Instacart 500 (cup)

Phoenix Raceway

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Welcome, Speed Degens, to another week of NASCAR Cup Series DFS! We return to Phoenix Raceway for the first time since last season’s finale. We don’t have much to go off this season since we will be seeing the 750 horsepower, low downforce package for the first time on an oval this season. There appears to be a clear strategy that I will be employing, and I’m excited to see what happens. Let’s dig in!

Race Information and Notes

  • 312 laps on a 1-mile flat-banked oval (500 km total)
  • There are approximately 215 hog points available.
  • Green flag time: 3:45 pm ET (12:45 pm PT)
  • Inspection has already been completed. Kyle Larson and William Byron will both be going to the rear.

Lineup Construction

As a reminder, here are the general rules I developed in the off-season to assist with constructing winning DraftKings lineups for the Cup Series:

  1. Target 5x value minimum with all drivers in the lineup. (88.9% of optimals and all others can be explained)
  2. If deciding between drivers, target 6x value upside. (85.6% of drivers in optimal lineups)
  3. Spend at least $49000, except at drafting tracks. (80.6% of optimals)
  4. Roster 2-3 drivers priced above $9000. (88.9% of optimals)
  5. Roster at least one driver priced above $10000. (88.9% of optimals)
  6. Avoid drivers priced below $5000. (91.7% of optimals)
  7. At short tracks, roster 2-3 drivers starting in the top 10 as your dominators. They must reach a 7x value to be optimal.
  8. Play no more than one punt play priced at $6000 or below.

Here are the optimal lineups on each site for the 2020 Phoenix races:

On DraftKings, I will be focusing mainly on 2-3 dominator builds. Given the number of hog points available, I may target at least 7x value for drivers priced above $9k. It’s likely a punt play–or two–may be needed for salary relief in going that route.

On FanDuel, a similar strategy should be employed with 2-3 dominators priced above $10k and at least one punt play under $7k. Balanced builds likely won’t be as successful this week due to the amount of hog points up for grabs. For a more specific information or questions, hop in our FSD slack chat!

Drivers I’m Targeting

$10k and above

Chase Elliott (6) – Elliott was one of two drivers to make the optimal lineup in both Phoenix races in 2020, scoring over 50 hog points in each race and winning here last fall. The rules package was similar in 2018 as well, where he scored over 15 hog points in each Phoenix race. When looking at the flat tracks with this 750 hp package in 2020, Elliott ranked 1st in average hog points scored. Since his teammate, Larson, will be going to the rear, he will be moving up to the 2nd row to begin the race. Given Chase’s ability and the speed Hendrick Motorsports has shown this season, it’s hard not to envision him being one of the main dominators on Sunday.

Joey Logano (9) – Logano was the other driver that made the optimal lineup for both 2020 Phoenix races, winning in the spring and scoring at least 25 hog points in each race. Interestingly enough, he had only one hog point in the same package at Phoenix in 2018, but a crew chief change appears to have paid dividends, as he scored the 2nd-most DK points in each Phoenix race last year. It’s encouraging when races are run twice at the same track, and teams succeed in both races. At flat tracks in 2020 with the low downforce package, Logano had the best average finish of all drivers. In this package, he also ran 69% (nice) of his laps in the top 5 and 91% of his laps in the top 10, both of which were 12% better than any other driver in 2020. He’s starting a bit further back, but can he take the lead from Elliott and others to pay off his salary? 

Brad Keselowski (1) – Chase Elliott appeared unbeatable last fall at Phoenix, but a lot of that is due to the best car having an issue early and being trapped a lap down for a while. Keselowski had the best speed here last fall and was running well before being wrecked early and having a late-race pit stop gaffe. Over the last 5 Phoenix races, the polesitter has scored at least 29 hog points. It certainly helps as well that Brad is one of the top restarters in the series. He ranked 2nd in average finish at flat tracks in 2020, including wins at Richmond and New Hampshire. After seeing how strong he looked last week at Vegas, I am confident in his ability to lead early. Hopefully, his pit crew won’t take him out of contention.

**Note: Kevin Harvick is in play, but I like the others above more. He is priced higher and is often referred to as the “King of Phoenix” due to his early career success at the track. However, since the reconfiguration and change in package, he has been a top 5 driver, but not nearly as dominant as in the past. Starting 18th, he provides some PD upside, too, but he was atrocious here last fall and averaged only 18 hog points on flat tracks the previous season. If you remove 2020 stats, Kyle Busch has some of the best stats at Phoenix. Given the struggles last year, a new crew chief, and lack of practice, I’m willing to wait and see how he does.

$8k to $10k

Aric Almirola (32) – My nemesis. I never got Almirola right in 2020. He’s been terrible to start this season, which explains his 32nd starting spot. However, he does have four top 10 finishes in his last 6 Phoenix races. Almirola averaged a 13th place finish on flat tracks last season. His place differential upside is very intriguing, but it will depend on whether I’m trying to fit in 2 or 3 dominators due to his salary—definitely more of a cash game type play.

Matt DiBenedetto (20) – I’m not convinced that DiBenedetto pays off his salary, but he has a better chance than several others in this price range. He needs a 6th place finish to hit 6x value and finished 8th here last fall. His average finish on flat tracks last season was 10th as well. I likely won’t have much, but I won’t mind if I land on him.

**Note: I was high on Kyle Larson before finding out he was going to the rear. He can work his way through the field, but given how difficult it is to pass, it will likely take a while, thus limiting his dominator potential. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him competing for the win by the end, though. Along those same lines, Larson’s failed inspection makes me more interested in Denny Hamlin. He was better at Phoenix in the 2019 package, but he’s still been solid here. I may consider him as a 3rd dominator but limit my exposure.

$6k to $8k

Bubba Wallace (25) – I honestly expected Bubba to be better to start the 2021 season, especially with his new team. However, he has been plagued by mechanical issues the past few weeks. I’d likely dismiss it as the growing pains of a new organization. He did finish 15th and 19th here in both races last season and came away with a top 10 finish in 2018. He needs to finish 12th or better to pay off his salary.

Cole Custer (24) – In his rookie season, Custer made the optimal lineup in the spring Phoenix race with a 9th place finish. He also came away with 8th, and 14th place finishes at New Hampshire and Richmond, respectively, which are other flat tracks in the same package. Stewart-Haas Racing appears to have struggled to start the season, but given the unique track types and differing packages, we have to overlook it this week and trust our instincts, absent of recency bias. 

**Note: Tyler Reddick did not achieve great finishes at Phoenix last season, but in the spring race, he ran the high line in the PJ1 compound (which will be on the track again tomorrow) and was running in the top 5 before wrecking. He’s starting a little too high for my liking, but he’s in consideration. For differentiation, Ross Chastain could also be in play.

$6k and below

Daniel Suarez (27) – He continues to be underpriced, despite two top 15 finishes already this year. When in good equipment, Suarez’s last four finishes at Phoenix were: 15, 23, 36, and 8. I’m not sure that he finishes 17th today for the 6x value, but if you rack up all the hog points in your lineup, he could still be optimal at 5x with a 20th place finish. Last spring, in basically a lawnmower, Suarez finished 21st.

Justin Haley (29) – Trust me, there is nothing that feels good about this play. Haley did run in the Xfinity race on Saturday, so he’s at least gotten some laps this weekend. He’s got the best car of those priced below him or starting behind him (except Almirola), as evidenced by finishing in the top 30 in all three races he’s run so far. If you’re playing Haley, it’s not because he’s good. It’s because you need salary relief, and he’s your best bet to move up due to attrition, which may be required to fit three dominators or 2 with multiple mid-tier plays.

**Note: Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Ryan Preece have been decent so far this year. They may have closed the equipment gap in the last year of using this car. Either way, they’re starting too close to the front for my liking and have not been good at Phoenix. If you believe they finish top 15, they likely outscore anyone else in this range, though.

Expert Picks

Final Thoughts

This race could break several different ways, but I will have a minimal player pool. As previously mentioned, 2 to 3 dominators will likely be the optimal way to build. However, the value plays this week are scary. Choosing the right one will be difficult, but I don’t see any of them hitting 6x value without help. Props to DraftKings for making pricing tight this week. Know the role that each driver plays in your lineup, trust your gut, and let’s win some money!

As always, best of luck this week, Speed Degens! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to join the FREE (see what I did there?) Fantasy Sports Degens slack chat or hit me up on Twitter (@dsmaybin0308). I am looking forward to seeing those green screens!