The field is set for Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway with X and Y on the front row. Thus, let’s dive into Sunday’s top NASCAR DFS plays, on DraftKings and FanDuel, for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
NASCAR Cup Series Championship (Season Finale 500) DFS Picks for DraftKings and FanDuel
Kyle Larson, 1st ($11,500 DraftKings, $14,500 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)
Sunday’s favorite for both the race (+175) and the championship (+140), via BetMGM, rolls off the grid in the first position. In this year’s Spring race at Phoenix, Larson had the fifth fastest car, knocking down 45 fastest laps in the process. Despite finishing the day in seventh, the finish felt like a letdown as Larson could have been a potential winner if not for two pit-road penalties that sent him to the back of the lead lap. Larson’s seventh-place result was his fifth-straight top-10 finish here, and seventh in his past nine.
Although Larson’s numbers in the high horsepower package at short-flat venues don’t look nearly as good as the rest of his 2021 campaign, seeing Larson take command of Martinsville – a track he’s historically struggled at was definitely encouraging. Now he returns to a track he’s historically run well at and this week he gets the added benefit of practice. Crew Chief Cliff Daniels has been pretty masterful in making mid-race adjustments this season. Now Daniels has Friday’s hour-long practice session to guide him as to how he sets this car up for Sunday.
Starting on the pole puts Larson in the cat-bird seat to dominate early with a car that showed fast (second) short and long-run speed. Dating back to the Fall of 2018, when Phoenix was realigned and repaved, the polesitter has led totals of 78, 94, 69, 153, and 19 laps. With the preferred groove and a fast car, Larson is the easy choice for the first do
Chase Elliott, 2nd ($10,800 DraftKings, $14,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)
If history is any indication of future events, then DFS players need to be experiencing serious déjà vu from 2020 to how this season is closing out. In 2020, Elliott showed up to Martinsville and led 236 laps en route to victory. The following week he showed up to Phoenix, quickly overcame a technical inspection penalty, and went on to lead the most laps that day in Phoenix to the championship. Fast forward a year and Elliott once again leads the most laps at Martinsville, however, a late tangle with Brad Keselowski cost Elliott a chance for the win.
It was evident that lessons were learned, setup-wise, at Martinsville in 2020 that carried over into the championship race. Thus, have those same lessons been struck once more as Elliott hopes to go back-to-back with fall Phoenix victories and championships? Pairing Elliott with his Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson feels like the preferred dominator group in cash but prepared for these two to be the highest own duo in tournaments.
Denny Hamlin, 6th ($11,000 DraftKings, $13,500 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)
2021’s fastest driver, in the high horsepower package at short-flat venues, starts his journey towards his first Cup championship from the sixth starting spot. In the six races, using this aero package, at either Phoenix or tracks closely resembling Phoenix, Hamlin is leading all of Sunday’s drivers in driver rating (121.1), DFS points on both DraftKings and FanDuel, fastest laps (56.7), and laps led (136.2). These stellar numbers result from a consistently fast car that has ranked top-seven, in average green flag speed rankings, in all 750 horsepower package races and had been top-two in all oval races, utilizing this aero package, at tracks measuring a mile or shorter save for last week at Martinsville when he was sixth (probably a result of fighting traffic for more than half of the race).
The one thing lacking for Hamlin is the wins at Phoenix and alike tracks. Much ink will be spilled over whether Hamlin is a choker in these high-stress situations. However, for DFS, Hamlin doesn’t have to win, he just needs to grab dominator points. Even with just 38 fastest laps and 33 laps led from this Spring, Hamlin still managed to score enough points to be optimal on both DraftKings and FanDuel.
The worry, that can’t go understated, is the psyche of Hamlin currently. To begin with, he’s been in this same situation times before and always finds a new way to fall on his face. This week, he’s been literally out of his mind psyching himself against people that don’t like him on Twitter, Chase Elliott fans, and anyone who’s willing to argue with him. A legitimate fear is he’s whipped himself up into such a frenzy that he’s going to implode on the track. He should definitely still be a part of your dominator options but don’t be shocked if he fails to lead a single lap on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr., 12th ($10,400 DraftKings, $13,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)
After advancing to Phoenix by the skin of his teeth, Truex looks to repeat at Phoenix and win his second championship (+450). As just stated, Truex won the Spring edition of this race with the day’s fastest car – a very intentional win resulting from an intentional goal. In the offseason, Crew Chief James Small made it known that the focus of the no. 19 team was getting the 750 horsepower package, namely Phoenix, figured out because that was the direct route to the championship as the calendar is currently scheduled.
With that goal in mind, Truex went on to grab the lead late leading 64 laps in the process with the day’s highest total of fastest laps (52). This focus on the high horsepower aero package manifested into more wins at the first Martinsville race, Darlington, and the second Richmond race. Truex feels like the forgotten man in this four-way fight for the title, while it’s not projected for him to lead the most laps on Sunday, he could easily replicate what he did in the Spring and fight long-run speed late to overtake the leader and win again.
Joey Logano, 10th ($8,900 DraftKings, $11,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)
If anyone, who isn’t a part of the final four contenders, is going to crash Sunday’s party it has to be Logano. Dating back to the Spring race of 2019, Logano has failed to finish worse than 10th in those five starts. However, much more impressive is the consistency in which Logano has ascended to the lead at Phoenix. In four straight Phoenix races, Logano has led at least 60 laps, including back-to-back 125+ lap efforts in last year’s championship race and this year’s Spring event. For the 2021 season, at short/ flat venues, Logano’s worst finish was 10th last weekend at Martinsville when he found an ill-handling vehicle all day.
Although the data suggest that the laps should primarily be led by Sunday’s championship contenders, Logano presents a driver who could throw a wrench into this game of dodgeball.
Aric Almirola, 18th ($8,100 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel) Cash, GPP
Of all drivers starting 14th or worse, no other driver has more top-five or top-ten finishes at Phoenix than Aric Almirola, dating back to 2018. Starting 18th, Almirola isn’t a priority play in either cash or tournaments, but he possesses legitimate top-10 upside and with his salary, may find himself lower owned as DFS players make jamming in two to three of the championship four in their lineups.
Bubba Wallace, 25th ($7,700 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP
After laying down top-15 practice times on Friday, Wallace ran a disappointing 25th-place qualifying run on Saturday. With Friday’s practice session running closer to what race conditions should be on Sunday, as opposed to Saturday when the sun was setting, DFS players can take a shot on Wallace to be a top-15 driver at a track he’s finished in the top-20 at in three straight appearances.
Chris Buescher, 26th ($6,400 DraftKings, $6,300 FanDuel) Cash, GPP
The fundamental cash play on both DraftKings and FanDuel, Buescher finds himself starting in 26th. For those wondering about his floor, look to Buescher’s fairly consistent track record at Phoenix with six straight top-20 finishes including finishes of 20th, 16th, and 18th in the past three Fall Phoenix events. As far as his ceiling, just go back to last weekend when he raced his way into the top-10 before finishing his day in ninth. Chances are Buescher’s day looks more like past Phoenix races, than what happened last week with a predictably clean race on the horizon, but at his salary on both sites – another top-20 finish will make him a great floor play for head-to-head games and double-ups.
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