Following Cole Custer‘s first career NASCAR Cup victory at Kentucky, NASCAR makes the short jog to Bristol. Motorsports fans and DFS players alike will have their eyes on the high banks of Bristol as Cup drivers vie for the $1 million prize Wednesday night in the All-Star Race.
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New Song, New Verse
Ever since the All-Star Race’s incarnation in 1982, this race has been run at Charlotte. Whether the day or week before the Coke 600, the All-Star Race was the unofficial midway point of the season. It was sort of like with the NBA and NHL in that you saw the All-Star Race on the calendar you knew you were roughly halfway home.
Well, thanks to COVID-19, the All-Star Race had to get rescheduled due to the two-month layoff. Furthermore, the venue had to be moved from Charlotte because of the Charlotte area experiencing a second-wave of COVID-19 infections. Therefore, with the reformatted schedule, Bristol became the temporary home of this year’s All-Star Race. In fairness, this forced move was something a lot of fans had wanted to see for years. The All-Star Race had become stagnant despite the several quirks and rules shake-ups that NASCAR had used. Now not only does NASCAR and its fans get to see this exhibition race at a new venue, it’s in a totally different style of track.
Thus, whatever stats or trends you may have from All-Star Races 1982-2019, throw them out. Trying to draw any corollary between Charlotte and Bristol is a waste of your and my time. We have to approach this year’s race from a whole new vantage point. Any variable that could have been changed has been — track type, shape, banking, surface, laps, etc. …
A Few Factors to Consider
Instead of focusing on what we don’t know, let’s look at what we do. First, this race is scheduled to go 140 laps over the course of four stages. I’m not so concerned about how many laps are in each stage but just the fact that this race will see three guaranteed cautions. Therefore, besides the initial restart, we have three guaranteed times everyone will have to line up and fight for the lead and subsequent positions.
It’s worth noting that this race will employ the “caution cone” method of restarting. If you’re unfamiliar with this racing terminology, it is a method of lining up the field where everyone toes in single-file up a point or cone. After the arbitrary point, drivers have to decide if they’re taking the high line or the bottom line. The preferred line at Bristol is typically the top line, though NASCAR is putting a layer of traction compound on the bottom groove. Anyway, the majority of drivers will want the top row on restarts. However, some might be willing to sacrifice the preferred groove in exchange for the initial track position.
Second, this is Bristol and we should weigh everything that comes with Bristol. When you take the nature of Bristol and combine it with a $1 million grand prize to Wednesday night’s winner, it spells one thing: potential chaos. Remember, the final stage only counts green flag laps and they will run as many green-white-checkered finishes as needed. If half of the field finishes the race Wednesday night, it might be a miracle.
NASCAR DFS Lineup Construction
When you consider the above, I’m left with a couple of beliefs about tomorrow’s race.
- No one driver will dominate this race. With the stage breaks, not to mention money on the line, it’s going to be tough for a driver to lead more than a stage. The pole sitter might lead the first 55 laps (stage 1), but anything after that is a toss-up. Furthermore, whoever gets the jump in stage 2 might lead 35 laps but then be a non-factor afterward.
- There will be a lot of driver movement. There is the caution cone, pit strategy, the propensity for wrecks, no points on the line and a million bucks to first. This field should see lots of driver movement, forward and backward.
You know what this sounds a lot like? A superspeedway race, at least in terms of the factors we consider for lineup construction in NASCAR DFS.
- A lack of laps resulting in fewer dominator points.
- A higher chance that a driver loses place difference if not wrecks out completely.
Therefore, on DraftKings and FanDuel, lineups should somewhat mimic rosters that we built at Talladega. No, we’re not just chasing pure place differential like Daytona by rostering the last five or six starting drivers. I believe you’ll need a balance of those drivers in the back plus drivers who finish in the top five. The majority of fantasy points scored Wednesday will come via place differential and finishing position. You can try to chase after laps led and fastest lap points, but with the chaos we could see, there’s no guarantee those potential lap leaders will finish anywhere near the front. I say you’re going to have to aim for some drivers with top-five potential, and if they get those dominator points in the process, it’s the cherry on top.
The Open Drivers – DraftKings
Before we delve any further, we have to discuss The Open. There will be three short and separate “win-and-you’re-in” races before the 140-lap main feature. Plus, a fourth driver will win their way into the All-Star Race via the fan vote. So in all, four other drivers will make their way into Wednesday night’s race starting 17th through 20th.
Regardless of who these drivers are, they absolutely need to be in your player pool. Disregarding dominator points, these four drivers possess the highest floors and ceilings on DraftKings due to their place differential upside. In fact, if you’re playing head-to-head games or double-ups, all four Open drivers should be staples of those lineups.
The window between the announcement of the fan vote winner and the All-Star Race won’t necessarily be long, so be ready to adjust your lineups quickly. I’ve found in the past that a good bulk of DFS players aren’t willing to take the time to follow the Open live and adjust their rosters. If that’s what happened on a Saturday evening, think of how less willing they’ll be willing to do so on a Wednesday evening, especially when UFC is holding a fight card at the same time.
First, let’s mark off the drivers I think you shouldn’t have any exposure to. Martin Truex Jr. starts first, and though he may lead laps initially, he feels destined to fall back. Truex is a great short track driver, but Bristol has never been a good track for him. Starting first, Truex has nowhere to go but backward. Truex’s front row mate of Alex Bowman shares a similar fate. Bowman doesn’t have a high likelihood to lead laps while having lots of positions to potentially lose.
Justin Haley is in the All-Star Race via his win at Daytona last July. I’m sure Haley is just happy to be here. The last thing he needs to do is drive like this an Xfinity race and start moving people around. Screwing someone out of a million dollars could go a long way behind the scenes to keep him out of the Cup scene should he ascend with Kaulig Racing.
Matt Kenseth and Cole Custer are in a weird no-man’s land for me. Kenseth (sixth) and Custer (eighth) have a little place differential to gain but also have even more place differential to lose. Even then, I don’t know how much I trust either one to really race their way into the top five by the checkered flag. Ryan Newman might be a popular play starting 11th, but I foresee Newman getting dumped. His upside is tied to his ability to block and all that will get him tomorrow night is a chrome horn into turn 4.
Initially, I was going to take the time to list out why specific drivers were better plays than others. However, after reading the last 1,400 words, you should have a strong feeling as to why Denny Hamlin is a better play than Ryan Blaney or Kevin Harvick. The two factors you need to weigh with every driver is A) place differential upside/downside and B) top-five finishing potential. Coming in third would be their likelihood to lead laps, but I believe that’s going to be determined more by pit road and the stage breaks than anything else.
In order, these are my rankings for the drivers in the All-Star Race with no consideration to salaries.
- Denny Hamlin
- Joey Logano
- Erik Jones
- Chase Elliott
- Jimmie Johnson
- Brad Keselowski
- Kyle Busch
- Kurt Busch
- Ryan Blaney
- Kevin Harvick
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