The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the GEICO 500, the first race of the year at the biggest track on the schedule and the second superspeedway race of the 2021 season.
Superspeedway races are easily the toughest to predict. Between the pack racing that constantly shuffles the running order to the big wrecks that wipe out chunks of the field at a time, building a winning DFS lineup Sunday is as much about picking drivers that survive the chaos as it is about picking drivers with the best cars.
The big positional swings and high attrition flip the normal DFS formula on its head, pushing place differential points to the forefront and minimizing the impact of the dominator categories. In fact, the fastest laps category is essentially a non-factor at the superspeedways, and the driver who leads the most laps is far from a sure thing to post a strong score.
On the flip side, the place differential category is not only the safest source of points this weekend, but it is also the most effective in many cases. Drivers who start deep in the field will not instantly ruin your lineup if they crash, and they can post huge scores if they end up with decent finishes.
For most of my lineups, including all of my cash lineups, I will be stacking the back. Almost all of my drivers will be starting outside the top 25 in any cash contests, and even in GPPs, I will still focus largely on drivers starting outside the top 25. A few drivers are starting in the top half of the field who I will play in a lineup or two, but using various combinations of drivers starting towards the back. You should be able to turn a wild race at Talladega into a profitable afternoon.
Ryan Newman (DK: $7,600 / FD: $8,700)
He hasn't been as consistent at the superspeedways in recent years, but most of his issues have come at Daytona. He has gained at least nine spots and finished in the top 10 in five of the last seven races at Talladega, and he has a good chance to continue that trend Sunday when he starts 28th. Among the more productive superspeedway drivers, Newman has the place differential category heavily in his favor.
Ryan Preece (DK: $6,400 / FD: $8,000)
Preece notched a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500 to open the year, continuing to build an underrated superspeedway resume for himself. He has been particularly strong at Talladega, compiling an 11.5 average finish in four starts and gaining an average of 17.5 spots per race. Preece has gained at least 12 spots in all four of those starts and starting 29th; he could easily extend that streak this weekend.
Harrison Burton (DK: $7,900 / FD: $3,000)
He will make his Cup Series debut this weekend, and while he has no experience, he does have the place differential category working in his favor. Burton has to start back in 39th, which means he is nearly guaranteed to gain spots. His safe floor is perfect for a superspeedway cash lineup.
Justin Haley (DK: $5,900 / FD: $3,500)
Haley is quickly building a reputation as one of the top up-and-coming superspeedway drivers. He followed up a rain-aided win in the July race at Daytona in 2019 with top-15s in his next two superspeedway starts, and Haley gained at least 20 spots in all three of those races. He also won three superspeedway races in the XFINITY Series last year. Set to start 34th, Haley should be one of the safest plays in the field.
Kaz Grala (DK: $5,800 / FD: $5,000)
He doesn't have a lot of experience in a Cup car, let alone at superspeedways, but he did pilot a Kaulig Racing entry in this year's Daytona 500. He finished 28th after getting caught up in a crash, but he still managed to gain 12 spots. Grala will start in 38th Sunday, so he is again in a position to gain spots and finish with positive points no matter how well he performs.
Corey LaJoie (DK: $5,600 / FD: $4,000)
Despite driving for nothing but underfunded teams, LaJoie has been a DFS force at the superspeedways. He has a 15.6 average finish in the last 10 races, logging four top-10s and gaining an average of 14.6 spots per race. LaJoie starts 26th Sunday, giving him a great shot at 10+ differential points and 40+ fantasy points.
Denny Hamlin (DK: $10,000 / FD: $12,500)
Rostering the pole-sitter at Talladega is a recipe for disaster, but Hamlin has been so dominant at the superspeedways recently, he could be worth a roll of the dice in a lineup or two. He has three wins and eight top-5s in the last 10 races, including six straight. Hamlin won at Talladega last fall and led 96 laps in the Daytona 500 back in February. It wouldn't shock me if he were able to pile up a significant amount of dominator points and end up in victory lane Sunday.
Kevin Harvick (DK: $9,600 / FD: $9,200)
While he doesn't have as much place differential upside as you typically look for in a superspeedway option, Harvick is one of the bigger names starting outside the top 15. He also had an excellent car in the Daytona 500, leading 17 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish. I think Harvick will be in the mix for the win this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (DK: $8,500 / FD: $11,000)
Stenhouse is as aggressive as they come at the superspeedways, and although a top-20 starting spot brings with it some risk, it should also cap his ownership a bit. The two-time superspeedway winner is tied for the series lead with five top-5s in the last 10 races at Talladega, and he was the runner-up here last spring. Stenhouse has the potential to lead a chunk of laps and go to victory lane.
Erik Jones (DK: $7,500 / FD: $7,000)
Starting 22nd, there are plenty of quality options with a little more differential upside than Jones. However, not many can match his superspeedway resume. Jones is a former winner at Daytona, and he has three top-10s in the last five Talladega races, including back-to-back top-5s. He could be a great contrarian to the cluster of guys starting outside the top 25.
Bubba Wallace (DK: $7,000 / FD: $6,500)
Wallace finished 17th in the Daytona 500 after a late wreck, but he made his presence felt in his first superspeedway start with 23XI Racing. He earned points in both stages during the race, finishing third in Stage 2. Wallace starts 24th, giving him enough differential points to post a strong score without making him a no-brainer play. He could be a sleeper contender Sunday and a great pivot to guys like Kaz Grala, Harrison Burton, and Corey LaJoie.
Cole Custer (DK: $6,800 / FD: $7,500)
His superspeedway resume isn't pretty, but he did have the best run of his career in this year's Daytona 500 when he finished 11th. More importantly, Stewart-Haas Racing showed speed as an organization, a rare occurrence in 2021. Rolling off back in 27th, Custer could be a solid counter to the more accomplished superspeedway options starting deep in the field.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.