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NASCAR DFS: Geico 500 Preview

The NASCAR Cup Series goes to its second superspeedway of the year this weekend. Talladega Superspeedway will deliver the excitement and big wrecks similar to the Daytona 500 two months ago. But Chase Elliott enters this race locked into the playoffs. He won last weekend’s race at Texas, his first win since 2022. It was a much-needed trip to victory lane for one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers. But this week we get the variance and chaos of Talladega. Will we see the Fords run well in the draft as has been the case in recent years? Or will the Chevys continue their dominance after collecting wins at Daytona and Atlanta to start the year? Let’s take a look at this week’s NASCAR DFS Geico 500 preview.

Talladega Superspeedway is the largest oval on NASCAR’s schedule. Yes, even bigger than Daytona. It measures in at 2.66 miles in length and it’s wider than Daytona as well. These drivers can comfortably draft three-wide in the turns. As is the case in this style of racing, you want to avoid “the big one.” A wreck at Talladega can easily take out multiple cars. This field will run in a tight pack at high speeds. And we don’t have practice for this race. We only have qualifying. But you all came for the drivers as part of the early Geico 500 preview. So here we go…

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Geico 500 Preview: The Top Plays

Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)

Ryan Blaney is very good at Talladega. In general, he’s a great drafter in this type of race. It also doesn’t hurt that he drives for arguably the best drafting organization with Team Penske. Over the last nine races at Dega, Blaney has won three of them. And in the last three races here, he has a win and two runner-up finishes. And don’t forget, he was in contention to win at Atlanta when it came down to a photo finish between him, Kyle Busch, and Daniel Suarez. Blaney just naturally finds his way to the front in these races. In the four NextGen races at Dega, he’s led 109 laps. Similar to September’s Talladega preview, we can certainly target Blaney’s win equity for Sunday’s race.

William Byron (#24 Chevrolet)

It’s almost not fun to write up Byron anymore. But he’s just so well-rounded and good on a variety of track types. He hasn’t won at Talladega, but he won the Daytona 500 two months ago. And in the four Talladega races in the NextGen car, he’s finished 15th, 12th, 7th, and 2nd. And if that trend continues, there’s only one additional spot he can gain. Byron also has two wins at Atlanta since 2022 so he’s shown he can work well in the draft. There’s a chance he qualifies well and isn’t that great of a DFS play aside from tournaments. But with three wins already on the season, including Daytona, he’s easily a top play for this race.

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

It definitely feels weird not to have Bubba Wallace in this section. He’s one of the best superspeedway drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. But I’m trying to throw some new names out for the 2024 Geico 500 preview. Hamlin has two wins at Talladega and he’s managed to lead multiple laps here in eight straight races. He has five top five finishes in the last nine Dega races. And let’s not forget, he’s won the Daytona 500 three times. The concern with Hamlin and the Toyotas will be the lack of teammates to draft with. The Toyotas are outnumbered by the Fords and Chevys. Hamlin also tends to drop to the rear early in the race to avoid chaos. But he does manage to find is way to the front of the pack by the end of the race.

Geico 500 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Joey Logano (#22 Ford)

We led off with Blaney so let’s discuss his teammate. Logano has three career wins at Talladega but the results in the NextGen car leave a lot to be desired. The green flag speed and running position have been fine. But he seems to get caught up in something that usually costs him the race. Moreover, he tends to qualify well, alongside Blaney. That does somewhat knock the DFS upside down. We want to target solid drafters, but we also need position differential. But Logano does thrive in the draft at the end of the day. He led 45 laps at Daytona in the Spring before wrecking and he led 48 laps at Dega last fall. A Penske stack could work out so long as Logano can keep the car clean.

Erik Jones (#43 Toyota)

Jones is truly a dark horse for this style of race. In the NextGen era, he’s finished sixth at Talladega in three of the four races. On top of that, he’s led 55 total laps in the four races at Dega the last two years. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500 two months ago and he does have a win at Daytona on his resume during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing. Despite finishing 25th at Atlanta in February, he previously finished 11th, 8th, and 4th in the other three Atlanta races following the reconfiguration. Jones is another driver who runs well in this style of racing. There is a little win equity here and as of Tuesday night you can bet him at 30-1 to win outright.

Daniel Suarez (#99 Chevrolet)

The secret is sort of out on Suarez being a decent superspeedway racer. Prior to the NextGen car, we didn’t really look at him in this light. However, he’s really turned it around since 2022. In the last three races at Talladega, he’s finished top 10 in each. He did wreck in this year’s Daytona 500, but he was seventh last year. And as we know in the last two races at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s finished first and second. Early in the week, you can get him at plus-money for a top 10. Trackhouse Racing, as a team, can perform on superspeedways. Chastain won here two years ago and Suarez is determined to prove that Atlanta wasn’t a fluke.

The Sleepers and Values

Todd Gilliland (#38 Ford)

It wouldn’t be a superspeedway article if we didn’t include Todd Gilliland. The Geico 500 preview just wouldn’t be the same. We don’t target Gilliland often. But in a race that incorporates drafting, we give him plenty of consideration. He wrecked in this race two years ago, but in the last three Talladega races, he’s finished 12th, 10th, and 7th. Not bad for a perceived value play, right? He did finish poorly at Daytona and Atlanta. However, it’s worth mentioning that he did lead a combined 74 laps between those two races. Again, we like drivers who can get to the front. Anything can happen on these tracks. So I can’t slight a driver if they’re caught in a wreck.

Daniel Hemric (#31 Chevrolet)

Hemric isn’t a great play by any means. And even though he’s about 100-1 to win the race, I don’t even know if that’s good value. However, he kicked off the season with a pair of top-20 finishes at Daytona and Atlanta. What’s going to stand out regarding Hemric is that he’ll likely qualify poorly and start deep in the field. That’s exactly the kind of play we seek at Talladega. And Hemric may carry less ownership than other drivers. He’ll be affordable for sure and will have plenty of Chevys to work with. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he has a pair of top-five finishes here. So there’s a solid floor assuming he starts deep in the field. And I think there’s quite the ceiling to put up a big score with a top 10.

Anthony Alfredo (#62 Chevrolet)

Let’s get a little weird to wrap up the Geico 500 preview. This 62-car won’t be the best. It’ll likely hang in the draft, but even if Alfredo rides around in the back, he can likely avoid the wrecks in front of him. We’ve seen plenty of drivers move up by just avoiding the carnage. When Alfredo was with Front Row Motorsports in 2021, he started P30 in both Talladega races and finished 10th and 12th. In five Xfinity Series races at Talladega, he finished 16th or better in four of them. Alfredo is almost a lock to start deep in the field and he’ll be popular in cash games. But ownership might be soft in tournaments and he does have a nice ceiling to consider.

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