After a short, one-week break in the action – the only one of the season – NASCAR prepares for 10 regular season races before another 10 consecutive races will determine who is to be the 2022 Cup champion.
Handicapping races this year has not been easy. The NextGen car has produced 12 winners in 16 weeks, and no one has won more than two events. Drivers who were supposed to be dominant have struggled to find the balance with this radically new car profile. And what was supposed to be a simple, single lug design to attach low profile tires has created a myriad of problems that have been hard to overcome.
There is no relief in sight.
Track statistics are not as meaningful in 2022 as they were in the past, but the accumulation of data provides some direction. Even that is lacking. For the next three weeks, NASCAR essentially runs only their second race on the upcoming tracks with Nashville Superspeedway and Road America joining the circuit just last year and a major reconfiguration to Atlanta Motor Speedway making that another pack-racing lottery. In six weeks, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will run its second race.
Practice continues to be of limited use with mini sessions that can best be described as “why do they bother”, and qualification is only one small piece of the puzzle. All these unknowns make the traders conservative and heightens the uncertainty for bettors and gamers. But then again, that challenge is a big part of what makes this so much fun.
1. Chase Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,700 DraftKings | +800 win | +110 top-five)
Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) will have asked themselves how many times they can beat themselves this week after putting both Sonoma Raceway favorites in a hole. At least Elliott got to leave his problems at the track because they were able to serve their penalty for an errant pit stop in California. It’s hard to get over losing a race that should have been easy to win, so Elliott will be hyper-focused this week in Nashville. The biggest reason to recommend him, however, is his Dover Motor Speedway win and top-five at Darlington Raceway. Those tracks, along with Bristol Motor Speedway and Nashville, make up the rough-surfaced courses.
2. Ross Chastain ⭐⭐⭐
($10,500 DraftKings | +800 win | +110 top-five)
This is only the second time in his career that Chastain has commanded a DraftKings salary cap in the five digit range. That speaks volumes about a driver who surprised the field last year in the Ally 400 by finishing a competitive second to Kyle Larson. With two wins in the books, he is not going to catch anyone flat footed this week. Chastain is still learning his craft and one has the sense that we have not seen his best yet.
3. Kyle Larson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($11,600 DraftKings | +450 win | -160 top-five)
The first word that springs to mind when one sees Larson’s DraftKings salary cap is “ludicrous”. That would have been a non-starter last year when he was dominating the series and entered the weekend with back-to-back wins; this year, it’s laughable to think that he is so prohibitively favored. In addition to his ragged start to 2022, he will race without four critical members of his crew for the next four weeks after he was nabbed for leaving the pits with a loose lug nut. That is not to say he won’t challenge for a top five, but his value proposition is exceedingly low compared to the competition.
4. Kevin Harvick ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($8,500 DraftKings | +2500 win | +300 top-five)
With the laps winding down in Sonoma, four winless drivers in 2022 were racing at the head of the field. Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher pulled away near the end, but it was not surprising to see Harvick listed among the top four. He’s good on road courses, but he is great on rough-surfaced tracks. He enters the weekend with the longest active streak of top-10s by a wide margin. In his last 11 races on this track type, he has three wins, 10 results of sixth or better, and a ninth. This could be the week he snaps his 59-race winless streak. And he’s more than $3k cheaper than Larson in the DraftKings game.
5. Tyler Reddick ⭐⭐⭐
($8,900 DraftKings | +1500 win | +190 top-five)
The last time NASCAR was at a rough-surfaced track, Reddick finished second in the Goodyear 400 at Darlington. Four drivers have already earned their first Cup wins this season and one has the sense that is not over yet. With 10 races remaining until the playoffs, there is still a distinct possibility that the field will be filled by winners. Reddick has come extremely close on so many occasions – just as Suarez had done prior to last week’s victory – that it seems inevitable that he will join the winners’ ranks.
6. William Byron ⭐⭐⭐
($9,900 DraftKings | +1200 win | +160 top-five)
Byron’s handicap this week is seriously impacted by his third-place finish in last year’s Ally 400. That was one of six top-fives in a span of eight rough-track starts and it put him on our radar. The enthusiasm took a dip, however, when his 22nd at Dover and 13th at Darlington were factored in, but desire should make up for that deficit. Byron snapped a seven-race streak of sub-10th-place finishes last week at Sonoma and that is going to give him a boost of confidence in time to generate some momentum ahead of the playoffs.
7. Kyle Busch ⭐⭐⭐
($11,000 DraftKings | +750 win | +100 top-five)
Perhaps we are being swept along by Busch’s eight top-10s in the last 10 races of this season and this is simply a way to hedge our bets. While Busch’s salary cap is almost as ridiculous as Larson’s, the fact that he is ranked second there as well as on the sportsbook forces us to question which is more important: his recent record of his rough-surfaced stats. He has only two top-10s in his last seven attempts on this track type.
8. Christopher Bell ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($9,100 DraftKings | +2000 win | +250 top-five)
With a fourth at Dover and sixth at Darlington, Bell almost joins Elliott in sweeping the top five on rough-surfaced tracks. Those two races fit inside a five-race streak of top-10s that was snapped at Sonoma when Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) collectively made the risky move of pitting in the late stages of that race in hopes of a caution flag waving. Bell is only two spots above the cutline, 28 points ahead of Harvick, and will be one of the drivers willing to take big risks.
9. Daniel Suarez ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($7,700 DraftKings | +3000 win | +350 top-five)
Suarez’s win last week was typical of a number of his runs this year, only this time nothing went wrong in the second half of the race. Common wisdom accepts that once a driver wins his first race, it gets easier and floodgates open. There are 67 Cup drivers with only one win who would argue that point, but this does take some of the pressure off. Suarez has three top-10s and two more top-15s in his last six starts on rough-surfaced tracks.
10. Ryan Blaney ⭐⭐⭐
($9,500 DraftKings | +1200 win | +150 top-five)
Blaney ran well at the start of the season before trouble found him in the closing laps. His list of top-10s has not been all that impressive, but there have been only a few races when he was not competitive. It appeared he was finding his momentum with four consecutive top-10s from COTA through Bristol, but then he slipped outside that mark for five races. He is regaining some of that energy with back-to-back top-10s in the last two weeks.