The rankings below are based on a mixture of expected output and DraftKings’ NASCAR salaries for that day. The ordering is not based on the highest projected fantasy totals, but rather by the value of each driver.
The DraftKings GEICO 500 slate locks at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday.
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1. Denny Hamlin ($10,000) - Plate racing is 90% luck and 10% skill. Drivers do not have to do much work to figure out how to excel, but none of them put in the work. They see the 90% and just shrug. Hamlin has put in the work. Every move that he makes is calculated. It was said that Earnhardt could see the draft; Hamlin can see the wrecks before they happen.
2. Joey Logano ($9,800) - Did Logano block Keselowski or did Keselowksi turn Logano on the final lap of the Daytona 500? Who cares? Logano led 26 laps and was a little over a mile away from another plate track win at Daytona in February. He didn’t get the win, but he again demonstrated that he is one of the most capable plate racers.
3. Aric Almirola ($8,700) - Before wrecking at Talladega last fall, Almirola had a streak of eight consecutive top 10 finishes (average finish of 5th over that span). He’s been optimal six times at Talladega since 2016.
4. Chase Elliott ($10,300) - Talladega and Daytona are not exactly the same, and some drivers tend to race better at one than the other. The reality is that for whatever reason, drivers tend to wreck at one track more than the other. Elliott wrecked more at Daytona to start his career, but now he wrecks more at Talladega. This is not an exact science.
5. Kevin Harvick ($9,600) - He has two top 10 finishes in the last 10 Talladega races. His average finish over that span is 18th. That’s not going to get the job done. As foolish as it seems, when an elite driver routinely has poor finishes at a plate track, it feels like they are due for a good race.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ($8,500) - DFS players need the drivers in the back to earn top 10 finishes, and they need the drivers starting towards the front to win. Stenhouse races for wins at plate races. DFS players won’t get cheated by Stenhouse laying up. It’s checkers or wreckers.
7. Corey Lajoie ($5,600) - He’s the Denny Hamlin of garbage cars. Lajoie knows how to finish plate races. He’s finished 16th or better in six of the last eight plate races and he was optimal in four of those contests. It’s more likely that this car fails than wrecks, but if it doesn’t fail, he’ll be optimal.
8. Brad Keselowski ($10,500) - Nothing has changed. The story has been the same for several seasons. Keselowski was a great plate racer years ago, but now all he does is wreck. After his win at Talladega in 2017, he has only one top 10 finish in the last 13 plate races.
9. Ryan Newman ($7,600) - Over the last 22 plate races, Newman has the fifth best average finish. This will be his 78th plate race, so he should know what he’s doing. Any concerns about his approach after the Daytona wreck were quelled by his 5th place finish at Talladega last fall.
10. Michael McDowell ($7,200) - The reigning Daytona 500 winner is looking to make it two plate race wins in a row. Most will scoff at this notion, but McDowell’s car was able to push better than any other car at Daytona. In post race pictures, it was discovered that McDowell’s spoiler had a suspicious crack in it. Maybe it was a coincidence or maybe it was engineered.
11. Erik Jones ($7,500) - His downgraded equipment will not be a factor this weekend. His RPM car will be good enough to beat his old teammates at JGR. What separates the drivers is luck. Jones got lucky and won a plate race at Daytona in the summer of 2018. Bubba Wallace almost got lucky and finished 2nd in an RPM car in the Daytona 500 in 2018.
12. Bubba Wallace ($7,000) - He has the talent to win at a plate track. He has the car and the Toyota team support needed to win at a plate track. More importantly, he has the starting position needed to be in the optimal DraftKings lineup at a plate track.
13. Justin Haley ($5,900) - If this were an Xfinity race, he would be the most popular driver on this slate. It’s not an Xfinity race, and Haley is driving a questionable car that didn’t survive one single lap last week. He got lucky and won a Cup plate race in 2019 and he’s been lucky enough to win three plate races in the Xfinity series.
14. Chris Buescher ($6,300) - In the last six plate races, Buescher has four top 10 finishes. He has been slightly better at Daytona, but that’s likely just luck. His starting position is not deep enough to carry a lot of ownership, but he’s been consistent and could squeeze into the optimal lineup.
15. Tyler Reddick ($6,500) - This will be his seventh plate race, and thus far the results have not been very good. In six of his plate races, Reddick has finished 20th or worse. The good news is that he finished 7th in his last race at Talladega.
16. Chase Briscoe ($6,600) - This has been a terrible season for Briscoe, but it was expected because he’s simply not ready. Ford was contractually obligated to put Brisco in a ride this season, and the Cup ride was available. The rest of the season will not get much better, but Briscoe can get lucky at Talladega and have one decent race in 2021.
17. Cole Custer ($6,800) - Last season, his best plate track finish was 22nd. In this year’s Daytona 500, Custer finished 11th. If Custer does that again, and he could because he has top 10 equipment, then he will likely be optimal.
18. Ryan Preece ($6,400) - He’s wrecked in seven of his nine plate races. In the two races where he did not wreck, he earned a top 10 finish. Preece wrecked in the 2021 Daytona 500, but he did DFS players a favor by saving that wreck for the last lap.
19. Kaz Grala ($5,800) - Like most of the picks this weekend, Grala is in play because he is starting in the back. He has a truck series Daytona win, but that does not matter. The only thing that matters is that Grala can score a bunch of points, if he does not wreck.
20. Harrison Burton ($7,900) - His Gaunt Brothers car might not be top notch, but it’s unlikely that Burton would take a ride that cannot finish the race. Whether it can finish on the lead lap is another story. The Gaunt Brothers have three top 15 finishes in 12 plate races. That’s hardly reassuring, but it’s hard to pass up on Harrison Burton starting second to last.
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