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NASCAR DFS: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix Preview

With Bristol in the rearview, we turn our attention to Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Last week’s Food City 500 was actually a compelling race. A week after all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers led 50 laps at Phoenix, they combined to lead 383 laps as Denny Hamlin claimed his first win of the season. Bristol provided some great racing overall. Passing was very possible, including for the lead. 54 lead changes occurred over the course of the race. There was also drama with the tires and Ryan Blaney was a bit of a bust from the pole. Overall, it was an exciting afternoon. But now we get our first road course of the 2024 NASCAR season. COTA is a very technical road course that really lends itself to the road ringers. Here are the strategies and drivers for this week’s NASCAR DFS EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix preview!

As is the case with most road courses, the dominator points are largely useless. Last week at Bristol, we had over 300 dominator points to target on DraftKings. This race will only have 68 laps and when you account for cautions, we might only have 45 dominator points on DraftKings to consider. For FanDuel there are a maximum of 6.8 points available if a driver leads all the laps. In addition there are only 6.8 points available for each driver for completing all 68 laps. This is all to say, don’t dwell on laps led this week. Road courses are about position differential and finishing well. Let’s dig in and find the road course ringers for Sunday’s race.

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EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix Preview: The Top Plays

Tyler Reddick (#45 Toyota)

Reddick has been outstanding on road courses in the NextGen car. He could also use a bounce-back performance after finishing 30th at Bristol. Reddick led 41 laps in this race a year ago in a winning effort. In the three years NASCAR has visited COTA, he’s never finished outside the top 10. Though these courses are no longer on the Cup Series schedule, he does have wins at Indy’s Road Course and Road America. Even at Watkins Glen and the Roval, he’s been a top-10 machine. Sonoma is really the only road course Reddick hasn’t figured out. Fortunately, we know there’s win equity and he’s a driver who could take Toyota to victory lane for the third straight week.

A.J. Allmendinger (#13 Chevrolet)

Allmendinger has a bit of a love-hate relationship with COTA. He loves racing this track in the Xfinity Series. In three races he has two wins and a runner-up finish. In the Cup Series, he has just one top-five finish here from three years ago. He even wrecked out of last year’s race. However, this is a road course at the end of the day. He has win equity and has won at the Cup level before. Kaulig Racing will be interesting to watch this weekend. Both Allmendinger and Shane van Gisbergen (#16 Chevrolet) will be in this race. Be sure to have both on your radar especially after SVG won the Chicago Street Race last summer.

William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)

It was a toss-up between going with Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, and even Martin Truex Jr. for the last spot in the top plays. I’m settling on Byron for a couple of reasons. He doesn’t get the road course recognition that one or two of his teammates receive. And yet, he scored a win at Watkins Glen last year and was then the runner-up at the Roval. Specifically to COTA, he’s never finished worse than 12th, and last year he scored a top-five finish after leading 28 laps and recording a 128.8 driver rating. He’s been a little quiet since winning the Daytona 500 to start the year. However, I like him to fly a bit under the radar ahead of this weekend’s race.

EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet)

Chastain won this race two years ago to score his first career Cup Series win. In three races here he’s finished fourth, first, and fourth with an average driver rating of 119.6, and he’s had some solid runs at Sonoma and Road America. Despite Chastain’s great track history, I’m not as confident in him as a top play. I’ll still get exposure regardless of where he starts. There’s just a lot of variance with Chastain. But at the end of the day, he’s the only driver in this series to finish top five in all three races at COTA.

Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet)

Chastain may be the only driver to finish top five in all three COTA races. However, Chase Elliott may have joined him in that club if he didn’t miss last year’s race due to injury. Elliott won the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at COTA back in 2021 and he finished fourth in 2022. It’s worth noting the first race was called short due to weather. Either way, it technically counts as a win. Elliott’s getting a little hungry for victory lane. He didn’t get a win last year after scoring five in 2022. He’s still one of the more noteworthy road ringers in a loaded field this week. So don’t sleep on one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers.

Alex Bowman (#48 Chevrolet)

We’ll list Elliott’s teammate, Alex Bowman, to round out this group within the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix preview. Bowman doesn’t jump off the page as a road ringer or a specialist on this track type. Oddly enough, the resume at COTA does stand out though. He finished P12 and finished eighth in this race in 2021. But in the NextGen era, he’s finished second (2022) and third (2023) with a 110.3 driver rating between both races. He grabbed the top 10’s last year at Indy and the Roval. He’s coming off a top five at Bristol last week so there is a little momentum on his side as well.

The Sleepers and Values

Austin Cindric (#2 Ford)

I mentioned Cindric in the Shriners Children’s 500 Preview two weeks ago. Needless to say, he did poorly as a chalk value option in that field. But I’ll go back to him for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix preview. Why? Because the kid, despite his flaws, is a decent road course driver. He finished 25th in this race three years ago, but in the last two years he finished sixth and eighth. A few years back in the Xfinity Series, he scored wins at Indy’s Road Course, Daytona’s Road Course, Road America, Watkins Glen, and Mid-Ohio. Now for DFS purposes, we need to monitor his qualifying spot. He does tend to qualify well on road courses and not offer much PD. But that may only lower his overall ownership numbers. He’s still a worthy play in this event, even if he does get priced up.

Zane Smith (#71 Chevrolet)

It hasn’t been a banner year by any means for Smith. In his first full-time Cup Series season, he’s finished 29th or worse in four straight races. But he now comes to a track when he’s at least gone to victory lane. Now that hasn’t happened in the Cup Series. However, he’s won twice at COTA in the Craftsman Truck Series. Strangely enough the 38-truck has won all three races at COTA (Todd Gilliland won in 2021). So that’s some added pressure for Layne Riggs this weekend. But regarding Smith, he likely starts deep in the field. And the Spire Motorsports cars can surprise at times. Smith just needs to run a clean race and can possibly grab a top 20, maybe even a top 15.

Kamui Kobayashi (#50 Toyota)

23XI Racing is bringing back Kobayashi for another road course event. Kobayashi raced Indy’s Road Course last year. It didn’t go well because he didn’t have a ton of experience there. COTA is a track he’s more familiar with. He’s raced at COTA five times between his time as an F1 driver and with the FIA World Endurance Championship. He’s a former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and by all accounts, he’s been getting plenty of work in the simulator. I’m not predicting an SVG-esque performance from Kobayashi. But it’s also possible most people look at last year’s Indy race and avoid Kobayashi entirely.

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