DraftKings NASCAR picks for Phoenix spring race

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission. Disclosure No. 2: I might be America’s worst daily fantasy player.

Last week’s results: Played the $0 entry Daily Free Contest with $250 payout (because of Nevada gambling restrictions) and finished around 10,600th out of 20,300. Won $0.

Season results: $1 wagered, $0 won in three contests.

This week’s contest: For the second straight week, I’m in a state that only allows me to play a free DraftKings contest. Lame. So I’m in the $0 entry Daily Free Contest ($250 payout) again.

This week’s picks:

— Kevin Harvick ($11,100). I was really looking for ANY excuse to stay away from him since you know a gazillion people will have him on their team, but he starts 23rd. I want that position differential when he finishes in the top five (which he could do even on a non-dominant day).

— Kyle Busch ($10,100). Being fastest in 10-lap average over the course of a race like Phoenix — which often has long, green-flag runs — is an attractive proposition. He could be the dominator.

— Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,500). Surprisingly affordable for a potential race winner. I know he starts too high (third), but damn — this team owned the fall race with Alex Bowman, was fastest in the January test and now looks good again this weekend. I’ll take that chance.

— Erik Jones ($7,500). I’m going to stay on the Erik Jones train until his price goes up. He’s one of the best deals out there lately, even though he starts a little high (eighth) for my liking.

— Jamie McMurray ($7,400). I’d love to pick Kyle Larson as well, but he’s too expensive for my lineup. The Chip Ganassi Racing cars have had a great start to the season, and although McMurray starts fifth, he has the ninth-best driver rating in the spring race over the last three years. He was also 10th-fastest in 10-lap averages for final practice.

— Matt DiBenedetto ($5,300). Hoo boy. This is a big risk. But I had to go cheap to make this lineup work. I’m essentially hoping he can get a top-25 out of this, and then give me the points differential from moving up from 30th. We’ll see.

Remaining salary: $100.

DraftKings picks for Atlanta

I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission.

Last week’s results: Played the free Daytona entry game and finished around 8,700th out of nearly 80,000. Won $0.

Season results: $0 wagered, $0 won in one contest.

This week’s contest: Playing the $1 entry “Happy Hour” $20,000 payout game.

My picks ($50,000 salary cap):

Jimmie Johnson ($10,600). Yeah, I’m taking the most expensive guy. But he starts 18th, and that’s an attractive possibility for a points from positions gained. Plus he’s won here for two straight years.

— Kyle Larson ($9,100). This is a little bit of a gut pick, so maybe that’s a bad idea (my gut is usually wrong). But Larson is so talented at both driving a loose car and running the high line, and Atlanta offers both. He’s not exactly a steal at $9,100, and there’s not much statistically to back me up here, so…this might not work.

— Austin Dillon ($8,200). I’m riding with the Richard Childress Racing cars and affiliates this weekend. Four RCR-related cars were in the top 12 of the best 10-lap averages from final practice. Ryan Newman almost won the pole and was fastest in 10-lap average, but I’m staying away due to his low ceiling for points. Dillon, though, starts 19th.

Kasey Kahne ($8,000). I picked Kahne because he starts 29th, so he’s the No. 1 option from a top team who starts back in the field. He was only 26th in fastest 10-lap averages from final practice — NOT GOOD — but I still think he could make up some positions.

— Ty Dillon ($6,100). I don’t feel super confident about this one, since a 500-mile race offers a lot of opportunities for young drivers to mess up. But Dillon was 10th-fastest for 10-lap averages in final practice, which was faster than drivers like Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Plus, he starts 26th.

Michael McDowell ($5,700). McDowell was gaining some decent momentum at the end of last year and getting top-20 finishes — and he’s another RCR-related car. So I’ll take a chance on him after he failed to get through inspection and starts the race 36th. Since he never took a qualifying lap, he starts the race on fresh tires — which could be big at Atlanta.

Note: I’m leaving $2,300 in salary cap on the table here. That definitely seems like a bad idea, but at the same time, I’m trying to think of what will gain the most points through position differential in addition to a respectable finish. We’ll see how it goes.

DraftKings strategy and picks for the Daytona 500

DraftKings is running a free-entry $10,000 total payout contest for the Daytona 500, so it’s a good time to jump into the daily fantasy world if you’ve been considering it.

The field of NASCAR players in DraftKings has been growing dramatically over the last year, with the company citing data that shows contest entries up 126% since last year’s 500.

I’ve played DraftKings a few times over the last couple years, and I’m absolutely terrible. I always see tweets from my Twitter followers about them winning money, but I never do.

So I asked Pearce Dietrich, DraftKings’ NASCAR expert, to give me a few pointers on Daytona strategy. As it turns out, I’ve been looking at Daytona all wrong.

“Going into this race, don’t pick it like a normal race,” he said. “You’re trying to get guys who are in the back and move them up.”

Why? Because in addition to points for the finishing position, DraftKings scoring is +/- one point for every position gained or lost from the starting grid. Martin Truex Jr. starts 35th after failing inspection, which gives him an opportunity to gain way more points than a driver who starts in the top 10.

“Clint Bowyer is starting sixth, so even if he wins the race, he could max out at 48 points,” Dietrich said. “In last year’s Daytona 500, 48 points would only be the ninth-best driver. And that’s the best he can do. So guys like Bowyer can have a good race day in real life, but in fantasy, you’re looking for those home run guys.”

Last year, five of the six top point-scorers in the 500 started outside the top 25, led by Truex (70 points) and Ryan Newman (62) and Regan Smith (58).

So even though it’s tempting to pick the Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin types, it might not be worth it because they have a low ceiling for success.

Though there are also awards for fastest driver on a given lap (0.5 points) and a lap led (0.25), that’s hard to predict at Daytona.

“You might have a guy that leads a lot of laps, but that’s mostly one guy,” Dietrich said. “And you can’t really count on fastest lap because of the draft. So the guys who stand to score the most are guys who started toward the back and ended up in the top 15.”

Based on that, here’s the lineup I’m going with for Sunday. (Note: I wouldn’t trust these picks because I’m generally terrible at this, but I’m writing them anyway.)

— I’m going to pick Elliott Sadler ($6,600) for my first slot. He’s starting last, but he’s worth a shot considering what a good plate racer he’s been over the years (even though he hasn’t made many appearances in Cup races lately). And doesn’t it seem like Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Top 10 Kids Eat Free at Golden Corral car is often in contention here?

— Since he failed inspection after the Duel and now starts 35th, Truex ($9,000) seems like an expensive but worthy pick. He could have a repeat of last year’s DraftKings points bonanza. I’ll take the risk.

— On a similar note, AJ Allmendinger ($6,700) starts 38th after failing Duels inspection. He only has four DNFs due to crashes in 29 career restrictor-plate starts, so that’s not bad.

Landon Cassill ($5,500) has a good combination here: He’s a solid plate racer, comes at a cheap price and starts 27th — seven spots further back than his equally tempting Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Ragan.

— At this point, I have a LOT of money to spend on just two more drivers — a whopping $22,200! So although he’s had a shaky Speedweeks, why not go with Jimmie Johnson ($10,000)? He’s starting 24th, so those are some decent points for a guy who could finish in the top five (or win).

— Now I’ve run out of drivers I really trust to make big comebacks from the mid-20s and lower, so I’m going to do something I probably should avoid and pick Brad Keselowski ($10,300). I am totally sold on Keselowski’s ability to lead a ton of laps, which could make up for his low points potential (he starts seventh).

So that’s my lineup and I have $1,900 left. Did I make the right calls? We’ll see.

Side note: If you decide to play, please use this link because I just signed up for DraftKings’ affiliate program, which means you can actually help support this website through your future entry fees if you’re a new player.

USFantasy Sports offers new way to bet on NASCAR

Starting with the Daytona 500, there’s a new way to bet on NASCAR — at least if you find yourself in Las Vegas.

Typically, NASCAR wagering at a sportsbook involves picking a winner and hoping that driver beats 39 others. Your odds in those situations aren’t very good, because — let’s face it — it’s pretty hard to call the winner of a NASCAR race (at least it is for me).

But a company called USFantasy Sports is remaking the model.

If you’re familiar with horse racing wagers, this is somewhat similar (although the company shies away from comparisons because it can sound complex to amateur bettors). Basically, USF’s system will allow NASCAR win, place and show bets (for as little as $2) — and also offer exactas (picking first and second) and trifectas (picking first, second and third).

What’s particularly attractive is USF has separated drivers into groups. For the Daytona 500, for example, there are two groups of 10 drivers. So you only have to pick the winner (or second, if you choose a “place” bet) among 10 drivers instead of 40. Obviously, that also makes exactas and trifectas more realistic as well.

“You can just bet Dale Earnhardt Jr. and not worry about anything else except for his finish — and he doesn’t have to win the event, he just to beat those other guys,” said Robert Walker, USF Vice President of Strategic Planning, via phone last week. “Or you could have Kyle Larson, and he just has to beat the other nine individuals.”

The betting is pari-mutuel, which means the odds aren’t set by the sports book — they change based on the number of money being wagered by players.

Walked said USF believes NASCAR lends itself to this type of gambling, it’s just that the technology hasn’t been there to put it into place until now. Bettors will be able to play at nearly every sports book in Las Vegas (the odds sheets will be set out along with the standard wager information) and bets can be placed at any window.

As the season gets started, USF will offer wagers on things like the pole winners and Xfinity races and also have different driver group sizes (as little as four and as many as 12). The company could also expand to states outside of Nevada, which could really take the concept to a national level.

“All we want to do is put something out that’s fun and exciting for the player,” Walker said. “We’re all excited about NASCAR specifically because it lends itself to these exotics (like exactas, trifectas and daily doubles).”

Walker believes there’s also an appeal for daily fantasy players because the players are already selected and there’s no salary cap involved.

As an example, here’s one of the groups for the Daytona 500:

— Kyle Larson

— Kurt Busch

— Kasey Kahne

— Austin Dillon

— Clint Bowyer

— Jamie McMurray

— Greg Biffle for some reason

— Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

— Daniel Suarez

— Danica Patrick