DraftKings Fantasy NASCAR advice for 2018 season

I’ve made my picks for Sunday’s free, $10,000-in-prizes DraftKings contest (the link to enter is here), but I’m certainly not an expert.

Actually, most of the tips I’ve picked up over the last year of playing fantasy racing comes from DraftKings expert Pearce Dietrich.

So I hopped on the phone with Dietrich again this weekend to get some more advice that I could pass along to you guys — not just for the 500, but for the season as a whole.

A few pointers:

When everyone else zigs, you zag. Don’t pick all of the obvious drivers for a couple reasons: 1) It’s unlikely to be the right lineup at a plate race and 2) Your lineup is going to be the same as everyone else’s.

For example: In the Duels on Thursday, 87 percent of DraftKings players picked Brad Keselowski. And then he wrecked.

“At the plate races, no one is safe,” Dietrich said. “Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson are going to be heavily owned in the 500. So you don’t want them in every lineup, because then all those lineups are dead if something happens.”

Look at the ceiling. The winning lineups at plate tracks need to have drivers who average 55 points for you. So a driver who starts in the top 11? Unless they lead a bunch of laps, it’s not worth it.

“Look at a guy like Darrell Wallace Jr.,” Dietrich said. “He’s a great story and might have a great race, but even if he finishes second, that’s not going to be enough points for you.”

It really comes down to position differential, which is why it’s more important than ever to pick drivers outside the top 30 at plate tracks.

“Gray Gaulding scored the second-most points at Talladega!” Dietrich said. “That is unbelievable. But only 12 cars finished on the lead lap. If it’s going to be a mess, play people in the back and hope they avoid the wrecks.”

If you think you have a great lineup, you’re probably not going to win.

“Your lineup should make you sick to your stomach,” Dietrich said. “It should not make you feel good.”

To wit: Last year’s best possible lineup for the 500 was Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Brendan Gaughan and Michael Waltrip.

Some logical picks, to be sure. But would you have felt good about the lineup as a whole?

How about last fall’s Talladega race? The best lineup had Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, yes — but it also had Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, David Ragan and Gaulding.

“You may need to take a Corey LaJoie and a Gray Gaulding,” Dietrich said. “If they can just stay away from Ricky Stenhouse, maybe they can make it happen.”

For intermediate tracks, fast cars are fast. Most of the time, Dietrich said a fast car on a long run in practice is going to be the same in the race. It’s rare to see a guy practice in the middle of the pack and then get you points leading laps and running fast laps.

“Starting position doesn’t necessarily correlate as much, but practice speed does,” he said.

If two drivers are going to dominate the race and lead the most laps, you’ll need both of them in the lineup. If it’s three drivers, you need all three. Because if you don’t, someone else will. So you’ve got to predict correctly on that part.

Beyond the fastest cars, try to get a decent return out of every person. If you sacrifice too much — even for one spot by going with a super-cheap driver — it’s probably not going to be a winning lineup.

I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is jeff_gluck) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.

What if NASCAR drivers could chat during races?

David Ragan spoke about a fun idea during an interview in 2016: What if drivers could talk to each other during every race, and fans could hear their conversations?

“(What) if we had direct communication with other cars and I could flip over to someone else’s radio and say, ‘Hey! What the hell did you do that for? What are you thinking?'” Ragan said. “We had that option (in 2011) when we were doing the tandem drafting. We had like 15 different channels, and that was a cool feature.

“That would be something fun for the TV networks and fans to listen in, absolutely.”

Building off that idea, I asked drivers on Daytona 500 Media Day about whether they’d be in favor of the concept.

Check out what they said:

The Top Five: Breaking down the 2018 Clash at Daytona

Five thoughts after Sunday’s season-opening exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Calm Clash

Well, that was weird. An exhibition race with no points on the line, and most of the field ran single-file as Brad Keselowski led the last half of the race. OK then.

“Who would have thought they’d just run single-file for 30 laps?” said Kevin Harvick, who lost the draft while trying to make a move. “It didn’t all make sense to me.”

As the laps wound down, a few cars tried to take shots at building a low lane to challenge the frontrunners, but it was mostly a failure. They’d just drop to the back if anyone tried anything.

So what happened? According to several drivers, the cars weren’t handling well with the new restrictor-plate rules package, which made it difficult to run side-by-side or three-wide. They actually had to drive the cars — at least more than usual at Daytona — instead of running wide open while playing the typical chess game.

“I know it looks like we were just riding around the top, but we were actually lifting and trying not to run over each other when you get those big runs,” Austin Dillon said.

The new package helped cars suck up much quicker, but they’d hit the invisible air bubble just as hard. Meanwhile, the stability offered by the previous rules package — which made for lap after lap of pack racing as drivers tried to side draft and pick off positions — became a thing of the past.

“They were too much of a handful to race side-by-side and three-wide,” Erik Jones said. “Earlier in the race when we were doing that, I was out of control and just uncomfortable. I had to back out and give everybody some space.”

When a driver would pull out of line, he not only dropped to the back — but actually risked losing the draft altogether. Harvick said he was trying to slow the car in front of him in order to get a run, but he slowed both down that the draft just left them behind.

If a car stays in line, it never loses its momentum. Plus, the cars are running significantly faster than before — Keselowski said he ran a 199 mph lap while leading (not with a run), which was eye-opening.

“I was trying to make moves, but you just have to accept the pack being single-file or you’re going to be at the back of it,” Harvick said.

So that’s it. The drivers wanted to go and were eager to make something happen, but there was no overcoming the momentum deficit with so few cars and a single-file lane up top.

2. Now what?

The big question now is whether the Duels and the Daytona 500 itself will be less than exciting (or whatever term you want to use), as was the case with the Clash.

As Jones noted, the Duels on Thursday night will probably look similar to what fans saw Sunday because it’s an impound race and teams already have their race setups installed — which are close to the setups in their Clash cars.

And the 500? It’s obviously a concern, but Harvick said not to worry yet.

“I’ve seen this a little bit before (in the small field of the Clash),” he said. “It’s just different when you get all the cars out there.”

As for the contenders for the remainder of Speedweeks? Well, it would be a surprise if anyone but a Ford won the 500.

Fords have looked so strong on plate races over the last couple years (they’ve won seven straight plate races!), and they finished 1-2-3-4 in the Clash. What was especially striking was Harvick said his car was comfortable and stable despite losing the draft — which was the opposite of what other drivers were saying about handling.

Logano, too, said his car didn’t feel much of a change from last year after the team made a few adjustments.

“Not as much (change) as I thought it was going to be when I went to sleep last night,” he said.

If that’s the case, the Fords will return to the track Thursday night with a significant edge on the rest of the field.

3. Team orders?

As the Team Penske cars ran 1-2-3 in a line with the laps winding down, you may have wondered to yourself if Ryan Blaney and Logano would just be content to push Keselowski to the win.

No way.

“I don’t know about you guys, but for the last 20 laps, I was in there going crazy waiting for someone to make a move,” Logano said. “I was ready to go.”

Of course Logano and Blaney wanted to win for themselves. It’s just they were in a similar situation as everyone else, realizing they needed help to make something happen.

Blaney eventually tried it and made a move coming to the white flag — but all it did was drop him through the field. That move wasn’t the original plan, but it was perhaps his best option in the moment.

“I feel like I was in a good spot because Joey was behind me, and he would have gone with me for the win no matter where I went,” Blaney said. “I was going to kind of hang out until the lane started to form and then I’d jump out. It just never did.”

Roger Penske and Keselowski agreed if that scenario happened again in the Daytona 500, it would be an every-man-for-himself situation in the final laps (like it was with the Toyotas a few years ago). So there’s little chance all the drivers would have just stayed in line while Keselowski just cruised to a win.

4. Rules are rules

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed below the double yellow line, which is a penalty. You can’t do that.

NASCAR’s rule is it will overlook such a pass if the driver was forced below the line by another driver — but Stenhouse wasn’t.

Stenhouse, his team and a whole mess of people on Twitter argued otherwise, but NASCAR’s call was extremely consistent and fair compared to how officials have called it before.

The 2008 Regan Smith/Tony Stewart incident is the defining moment for this rule. If that wasn’t forcing someone below the yellow line, it clearly must be very obvious for NASCAR to call it.

So you might not like it, but NASCAR made a fair call in this case — which is all anyone should hope for.

Stenhouse had a run coming, but it looked like Busch’s car had already started to move down (Busch said his car got sucked down there and he wasn’t trying to go that low). Could Stenhouse have forced the issue with a wreck? Sure, but what’s the point?

It’s not unlike a driver getting a huge run on the outside and the leader moving up to block. What happens then? If the oncoming driver presses the issue, they’re both in the wall. So most of the time, they back out of it.

Stenhouse tweeted next time he could just turn Busch and wreck the whole field, but he either A) Could have backed out of it or B) If he felt that was impossible given his momentum, he could have given the position back and there would have been no penalty. So it’s not like that was the only option.

5. The new pit stop ballet

NASCAR took away a pit crew member from each team in the offseason, which forced crews to rearrange their choreography. Plus, tire changers now have to all use the same pit gun. There was much talk about how it would look and impact the races — and rightfully so.

But although the stops were significantly slower (FOX said more than four seconds!), it was hardly noticeable.

We probably won’t see the true impact until there’s a “race off pit road” situation at 1.5-mile tracks — where track position really matters. Daytona doesn’t make that big of a difference (although Keselowski did use a two-tire strategy to take the lead).

Overall, though, it just didn’t seem like a big thing. A month from now, we probably won’t even give it a second thought.

Danica Patrick sets up fitting end to NASCAR career

Danica Patrick announced a sponsor for the Daytona 500 on Thursday, but has yet to confirm a team or car or crew.

She has the money, and now she’ll take it to a willing team eager to accept the dollars. Such a team shouldn’t be hard to find.

It’s a fitting scenario for the final race of Patrick’s NASCAR experiment, because the start of her tenure aligned with the beginning of the pay-to-play era at the Cup Series level — and she leaves with it having become a full-blown trend.

Patrick is not to blame for that. You can pin it on the economics of the sport. NASCAR has undergone a big change in recent years, and much of the evolution coincidentally came during the time Patrick was around.

It’s worth remembering that as recently as 10 years ago, race teams had more power than sponsors. Finding sponsorship was separate from finding a driver; the two didn’t come as a package deal. Thus, teams could essentially put whoever they wanted in the car.

Sure, you had Paul Menard and the Menards sponsorship in Cup, starting in 2007. But “bringing a sponsor” was mostly associated with Xfinity and Trucks and didn’t crack NASCAR’s top level until earlier this decade.

Patrick’s deal with GoDaddy, which she brought to Stewart-Haas Racing, showed the power of such an arrangement in Cup. She was able to keep her job despite a lack of success — something that seemed to anger fans initially but later became accepted as the way of the world.

Ultimately, you know how the story ended up. As her teammates won 22 races and recorded 124 top-five finishes in Patrick’s five full seasons, she had zeroes in both those categories. In 190 career Cup starts, she had seven top-10 finishes and posted an average finish of 24th.

But she always had enough sponsorship to secure her seat, regardless of the results. And had that continued to be the case, she would still be racing full-time today.

That started to change when Nature’s Bakery unexpectedly bailed at the start of last season, though. After cobbling together eight different sponsors to get through 2017, SHR and Patrick couldn’t find a major partner to fund the car in 2018.

Once the money was gone, so was she. And now her seat is set to be filled by another driver with funding: Aric Almirola, who arrived with significant sponsorship from Smithfield.

That could have been a disappointingly quiet end to her career, but Patrick wanted to go out in a big way. So she decided to do the “Danica Double,” finishing her career with the Daytona 500 and Indy 500. Because she can.

She personally called GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons to give him a chance to be part of her last races, and the sponsorship emerged once again. Now, with the money in hand, she can pretty much pick her seat.

That concept might have prompted some hand-wringing over the state of the sport back when Patrick first entered NASCAR. But these days, after Patrick helped gain acceptance for such arrangements, it’s just the way business is done.


News Analysis: Danica Patrick to retire from full-time racing

What happened: Danica Patrick will retire from full-time racing and conclude her career with two races next season: the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, she announced Friday afternoon. In an emotional and often tearful news conference, Patrick said she wasn’t forced into leaving NASCAR but was “nudged” into the next phase of her life after a ride for 2018 did not materialize. The 35-year-old has seven top-10 finishes and no top-fives in 189 career Cup Series races. Patrick acknowledged she has had “a little bit more struggle on a car-to-car basis than everyone, and it took me a really long time to say that. … With stock cars, the closing rates aren’t quite as quick, so I think it showed up more over time in stock cars just because you can be more defensive than in an IndyCar.”

What it means: The Great Star Power Drain continues in NASCAR. Whether or not you thought Patrick was worthy of an elite Cup Series ride for five full seasons despite not producing results on the track, you can’t argue with the name recognition she brought to NASCAR. There are people in this country who can only name one NASCAR driver — and it’s her. Though her celebrity and fame didn’t save NASCAR from its decline or turn the sport around, Patrick absolutely brought new eyes to the sport and created new fans — many of them young females — by giving people someone different to root for. Her loss, particularly combined with the departures of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., is a big blow to NASCAR when it comes to coverage in the general sports world.

News value (scale of 1 to 10): 10. This is a mega celebrity retiring from NASCAR when some people were hopeful she could somehow remain in the sport and find another team despite her ride at Stewart-Haas Racing going to Aric Almirola.

Three questions: What team will Patrick run the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 with? Can she jump back into an IndyCar and be competitive again? In a decade from now, what will Patrick’s NASCAR legacy be?

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.