DraftKings DFS NASCAR Picks: Federated Auto Parts 400
It’s time for one of my favorite races of the season, as the Sprint Cup Series boys head back to Richmond for the second time. It is the final race before the Chase, and you see a ton of desperation in the final laps for those bubble drivers on the cusp of either qualifying for the championship hunt, or simply driving out the string. We get some of the best racing of the season, and the short track at RIR can change fortunes in the blink of an eye.
Heading into the Federated Auto Parts 400 at RIR, 11 drivers have already qualified for the Chase, leaving five spots up for grabs. Kurt Busch ($9,800), Kyle Busch ($10,800), Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,400), Carl Edwards ($9,600), Denny Hamlin ($9,500), Kevin Harvick ($11,400), Jimmie Johnson ($8,900), Matt Kenseth ($10,100), Brad Keselowski ($11,200), Joey Logano ($10,400) and Martin Truex Jr. ($8,800) are already qualified for the Chase.
That leaves Jamie McMurray ($8,200), currently 12th in the standings and 44 points ahead of 16th place, the top non-qualifier heading into Richmond. Ryan Newman ($7,700) is 13th, Jeff Gordon ($8,500) is 14th, Paul Menard ($6,700) is 15th and Clint Bowyer ($7,500) sits on the bubble in 16th place. Aric Almirola ($6,100) is currently 17th, and 29 points behind 16th place heading into the final regular season race. Kasey Kahne ($7,800) is 31 points back of 16th. It will be interesting, to say the least, watching the battle as the pressure cooker heats up late on Saturday night.
A look at NASCAR’s Loop Data shows Keselowski leading the way with a 115.1 Driver Rating over the past past five stops at Richmond, leading a total of 648 laps which is best among all DFS options. That’s a very important stat for DFS owners, as usually the Blue Deuce is out in front and collecting plenty of points. He has managed to run 88.7 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 at RIR, a place he has obviously been very comfortable over the years. His Penske teammate Logano picked up a win in the spring race last year at Richmond, and he checks in with a 102.4 Driver Rating over the past five starts, leading a total of 140 laps. His Average Finish Position of 7.4 ranks him third among all drivers in the past five races in Virginia’s capital. Logano is on the pole for Saturday’s race, while Keselowski goes off third.
As mentioned above, Hamlin (knee) is in the chase. However, he is dealing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is a question mark. He is expected to start and race through his injury, but you have to wonder how much of a toll it is going to take on him, especially working the knee on the short track. He doesn’t rank inside the Top 10 in Driver Rating at what is unofficially the Chesterfield, Va. natives home track, so it might be a good idea to take a pass on him in DFS until we get a clearer picture on how much his knee will affect him. If it’s any indication, he was 18th in practice Friday afternoon, and he tumbled to 42nd in Happy Hour. Hamlin will start 25th after a dismal qualifying effort.
Happy Harvick leads all drivers with a 6.0 AFP over the past five starts at Richmond, all the while leading just 45 laps during the span. However, he checks in with a 110.6 Driver Rating, and he has been inside the Top 15 in a whopping 95 percent of his laps during the impressive span. In 29 career starts at RIR he has three victories, nine Top 5s, 18 Top 10s and he has never had a DNF while posting 26 finishes of 20th or better. Harvick was fourth in practice Friday afternoon, and it was so apropos that he finished first in Happy Hour. He goes off sixth and could end up picking up a handful of Place Differential points for DFS owners if he does what he normally does.
Kyle Busch actually leads all active Sprint Cup drivers with four victories at Richmond, and his lowest finish is 24th. In fact, it was the only time in 20 starts he finished outside the Top 20. He is nearly automatic for DFS owners, and well worth the high salary because his results speak for themselves.
McMurray is one to watch, as he starts 31st and will need to move up through the field to maintain his grip on a Chase spot. He was rather tentative in each of the practice sessions, finishing 28th in both. He has been good at Richmond before, and has a 101.6 Driver Rating over the past five races with 87.7 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15. In fact, his respectable 10.2 AFP during the span almost makes him a must-start DFS option at a mid-level salary. He should move up rather nicely, picking up huge Place Differential points along the way.
Bowyer is another one on the cusp of a Chase spot, and if his recent history at Richmond is any indication he should be OK – as long as he doesn’t get an ‘itchy arm’ again. The Kansas native has a 102.1 Driver Rating over the past five starts, leading a respectable 185 laps during the stretch while racing inside the Top 15 in nearly 82 percent of his laps. He is fifth among all active drivers with an 11.4 AFP at Richmond in 19 career starts, winning twice. He is a nice sleeper for DFS players while he battles for his playoff life.
Newman checks in fourth among all active drivers with an 11.2 AFP in 27 career starts, posting a win, six Top 5s and 25 Top 20 finishes while leading a total of 454 laps. He is a cheap DFS option with tremendous upside. He is just always overlooked and underappreciated.
MTJ hasn’t run very well over the years at Richmond, and with a 21.4 AFP and a total of just 48 laps led in 19 career starts, Truex Jr. might be best left to the wire. However, he was seventh in practice Friday afternoon, fifth in Happy Hour and he qualified 16th. If he can run like he did in practice, he could scoot up through the field in rather short order, although his career numbers suggest otherwise.
As far as the Hendrick drivers, Little E has three wins in 32 starts at Richmond with an AFP of 13.5. J.J. has actually struggled at times, winning three times in 27 starts, but posting a rather ordinary 16.9 AFP. It isn’t wise to avoid Johnson in DFS most weeks, but Richmond you might want to take a pass. Gordon has two wins in 45 career starts, and he has been inside the Top 10 on 29 different occasions while leading a total of 1,637 laps. In his final go-around at the track he is a sentimental pick.
ON THE DOWN LOW
Menard has struggled mightily on the short track, and that’s not good for his Chase prospects as he clings for dear life. He has made 17 starts at Richmond in his career, finishing in the Top 10 just once while posting a terrible 23.5 AFP. He better solve the Virginia run in a hurry or he will find himself peering from the outside looking in.
The same holds true for Almirola. While Richard Petty Motorsports has improved their short track program in recent years, there is still a huge gap for the No. 43, especially at Richmond. He has seven career starts at RIR, finishing inside the Top 5 just once. He has a dismal 18.1 AFP and he has never been out front in his seven starts.
If you’re looking for a cheaper sleeper, Kyle Larson ($8,000) might be your man. He was first in practice Friday afternoon, and he was a respectable 17th in Happy Hour. Larson’s Target No. 42 will go off 11th, and he could finish right around that spot. While he has never led in his three starts at Richmond, he has three Top 20 finishes, with a high of 11th and a low of just 16th. He always seems to be right in the middle of the pack and on the cusp of competing for a Top 10.
Jeffrey Earnhardt ($5,100), nephew of Dale Jr., will make his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 32 machine. He starts 42nd and might be worth a flier as your No. 6 driver. His inclusion will help you to load up with studs in your first three positions. It’s an intriguing play given the fact it is his Cup debut, but you have to figure he has good bloodlines, right?
Like Jeffrey Earnhardt, Jeb Burton ($5,400) has good bloodlines and a cheap price tag. But we’ve seen him at Richmond before, and he had an uninspiring 38th-place finish in his first try at the track. It’s best to avoid him until he races at RIR with a little more consistency.
Brett Moffitt ($5,200), currently leading the race for Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year honors, was 38th in practice Friday afternoon before rising up to 22nd in Happy Hour. He qualified 37th, but could move up to collect some valuable Place Differential points. At such a cheap salary he is a very nice play. His only career start at Richmond netted a 29th-place finish.