NASCAR

NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Cup Series Championship Race

Austin Swaim
Austin SwaimASwaim3
NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Cup Series Championship Race

If you are looking for an action-packed way to consume sports on the weekend, NASCAR may be a great avenue to explore. Far from just driving in circles, some of the world's best compete nearly every weekend from February to November on tracks across America.

NASCAR drivers are scored ultimately based on how they finish in the race, how many spots they advance from their starting position, and how many laps they finish and lead. Avoiding drivers who crash out of the race is a must, though!

FanDuel Research is always your home for fantasy NASCAR advice. In addition to this helper, Jim Sannes takes a look at the best bets of the weekend in his betting guide.

With all of this in mind, let's preview this weekend's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway from the perspective of playing daily fantasy NASCAR on FanDuel.

Weekend Primer

Event
Time
PracticeFriday, November 3rd
8:05 P.M. EST
Qualifying Saturday, November 4th
4:35 P.M. EST

NASCAR is throwing a curveball for its championship weekend; all three series on track means practice and qualifying will be split from each other. Practice will happen closer to the time of the end of Sunday's race, and qualifying will be around the start time.

Nonetheless, any of you NASCAR veterans have been down this road before. We've got four drivers left alive for the 2023 Cup Series title, and they'll battle it out at Phoenix Raceway. This 1.0-mile, D-shaped oval is just about as normal of a test as we'll get all year, making for a perfect venue for this event.

Tires help, but they don't completely erase the need for track position. We'll see two- and three-wide racing on the restarts all day. There's a reason the cream has typically risen to the top in the title race; in all three championship races here, a playoff driver has won the race to capture it all.

General Lineup Strategy

Last year's race actually bucked a pretty substantial trend from the first two title races at Phoenix.

In 2020, the four playoff drivers finished in the top-four spots. In 2021, all four finished inside the top five. It was much more spread out in 2022; Joey Logano won the race and the title, and Ross Chastain finished a normal 3rd, but Christopher Bell finished 10th after pit-road issues, and Chase Elliott was crashed early in the race.

Overwhelmingly, the Championship 4 drivers are the ones you'll want in your lineup. They are the top-four favorites to win given the NASCAR odds at FanDuel Sportsbook and, really, the only four drivers in the field with true motivation outside of a few stray financial bonuses. They're significantly favored to lead a large chunk of the 312 laps and snag a share of the 31.2 FanDuel points available for laps led.

A very important note this week from usual is that Jim's simulations and my median blends don't factor in motivation of this being for all the marbles, and as mentioned, that matters to deviate just a bit from our normal process to rank the weekend's best drivers. So, as mentioned, the last four alive are almost certainly the best four regardless of what our stuff might say.

Behind them, we'll use our usual blend of recent results, median times, and incoming practice data to determine the best value plays because that's likely where tournaments will be settled. The core four should have a ton of -- justified -- popularity around them.

Driver Rankings

Below are my pre-qualifying rankings for each driver based on equipment, recent form, track history, and overall talent level -- in that order. Only drivers with a win probability above 0% in Jim Sannes' win simulations or a top-20 finish this season were included.

MLT Rank, the driver's weighted average median lap time ranking at the relevant sample of similar racetracks to this weekend, is a great indicator of overall speed. The prior races in the sample (with weight percentage) this week are:

  • 2023 Phoenix (Spring) - 40.0%
  • 2023 Martinsville (Fall) - 20.0%
  • 2023 Loudon (Fall) - 20.0%
  • 2023 Richmond (Fall) - 20.0%

For dominator viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale to potentially lead laps and win the race if they start upfront. A "10" is among the favorites to win the race, and a "0" has no realistic chance of leading the race at any point.

For flex play viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale of potentially finishing inside the top 15 spots. These drivers will be better daily fantasy plays the further back in the field they start for optimal place-differential points.

Swaim's Rank
Driver
Salary
Sannes' Sims
MLT Rank
Dominator Viability
Flex Viability
1Ryan Blaney $13,500 15.74%21010
2Kyle Larson $14,000 10.52%71010
3Christopher Bell $12,500 8.00%51010
4William Byron $13,000 7.22%91010
5Denny Hamlin $12,000 9.40%1810
6Kevin Harvick $11,000 6.24%4710
7Martin Truex, Jr. $11,500 5.90%13610
View Full Table

I didn't have to think about which four drivers were at the top this weekend -- just their order.

Surprisingly, Ryan Blaney ($13,500) graded out as the top dog for this particular race in both Jim and I's stuff. That would be an upset given the 29-year-old has just three wins this season and has spent a lot of it in the middle of the field, but he's done well on these short, flat tracks. In addition to his win and fastest median lap last week in Martinsville, Blaney also had top-five medians at Loudon (in New Hampshire) and Phoenix this March. He's a near-perfect process play.

Most would have Kyle Larson ($14,000) in that spot, and the 2021 champion (and, therefore, Phoenix winner) led 201 of 312 laps in the spring race at this track, so I get that. However, the most recent short, flat venues have seen Larson fail to record a top-six median time at any of Richmond (19th), Loudon (7th), or last week in Martinsville (13th). I'd be somewhat stunned by a repeat performance of dominance.

Christopher Bell ($12,500) is showing betting value for Jim, and I wouldn't be stunned by a championship for him at all. Bell turned in the sixth-fastest median time at both Loudon and Martinsville and has -- even dating back to his Xfinity Series sample -- chewed up these short, flat ovals. His teammate has also been extremely fast on these circuits, but we'll talk more about him in a moment.

Finally, I'd rank William Byron ($13,000) in last of the core four, but the fact he won March's race in Phoenix shows how truly competitive this title chase should be. He led 64 laps, but like Larson, I'm concerned about his recent form on short, flat tracks -- and even more so. He hasn't even recorded a top-12 median time at any of the other tracks in this weekend's sample besides Phoenix. He really needs what makes Phoenix different from the others to shine through this weekend.

Once we get beyond the title challengers, Bell's aforementioned teammate, Denny Hamlin ($12,500), has to be the best of the rest. Hamlin has a top-seven median time at all four tracks in the sample and would have been my top driver had he made the final four. With less motivation and heartbreak clearly onset, I just don't know if he's driven to play spoiler in this one at a hefty salary.

If not for a late caution, Kevin Harvick ($11,000) had March's race in Phoenix won with a dominant long-run car that also boasted the race's best median lap. Harvick has 20 straight top-10 finishes and is a nine-time winner at this track, and I'd make the argument he's got the most motivation outside of the final four. It's his final career race, and he's gone winless in 2023.

Last year's winner -- and best car -- in this event was Joey Logano ($10,500) to win a second championship, but even without that same motivation, he's been a top-10 stalwart here. His average finish since the start of 2020 (5.3) even outperforms Harvick's streak for the best mark in the field.

Needing at least two championship drivers in each lineup, mid-range "third" or "fourth" options will be essential, and they don't come much better on paper than Brad Keselowski ($8,000). While the results haven't always been there, Keselowski has a top-nine median time at every track in this weekend's sample and should go completely under the radar thanks to back-to-back Phoenix finishes outside of the top 15 due to issues -- not speed.

It's also been a tough year for Chase Briscoe ($8,500), but his salary is no typo. Briscoe, a 2022 winner at Phoenix, had the eighth-best median time last weekend at Martinsville, and this has been his only good track type this season with a top-16 median at all four sample circuits. I'm surprisingly in on him as a Keselowski pivot when building deeper into tournaments.

Briscoe's teammate Ryan Preece ($6,000) could be fooling me as a Martinsville ace (top-seven median time in both races there) because he had just the 20th-best median at Phoenix in the spring, but he's still grading out among the better value plays on the slate. Another SHR driver, Aric Almirola ($6,500), also has a top-12 median blend, so what could possibly go wrong with targeting one of the season's most disappointing teams in droves?

Preece, Almirola, and Michael McDowell ($5,500) are the only top-20 median times in what we'd consider the value tier, and on that similar note, I'd warn against going back to some of last week's optimal values. Austin Cindric ($5,000) and Todd Gillilard ($4,000) both finished 25th or worse in the March race at Phoenix despite top 10s at Martinsville last Sunday; I'd be surprised if those results were backed up at this larger track.


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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.