sunday. If you gaze at Truex’s career numbers at Sonoma it is literally all over the place with two wins for two mid-tier owners, a couple of dead last finishes, and then a bunch of finishes scattered all around the late teens to early twenties. Thus, Truex’s recent improvement may not be so much his racing skills but the improvement of crew chief Cole Pearn who always proves to be a step or two ahead of other crew chiefs in terms of strategy. In the three road course races last season, Martin ran away with the win at Sonoma, could have easily dumped Chase Elliott for the win at Watkins Glen, and was a single dog-leg away from the win at the Charlotte Roval before Jimmie Johnson wrecked them both. Pearn understands the mechanics of what it takes to put Martin in a position to win with these segment breaks and we should expect the same again Sunday.

Kyle Busch (7th) – For a long stretch of Rowdy’s career, Kyle would have preferred to race anywhere else besides Sonoma following his win in his first year for Joe Gibbs (2008). Starting in 2009, Kyle rolled off consecutive finishes of 22nd, 39th, 11th, 17th, 35th, and 25th before finally throwing the monkey off his back with a win in 2015. Since then Busch has rolled off three straight top-seven finishes. The downside to Kyle has been his lack of upside as a true Hog with just five total laps led in those past three races despite starting in the top ten each time.

Chase Elliott (4th) – the rookie learning curve at Sonoma is a real thing (don’t forget either the Xfinity or Gander Outdoor Series race at Sonoma) and since Chase’s first race he’s steadily improved his results here with 8th in 2017 and 4th last year. Furthermore, his overall road racing has improved with the beforementioned 4th at Sonoma, a win at Watkins Glen, and 6th at the Charlotte Roval. Something else that is encouraging about Chase is he was the lone driver who was able to grab segment breakpoints and still finish near the front with everyone else who was pitting early.

What about Kyle Larson? Surely the pole sitter should be on the top of our radars? Well, we have seen this movie twice before where Larson wins the pole and both times we’ve seen Kyle cough up the lead early on (both times to Martin Truex Jr albeit), never get back to the lead and then fall throughout the race despite having a very fast car. With Kurt Busch on his team perhaps Larson finally gets his ish in order and maintains the lead but I’ll take the chance that he does what he has done here before and coughs up the lead to a driver who may not be as fast but can navigate the track better.

Cash Game Picks

Kevin Harvick (23rd) – with the return of pack qualifying comes wonky results that don’t fit and that has given us Kevin Harvick back in the pack. While this 23rd starting position stifles his upside as a potential lap leader, having 20+ place differential upside more than makes up for that giving him perhaps the safest floor and highest ceiling for fantasy production. I could wax on about him being a former Sonoma winner (2017), four straight top-six finishes here at Sonoma, and a field-best average finish of 3rd over the past three years here but you don’t need further convincing. Harvick is the cornerstone that should start the majority of your lineups.

Erik Jones (32nd) – it’s going to be hard for Erik to not end up in the optimal lineup given his starting position. If you look at past results you can tell yourself a tale based on a similar starting position in 2017 when he started 30th and only managed to finish 25th. However, that was his inaugural race and in the following year he followed that up with a 7th place finish after starting 20th. Jones is going to be chalk but I think he’s the chalk you just use and try to find your differentiation elsewhere.

Austin Dillon (26th) – we need to save some salary and the monkey produced algorithm at Draftkings decided to keep Austin Dillon priced below where he should be meanwhile slappies like Matt Tifft, Bubba Wallace, and Matt Dibenedetto are just a hair cheaper. Thus, let’s chase the more talented driver (at least I think he is) in the better equipment who also has more experience too. Dillon is purely a cash game based play because his upside is capped at around 17th place (16th last year was his career Sonoma best) but that’s all we need for him to be a value-based play. For what it’s worth, Austin finished 3rd in the K&N West race at Sonoma this afternoon.

Tournament Picks 

If you don’t use a Hog then the name of the roster construction game is to jam in as many of these expensive drivers who start in the teens or worse. Let me rehash, if a driver can’t be counted on to lead laps and gain fastest laps than we need them to gain double-digit place differential while also bringing home a top-ten finish. With this in mind, listed in order are my preferred tournament options for the drivers who fit this criterion.

  1. Kurt Busch (16th) – no finish worse than 12th at Sonoma since winning in 2011, including a 3rd for James Finch, a 4th for Furniture Row, and 2nd, 7th, and 6th in three of his last four years at Stewart Haas.
  2. Clint Bowyer (14th) – throw out his 40th place finish in 2016 (electrical) for the horribly underfunded H. Scott Racing and you have a driver with ten top-ten finishes out of thirteen starts including eight top-five finishes.
  3. Aric Almirola (15th) – If you’re a stickler for track history then look elsewhere because Almirola’s numbers are dragged down by six years at Richard Petty. However, in his first year at SHR he brought home a career-best 8th place finish. For what it’s worth, Almirola is your tournament pivot off Erik Jones chalk.
  4. Brad Keselowski (22nd) – for a little extra salary you get a driver with more place differential upside than either of the three above drivers who also happens to have the cushion of wins but in all honesty, Brad offers the smallest upside in my opinion. Brad has been a much better road racer at Watkins Glen in comparison to Sonoma where his average finish is 16.7. Thanks to that previously mentioned cushion he may pull a rabbit out of his hat and try a really weird pit strategy which would kill me but I’m taking the stand that he’s strongly option four.

Filling out the rest of your roster

This is where things get weird, well at least once you have to force yourself to hit submit. On Draftkings you’re going to be swimming around the cheapies to fill out your last roster spot and you’re probably not going to feel too comfortable with any of them. To begin with, I would immediately throw out everyone (highlighted in the sheets in purple) who are making their first Cup start here. Next, I wouldn’t give a passing glance to the likes of Reed Sorenson or JJ Yeley based on equipment and past results. Drivers like Bubba Wallace and Ty Dillon I’m marking out as well as I forecast them to finish roughly where they start.

Thus, I’m left with a prospective pool that has Parker Kligerman (29th), Cody Ware (34th), Landon Cassill (35th), and David Ragan who outkicked his coverage up in 18th. If you need one of these four for cash purposes my bet would be on Parker who has shown himself to be a capable road racer in his abbreviated career. For tournaments I would probably turn to Kligerman once again, however, the idea of getting Ragan at depreciated ownership and “hoping” he just hangs out where he started is worth chasing.

Phill Bennetzen is a father, husband, and Catholic as well as a self-professed annoying fitness guy. Phill heads up NASCAR content at Awesemo.com. You can contact Phill by emailing [email protected].

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