The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the YellaWood 500! This is the last drafting/superspeedway race on the schedule for the 2023 season. While it’s not great for DFS, it still delivers plenty of excitement. William Byron got the win at Texas last week after Kyle Larson wrecked battling for the lead with Bubba Wallace. Larson easily had the best car, but now finds himself flirting with the cut line for the round of eight. Talladega is great because it provides smaller teams with a better chance of winning. So while it can be difficult for DFS, especially leaving salary on the table, the drama is unmatched. Here are the drivers and strategies to consider for this week’s YellaWood 500 preview!
Talladega Superspeedway is a behemoth of a track. The Daytona 500 may be the biggest race of the year. However, Talladega is the largest track on the schedule at 2.66 miles in length. Additionally, it is wider than Daytona. Chaos reigns supreme on these tracks. And DFS success is dependent on rostering five or six drivers that finish the race. Dominator points are largely irrelevant if your drivers don’t finish the race. Fastest laps are more evenly distributed and laps led can be hard to predict even for a polesitter. Let’s take a look at who we should consider for Sunday’s race.
YellaWood 500 Preview: The Top Picks
Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota)
The only concern with Bubba is that there aren’t a ton of Toyotas to draft with. So when they pit together and come back on the track together, they’ll be in a slower draft than the Chevy’s and Fords. Bubba did win this race two years ago and he typically finds his way to the front at these tracks. He’s finished second at Daytona on three separate occasions. He’s a phenomenal superspeedway racer and he has win equity.
Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)
Blaney likely needs a win to move on to the next round. He’s 11 points back of the cut line so a win isn’t necessary, but he does need a great result and for some other playoff drivers to wreck out. However, Blaney does drive for Team Penske. And the way the Fords are aerodynamically designed, they’re great for pushing each other and drafting. Blaney has a pair of wins here and has been the runner-up in each of the last two Cup Series races at Dega. Over his last eight races here, he’s led double-digit laps in seven of them. He likely qualifies well so he may not be a Cash game target, but the ceiling is great for Tournaments.
Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)
Hamlin certainly has win equity for this race. However, if he qualifies well he will be a risky play. In his last seven races, he’s won the pole four times. And in the other three races in that span, he qualified top 10 and he’s managed to run up front in all seven races. He has a pair of wins at Talladega, and he’s won the Daytona 500 three times. Hamlin does have a tendency to also drop to the rear for the opening laps so he can put himself in contention later on. He typically does well avoiding the carnage. Despite the probable outcome that he qualifies well, he still has a nice ceiling for DraftKings and FanDuel.
YellaWood 500 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Ross Chastain (#1 Chevrolet)
I’ll spare you all from reading about Brad Keselowski this week. Although I do still like him because he’s a great superspeedway racer and almost won Daytona at the end of the season. But I digress. Chastain won this race in the Spring of 2022. He followed that up with a top-five in the Fall race a year ago and he led over 30 laps. Even his teammate, Daniel Suarez, has some sneaky upside to come away with a great finish. But I prefer Chastain slightly because he does have more to race for. Chastain had a great showing last week at Texas and could put himself in great shape to move on to the next round with a solid result.
Erik Jones (#43 Chevrolet)
Jones is an outstanding superspeedway racer. Truthfully, he could belong in the section above. He’s finished sixth in three straight races at this track and he has six top-10 finishes in his last seven races here. The results vary a little more at Daytona, but he does have a win there. He’s a driver you can certainly bet on to win this race, but he’s not as good of a value as he used to be. Jones has led 50+ combined laps across his last three races here. He’s certainly a driver to keep an eye on with great upside.
Chase Briscoe (#14 Ford)
I could have gone with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or Corey LaJoie in this spot. But everyone knows about their superspeedway prowess. So I’ll give Chase Briscoe some love. Briscoe might be better suited as a sleeper. However, I already have three true sleepers in that section. On top of that, I don’t think Briscoe is as much of a sleeper as he was before Daytona in August. Briscoe won the pole and led over 60 laps but wrecked. In this race a year ago he finished fourth after grabbing a top 10 in the Spring. The results at Daytona aren’t as fruitful, but he’s still in a Ford. These cars are designed to run well in the draft. I think he’s in a great spot, but I’ll have concerns if he qualifies well.
YellaWood 500 Preview: The Sleepers
Ty Dillon (#77 Chevrolet)
Ty Dillon is an unheralded superspeedway driver. His brother has the accolades of winning at Daytona (twice), but Ty can hold his own. In 11 races at Talladega, he’s wrecked only once while finishing 17th or better in nine of the other races. Even at Daytona in the regular season finale, he started P30 and finished 11th. He’ll likely be a popular position differential play, but he thrives in this kind of race.
Riley Herbst (#36 Ford)
Herbst has a very small sample size of superspeedway racing in the Cup Series. But in this race in the Spring, he started P36 and finished 20th. In the Summer Daytona race, he actually qualified P6 but wrecked. However, in the Daytona 500, he started P38 and finished 10th. Sometimes there is security in just riding around in the back and moving up as others wreck out. He’s flashed similar upside at superspeedways in the Xfinity Series. He’ll be a driver worth building around if he qualifies outside the top 25.
Chandler Smith (#13 Chevrolet)
Smith isn’t a regular in the Cup Series. He runs full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. However, the Xfinity drivers have the week off so Smith will be running both the Truck and Cup Series races this weekend. On that note, Kaulig Racing is a solid team on superspeedways. Justin Haley’s success on these tracks is well-documented. He’s won multiple times at Daytona and Talladega in the Xfinity Series. Moreover, he has a win at Daytona in the Cup Series. For Smith, he started P36 at Daytona in August and finished 15th. He always had good runs in the Truck Series and Daytona and Talladega. Given how many Chevy’s he’ll have to work with, I like his chances to move up.
YellaWood 500 Preview: The Fade
Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)
If you recall from the Coke Zero Sugar 400 Preview, I listed Larson as a fade. And it’s unfortunate for this race because he is now on the cut line for the round of eight. Historically, he’s a terrible superspeedway racer. He just doesn’t do well in the draft. Even if he lands on the pole, I’m more inclined to avoid him. Because it’s likely he goes backward. In 17 races in the Cup Series at Dega, he has just three top 10 finishes and he’s failed to finish about one-third of his races. The results aren’t much better at Daytona. He’s failed to finish four of the last five points-paying races. Maybe he strikes gold and pulls out a win. But I’ll lean into the research and avoid him based on his resume on these tracks.