O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona
Following a thrilling Daytona 500 finish that saw Michael McDowell earn his first ever Cup Series victory of any kind, it’s time to move on to Week 2 of the 36-week NASCAR schedule.
The NASCAR schedule keeps the teams in Daytona Beach for an extra week this season, as they will stick around to run Daytona again. However, the drivers won’t be on the 2.5-mile oval this week, but will instead race on the roughly 3.5-mile road course typically run by sportscars.
There isn’t much NASCAR history to help us with our picks on this particular track, but teams did run this track once last season and in the “preseason” Busch Clash race.
This will be a 70-lap, 253-mile race that was won last year by Chase Elliott. The race will be an extra five laps this season, as Elliott led 34 of 65 laps last season on his way to victory.
Despite the lack of races on this track, there are still quite a few favorites that stand out and a few guys that I expect to struggle. Check it out and let me know what you think below!
Drivers I Like
Chase Elliott is impossible to pick against in this race. Elliott mostly dominated the race last year and finished second at the track in this year’s Busch Clash. Prior to Elliott’s second-place finish in the Clash, he had won the last four races on a road course of any kind. Thanks to his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, Elliott starts from the pole position Sunday, meaning he should be able to lead a few laps early on for your DraftKings' team - should you use him. He’s got good equipment, he’s going to be fast and I’m going to have money on him to win no matter what the odds are.
Martin Truex Jr. is the next-best-thing when it comes to road courses. Truex was running away with this year’s Busch Clash before hitting the wall in an incident he didn’t have much control over. Truex also had the lead in last year’s Daytona Road Course race before a speeding penalty on pit road cost him track position that he could never fully regain (he ended up finishing third.) Prior to the 2021 season, Truex has recorded five consecutive top-10 finishes at road courses and has wins at Sonoma in 2013, 2018 and 2019 as well as Watkins Glen in 2017. The guy knows his way around a road course and clearly has the setup to get the job done this week.
Denny Hamlin was a strong competitor to Elliott last season, racing him down to the wire in Elliott’s victory. Hamlin led 16 laps in last year’s race and came away with a second place finish. Hamlin’s one and only road course win came back at Watkins Glen in 2016, but he has seven top-10 finishes in 11 road course races since that point. He’ll likely be Elliott’s top competition early in the race, as he starts from the fourth position. He is a solid pick to perform well this week.
Ryan Blaney has also had some recent success at road course racing. Blaney was side-by-side with Chase Elliott entering the final corner of the Clash, but Elliott turned him into the fence, and he finished 13th. Blaney is popular for winning the inaugural Charlotte Roval race in 2019 and has had quite a bit of success in other prior road races, having finished in the top-10 in five of the last six road course events. Blaney will start from the 28th position this week, making him a solid DraftKings' play.
A.J. Allmendinger is running full time in the Xfinity Series for Kaulig Racing this season but will hop in the Cup Series car for the race this weekend. Allmendinger is a road course ringer, having won his only career Cup race at the Watkins Glen road course back in 2014. He hasn’t raced full-time Cup since 2018, but his experience in other series where road course racing is more of the norm makes him a driver to keep an eye on this weekend. Due to his team’s lack of owner points (Kaulig racing ran just one Cup Series race last season,) Allmendinger will be starting in the back, making him one of the best choices for DraftKings' lineups this weekend.
Michael McDowell should be riding a high off last week’s Daytona 500 victory. McDowell heads into a road course, which along with superspeedways, is where he does some of his best racing. The chances McDowell goes back-to-back to start the season are slim, but he finished tenth in last season’s Daytona road course race, so he might be worth a shot one more time before we move into the 1.5-mile portion of the schedule.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Kevin Harvick has not been great at road course racing since NASCAR began running the roval variation of different tracks. Harvick spun out early and never recovered at this year’s Busch Clash, coming home in 15th of a 21-car field. Last year, Harvick finished 17th at the Daytona road course and 11th at the Charlotte Roval. Harvick’s recent struggle at road course racing has me shying away this week.
Austin Dillon had a solid Daytona 500 run, coming home with a top-five finish, but road courses have not been friendly to him in the past. Dillon has never scored a top-ten in a road course event. He finished 11th in this year’s Busch Clash and did not run the Daytona Road Course last season due to COVID-19. Prior to that, his best road course finish came back in 2014 at Watkins Glen where he carded a 16th place finish.
Ryan Newman is a guy I hate picking against, but like Harvick, he’s had a rough go of things since NASCAR implemented roval-style racing. Newman finished 14th in the Clash and 19th at the Daytona Road Course last season. Other recent road course finishes from Newman include 31st at the Charlotte Roval last year, 32nd at the Charlotte Roval in 2019 and 25th at Watkins Glen in 2019. Newman has never won on a road course in 41 tries.
Bubba Wallace is another driver to stay away from at road course racing. Since joining NASCAR in 2017, Wallace has yet to record a top-20 at a road course event. Though he is in arguably the best equipment of his young career, Wallace has had problems keeping his car on the pavement for any road races, often finding himself spinning through the grass. If he finally turns things around this week, it won’t be me that will be profiting off it.
Ross Chastain also falls into the category of guys that have struggled making right-hand turns. Another relatively young talent, Chastain has also never scored a top-20 finish in any of his five attempted road course starts. His best finish came in the 2019 Roval race where he finished 22nd. Chastain is another guy that is in much better equipment this season and a major improvement is not out of the question, but I’ll probably be avoiding Chastain if I can this week.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
Last week didn’t get off to a good start, as an unfortunate accident knocked two of my six drivers out of the race on just the 14th lap. This week we’re loading up on heavy hitters again, taking some of the best-of-the-best on road courses and pairing them with a few lower-tier drivers that have the potential to gain some positions over the course of the race.
Last week: 175.45 pts.
1. Martin Truex Jr. ($11,000)
2. Chase Elliott ($10,700)
3. A.J. Allmendinger ($10,200)
4. Michael McDowell ($6,800)
5. Ty Dillon ($5,600)
6. James Davison ($5,200)
Remaining Budget: $0
We had a nice hit on the McDowell win last week, so we’re starting off the season by playing with house money! Following the Daytona 500, we’re up 14 units. Let’s see if we can add to it this week.
Tyler Reddick Best Finish Group F (+175, 2 units)
Alex Bowman over Kyle Larson (-106, 1 unit)
Toyota to win (+205, 1 unit)
Ryan Blaney Top Ford (+325, 1 unit)
Alex Bowman Top-10 (+100, 1 unit)
Martin Truex Jr. Top-3 (+100, 1 unit)
Chase Elliott to win (+200, 2.5 units)
Alex Bowman to win (+3000, 0.25 unit)
Michael McDowell to win (+6600, 0.25 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
Jamie McMurray gave us just what the doctor ordered, a nice top-ten finish from a part-time driver to kick off the 2021 season. After spinning through the grass and acquiring some minor damage in the early accident on lap-13, McMurray rebounded and avoided a last-lap incident to bring home an eigth-place finish.
I’m sticking with another part-time driver this week and taking Allmendinger to deliver a solid finish for me. As I stated above, Allmendinger is a road-course ringer who has achieved some success in his ten-year stint in the Cup Series. Allmendinger has one win, two top-fives and nine top-tens in 21 career road course races. Though he has no Cup Series experience on the Daytona Road Course, he has run sportscars there many times, having competed in multiple Rolex 24-hours of Daytona races.
Daytona 500/Jamie McMurray/8th