Following Kyle Larson‘s seventh win of the 2021 season, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back west to visit Texas for the first official time this year. Let’s put a bow on the action from the Charlotte Roval, how the third round of the playoffs looks now that four more drivers have been eliminated and NASCAR DFS expectations for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR DFS: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500
A Rollercoaster at the Roval
At the end of the 109 laps on Sunday, Kyle Larson stood victorious once again. It was noted at the end of the NBC broadcast that this is the first time a single driver has won at least three road courses in a single season. A somewhat meaningless stat considering for the longest time, the NASCAR Cup Series only had Sonoma and Watkins Glen on the schedule meaning Larson’s accomplishment was impossible to do before 2018. However, in the end, it is worth noting because he was able to do it, even before his Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott. One of the points driven home in last week’s Gas-N-Go article was how Larson’s two road course victories this season came at tracks he was familiar with. It was fitting he nailed the hat trick going three for three with victories at road courses he had raced at prior.
However, Sunday was not a stroll in the park for Larson. As stage one was coming to a close, Larson reported back to crew chief Cliff Daniels that he was losing amperage. A surprising revelation after his teammate Alex Bowman reported the same issue in his no. 48 vehicle. Following a very timely caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. driving through Chase Briscoe on lap 35, Larson was able to bring his vehicle down pit road and get the alternator analyzed. In the end, it was discovered a belt had come off, the issue was “hopefully” resolved, and Larson re-entered the race. Larson would pit again later to diagnose the issue and sent back out barely beating out the pace car to remain on the lead lap.
After fighting through traffic, and another timely caution brought out by Kevin Harvick‘s karma-filled single-car accident on lap 100, Larson was able to pounce and grab the lead from Denny Hamlin as he led the final eight laps. In the span of 80 laps, Larson went from possibly missing the playoffs to now sitting with a commanding 35-point lead going into Texas.
Besides Larson, the other part of Sunday’s rollercoaster was the final spot in getting shuffled between Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski. Elliott was in serious danger of missing the playoffs after his tangle with Harvick on lap 56 and for the remainder of the afternoon was on the outside looking in. However, Elliott was able to take advantage of two cautions and subsequent fresh tires and move his way through the field. As he did this, suddenly Keselowski became the odd man out and needed a miracle to join Harvick. That miracle came in the form of Harvick taking his own self out saving Elliott the effort.
The Playoff Picture with Four to go
As the page turns on the Roval and opens to Texas, the third round of the playoffs commences as the points get reset once more. Kyle Larson stands atop this eight-driver field with a 35-point lead over second-place Denny Hamlin and 41 points over Ryan Blaney, the last driver in the final four. Sandwiched in between is Martin Truex Jr., trailing Kyle Larson by 36 points but five points ahead of Blaney.
Larson’s lead causes people to view the playoff field in a different light when eyes should be on the eight-point gap that currently separates second through sixth. Trailing Blaney by just a mere point is Kyle Busch, the winner of this race last year. Trailing Busch by just a point himself is Chase Elliott. This minuscule gap between so many drivers is going to bounce around like a pinball throughout Sunday and the slightest hiccup could really dash a driver’s hopes going into Kansas next Sunday.
Finally, trailing the cutoff point by 11 and 16 points are Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, respectively. It should be noted, when the second round of the playoffs opened at Las Vegas these two were below the cut-off line but managed to race their way from the outside into the final eight. Both Logano and Keselowski managed to finish last fall’s race at Texas in the top 10, so their fans have hope to believe they can repeat their efforts from the last round and force their way in via consistent high finishes. This all said a win guarantees a seat at the table for the championship in Phoenix and DFS players have to go all the way back to 2015 to find the last time a non-playoff driver won the fall Texas event. In all, just four of the 16 fall Texas races have seen a non-playoff driver win the race.
Since NASCAR started racing at Texas, during the playoffs, only 4 times has a non-playoff driver won the second Texas race:
06 – Tony Stewart
14 – Jimmie Johnson
15 – Jimmie Johnson
20 – Rowdy
FWIW, those wins by JJ were part of a stretch where he won 4/5 Fall Texas events.
— Phill ن (@RaceSheetsDFS) October 11, 2021
Looking Back at Texas-2 in 2020
For the first time in 16 seasons, this will be the first year that Texas has not had two Cup races and the first time that Texas’ only event will be held in the fall. As DFS players will remember, the All-Star race was held at Texas, but the previous spring-Texas event was given to COTA. For those wondering, do not add stats from the All-Star Race into this week’s research. The rules package, not to mention numerous goofy field-resets, resemble nothing close to a typical NASCAR event.
This in turn means, those doing research for Sunday’s event have to go back to last year’s race. Yet there is a slight issue with that. For those unaware or who may have forgotten, this race took four days to complete. The event started on a Sunday, ran for 45 laps until the caution flag was brought out for rain. Finally, at lap 56 the race was postponed until Monday due to lingering showers with Clint Bowyer leading the race. Then it rained on Monday, it rained on Tuesday, and it rained some more. Finally, a window opened up on Wednesday and the event was raced until completion thanks to Texas having installed lights years prior.
It is mostly conjecture but chances are the results from that race would have looked different had the event finished instead of getting pushed until Wednesday. How so? With no practice, teams set their cars up for a race, and corresponding conditions, they were anticipating on Sunday – an overcast race with mild temperatures run during the day. What they ended up with was an overcast race with mild temperatures that finished at night on a completely green track after every last ounce of rubber had been washed away.
DFS Implications for Texas
It is better to focus on what remains constant about Texas – especially since it was repaved in 2017. This is a low tire-wear track with a single groove. A fast driver out front can dictate the pace, and as has been witnessed in this 550-horsepower package all season, they can swap positions through the field but getting past the driver in first is a different battle.
With 334 laps on tap, DFS lineups should be focused around two dominators, however, concessions can be made for a third. Since 2017, every Texas race has at least three drivers lead 10% or more of each race. Average-wise, these third dominators are leading roughly 49.6 laps, or in other words, 12.4 laps led points on DraftKings. Combined with their fastest laps points, depending on their salaries, these third dominators could push to be optimal, especially if a cheaper option picks up enough place differential. Last fall’s optimal lineup did have three dominators (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer) who combined to lead 232 of the 334 laps. For what it is worth, Truex led just 53 laps that day but managed to pick up four place differential points as well as 13 fastest laps points. Truex was the third dominator that day and scored enough fantasy points to force his way into the optimal DraftKings lineup. However, in cash games and for FanDuel, the preferred method to lineup construction will still focus on two dominators.
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