Following Denny Hamlin‘s victory at Las Vegas, NASCAR heads back east for 500 miles around Talladega. Let’s wrap up Hamlin’s victory and other results from Las Vegas, how the playoffs look with Talladega on the horizon and what to expect for NASCAR DFS this Sunday. This is the first look and NASCAR DFS preview for the YellaWood 500, with the NASCAR picks articles and cheat sheets to follow as the week goes on.
NASCAR DFS Picks for YellaWood 500
Hamlin Hits the Jackpot in Vegas
Right off the bat, it was apparent that Denny Hamlin was going to be a factor all evening long. After passing Ryan Blaney on lap eight, Hamlin would take the lead up until the competition caution. In all, Hamlin would take the lead seven separate times leading a grand total of 137 laps. The victory was Hamlin’s second of 2021, both coming within the playoffs. Via this win, Hamlin is locked into the third round of the Cup Series playoffs and now does not have to sweat either Talladega or the Charlotte Roval. It was noted during Saturday’s live show that Hamlin led the most laps in last year’s Fall race at Las Vegas. It appears Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart have something figured about this track and this package that others have not quite leaned into yet.
Sunday’s betting favorite, Kyle Larson, looked every bit of a contender but a mix-up on pit strategy during the second segment put Larson in a hole it took him all evening to try and climb out of. By the end of the 267 laps, Larson ascended back to 10th proving to be a non-factor after he lost the advantage of clean air. Concerning DFS, Larson had a good night, but it could have been better considering he failed to lead a single lap during the final segment.
The next time the NASCAR Cup Series will make its rounds at an intermediate track will be in two weeks at Kansas before heading down to Texas.
Playoffs Post Vegas
A new song but the same verse. Via Denny Hamlin’s victory, he has locked himself into the next round just as he did when the playoffs opened at Darlington. Even with a paltry 10th-place finish, Kyle Larson still stands 57 points above the cut-off line, a cushion he will inevitably need at a track he has finished 40th and 39th in his previous two visits. With yet another top-five finish at an intermediate track, Kyle Busch sits in third in the playoffs, trailing Larson by 18 but ahead of the cutoff by 35. Sitting in fourth through sixth, with double digits separating them from the cutoff line, are Martin Truex Jr. (+31), Ryan Blaney (+24) and Chase Elliott (+22). It is not until the final two transfer spots that the separation wanes as Penske teammates Joey Logano (+6) and Brad Keselowski (+4) have narrow leads.
Finishing 18th this past Sunday, William Byron went from in to potentially out and now trails Keselowski by four points. Despite another top-10 finish, Kevin Harvick is still missing the playoffs due to the hole he started in as round two began. The impact of having no stage wins and just two total playoff points, this far into the season, is truly making its impact now. Finally, Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell did their round-three prospects no favors at Las Vegas with finishes in the 20s, finishing two laps down. Trailing Keselowski by thirteen points, Bowman can still conceivably just race for points in these final two events. However, Bell’s 25-point gap is going to lend itself to more aggression on the part of the No. 20 team.
The second race of the second round gets underway Sunday afternoon in Talladega, Alabama with the YellaWood 500. This race could have gigantic implications on the playoff picture. Anyone or several of these 11 drivers, who have yet to seal their fate into round three, could experience an issue on track and lose countless points to the field. In last year’s Fall race here at Talladega, five of the 12 playoff drivers wrecked out. The four drivers with the worst finishes that day would go on to miss the third round of the playoffs. Simply put, a bad day here will often put a driver into a hole that they are nearly powerless to crawl out of the following week at the Charlotte Roval. For the four drivers currently out of the playoffs, this Sunday is a make-or-break week.
As far as DFS implications go, a return to a superspeedway means it is time to rehash the debate of stacking the back. It was just five weeks ago this debate was fought over in the second Daytona race as the tried-and-true method of playing drivers with place differential and finishing position upside, with no regard to who these drivers are or how much salary was leftover, showed itself profitable once more. The optimal DraftKings lineup had all six drivers starting 18th or worse with $16,000 leftover in the salary cap. Yet, this was the scenario DFS players were told to expect as Daytona, especially the summer race, tends to see more wrecks, thus improving the chances that just playing drivers starting in the latter half of the field is profitable.
DFS Implications for Talladega
This weekend at Talladega, there is a bit more nuance than just saying playing random drivers in the back of the field. In a fantastic thread from TheDFSSniper, Sniper lays out why DFS players should avoid the groupthink of stacking the back, especially here at Talladega. A few of his key findings from this past April included:
- Eight of the past 10 optimal Talladega lineups have included the winner of that race. Only one of those Talladega winners started worse than 12th and that was Joey Logano, who won the Fall-2016 race from the 16th position. The other Talladega race that failed to see the race winner make the optimal lineup was the Spring event from 2017 — the first career Cup victory of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. For those wondering why Stenhouse was not optimal, he started on the pole and led just fourteen laps.
- None of those past 10 optimal lineups were comprised of all six drivers starting 20th or worse. Six of the 10 lineups had at least one driver start in the single digits. Meanwhile, every optimal had at least one driver start in the teens. Six of those 10, had two drivers start in the teens. For those religiously adhering to stacking the back, they would have missed the optimal in every single one of these races.
- Not only does place differential matter but so also does finishing position. Out of these 60 total drivers, across 10 optimal DraftKings lineups, the farthest back any driver finished was 12th. It is not good enough for a driver to gain positions, they need to pair it with a top-12 finish to really score enough points to make themselves stand out from the crowd.
With this in mind, it makes sense that this past Spring’s optimal DraftKings lineup had three drivers who started in the teens paired with three drivers who started 23rd or worse. The common thread all six drivers had — no one finished worse than 12th. Once again, it cannot be underscored enough, if DFS players really want upper percentile outcomes they are going to need top-12 finishes. For those playing cash games, stacking drivers in the back is still going to be the safest route to roster construction as that provides floor plus upside. However, in tournaments, separation from the field is going to be made in choosing drivers who have access to high finishes.
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