The field is set with Chase Elliott and Joey Logano on the front row with Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin directly behind them. Therefore, let’s jump into our championship foursome and break down the top NASCAR DFS picks for this Sunday’s Season Finale 500.
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NASCAR DFS DraftKings + FanDuel: Championship Four-Way Finale
After nine weeks of races at a road course, a superspeedway, intermediate venues, and a few short tracks – the championship will be settled on the mile-long oval in Phoenix. With that comes a reduced playoff field, namely the four individuals listed above.
If you’ll recall from my preview earlier this week, the past seven championship races have seen the series champions contending for the win, with the Cup champion simultaneously winning the Homestead race too. The combination of that trend and how laps led have been spread out since the 2018 reconfiguration of this track has me taking the same approach to this Phoenix race. Thus, with our championship four all garnering major support as potential dominators, I feel it necessary to address and explain the pros and cons to rostering each.
Before I do, let’s wrap up one more thing – roster construction. Despite this race being relatively short for a one-mile oval, (312 laps) we have seen back-to-back Phoenix races with three dominators. However, this starting grid has place differential options who could finish in the top-ten if not top-five, like in the Spring-2019 race. For cash contests the aim is just two dominators, in tournaments you can move up to three.
NASCAR DFS Pick: Chase Elliott — 1st ($12,500 FanDuel, $10,600 DraftKings)
2020 has not been the year of the pole sitter. Every time we show up to a venue where the pole sitter has performed above expectation, we place our trust in whichever driver it is starting P1 and they lead less than 10% of the race. Once more, we’re back at a track where the pole sitter has been in the optimal lineup for three straight races – seems like a slam dunk. However, 2020 has shown us that trends were meant to be broken.
Let’s just act like this hasn’t been the craziest year in known history. Based on track history at Phoenix and numbers in the 750-horsepower package, can we trust Elliott? Yes, but the case for the #9 team is based more on 2020 than previous Phoenix numbers. To begin with, in the Phoenix race in March, Elliott started on the pole and led the day’s most laps. We also just saw Elliott show up to Martinsville with the best car, lead half of the event, and go on to victory. Furthermore, he’s consistently been a top-five driver in this package, averaging 38.3 DraftKings dominator points in those five events.
NASCAR DFS Pick: Joey Logano — 2nd ($13,300 FanDuel, $10,000 DraftKings)
Logano returns to Phoenix as the reigning winner of this track back in March. A race in which he started in the teens, worked his way forward, and led 60 laps. In this same race last year, Logano started second and led 93 laps before finishing ninth. While our data set is short, Logano may be carrying the best momentum of anyone at Phoenix. Goodyear is returning to Phoenix with the same tire setup they used in March – playing right into the hands of the #22 team.
Logano has been a model of consistency in the 2020 750-horsepower package as well, with no finish outside of the top-five in our five corollary races, and 72 laps led with 30.4 fastest laps per event. While Logano may feel like the least likely of the four to win, that doesn’t mean I’m discounting him as a potential dominator.
NASCAR DFS Pick: Brad Keselowski — 3rd ($13,500 FanDuel, $10,800 DraftKings)
If I had to predict a favorite for this race/ championship – it would be Keselowski. As I covered above, the race setup for Sunday should be pretty close to what it was in March – a race in which Keselowksi led 82 laps and was in position to win before losing the lead to teammate Joey Logano.
However, it’s not that stellar run in the Spring that is catching my eye. It’s what Keselowski said on Twitter last Sunday…
Yes we are 😊
It’s won 2 races https://t.co/xEydyB5x5q
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) November 2, 2020
So… he’s bringing the two-time winning car from Loudon and Richmond that led 376 combined laps to a track where he just led over 1/3 of the laps? Sign me up!
NASCAR DFS Pick: Denny Hamlin — 4th ($13,000 FanDuel, $10,300 DraftKings)
Hamlin was on the razor’s edge of missing the playoffs. Had Erik Jones actually pulled around Hamlin we may have seen complete calamity in the JGR tents as one teammate inevitably cost another a chance at a championship. Alas, we didn’t and now we get a limping Hamlin once again competing for his first championship.
Limping might be an understatement. After winning at Talladega, Hamlin has failed to finish higher than ninth. It should be noted that he led 44 laps last week at Martinsville, however he has done himself no favors at the end of the past four events. As far as the champion-four are concerned, Hamlin is the one I worry about the most. His best finishes at Phoenix came in 2019 with the high downforce/ high horsepower package (1st, 5th). In this Spring’s race Hamlin finished 20th after starting third with an average running position of 23.7.
Furthermore, Hamlin has been by far the worst of these four in this new 750 horsepower package. In the five corollary races, Hamlin has just one top-ten finish – a second at New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the other three have at least four top-ten finishes. One somewhat unquantifiable factor for Hamlin is any impact that having the best minds at Joe Gibbs Racing focusing exclusively on his car will provide. For the first time in a while, Gibbs won’t have multiple cars in the championship race meaning the #11 should get the full attention of a team that has done pretty well at Phoenix since the reconfiguration.
Other Potential Dominators
For my own lineups, I will create different combinations of two or three of the above drivers. In the lineups with only two of those four, I will swap in William Byron or Jimmie Johnson as a high priced, place differential pivot. I don’t think we have to worry about anyone outside the champion-four contending for the laps led. Thus, I’m not going to play around with other potential dominators.
The list of other drivers who could even potentially lead a lap is short:
- Ryan Blaney (5th) – Penske short track corollary in the 2020 version of this package.
- Kyle Busch (8th) – 2-time winner since the reworking of the track, no finish worse than 3rd.
- Kevin Harvick (11th) – 9-time winner at Phoenix, yet none since the track was realigned. Led 67 laps here in the Spring before finishing 2nd.
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Tournament Place Differential
Tyler Reddick 21st ($7,600 FanDuel, $8,100 DraftKings) – Box score hunters are going to look at Reddick’s first run at Phoenix and scoff after seeing his 33rd place finish. However, if they would shift their eyes to the right a bit more they’d see his average running position was 13.7 and he laid down 39 fastest laps before cutting down a tire and wrecking out.
Reddick stormed through the field and showed he knows how to get around this track. However, his rim-riding aggressiveness got the better of him, cutting the tire before he could finish the run. Now he returns with a little more experience and a little wiser. His price puts him out of reach for cash games but he’s at a spot I’m willing to reach in tournaments if it yields a potential top-ten finish with loads of fastest laps.
Cole Custer 15th ($8,500 FanDuel, $6,900 DraftKings) – I like Custer as a low-owned top-ten finishing driver this weekend. In his first Cup start at Phoenix, Custer drove the #41 to ninth place. In this 750 horsepower package, Custer has an average finish of 14.6 including another top-ten at Loudon.
The intriguing thing about Custer is his odd salary. His starting position will already keep people off of him, add in the fact that he’s not a natural pivot off of any driver with more place differential and his ownership should remain low.
Others; Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Bubba Wallace
Cash Place Differential
Chris Buescher 31st ($6,700 FanDuel, $7,200 DraftKings) – Since 2018, Buescher has been middling at Phoenix with finishes of 17, 16, 16, and 18. However, considering Buescher’s starting position and salary, that finish would be a fantastic outcome. Starting from the back of the field, if Buescher can gain 15 spots and finish around his Phoenix averages he’ll make a great cash game play.
William Byron 25th ($10,200 FanDuel, $8,400 DraftKings) – Byron offers strong place differential and top-10 upside at a reasonable price. In the March Phoenix race, Byron finished 10th and his average running position in corollary races sits 13th. If you were expecting to read about Jimmie Johnson because of his starting position, why would you pay $900 more for one extra place differential spot? If you like your cash team with JJ instead of, or paired with, Byron then be my guest. I’ll gladly save here to keep from having to dip into the $5K range for my final cash roster spot.
Daniel Suarez 30th ($5,000 FanDuel, $5,600 DraftKings) – If you are forced to spend down this week, I say just err on the side of caution with the driver who has more place differential than Corey Lajoie, John Hunter Nemechek, or Ryan Preece. In a similar spot in the Spring, Suarez started 31st and finished 21st. In order for Suarez to be a plus value, he needs attrition, and that’s what we’ve seen at Phoenix the past few races.
Others; Ty Dillon, Corey Lajoie, John Hunter Nemechek
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