NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix

Daniel Suarez's speed at COTA last March translated to three top-five finishes on road courses in 2022. Who else is worth monitoring entering this weekend's race in Austin?

If you are looking for an action-packed way to consume sports on the weekend, NASCAR may be a great avenue to explore. Far from just driving in circles, some of the world's best compete nearly every weekend from February to November on tracks across America.

NASCAR drivers are scored ultimately based on how they finish in the race, how many spots they advance from their starting position, and how many laps they finish and lead. Avoiding drivers who crash out of the race is a must, though!

numberFire is always your home for fantasy NASCAR advice. In addition to this helper, Jim Sannes takes a look at the best bets of the weekend in his betting guide.

With all of this in mind, let's preview the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas on FanDuel.

Weekend Primer

Event Time
Practice Friday, March 24th
2:05 p.m. EST
Qualifying Saturday, March 25th
11:30 a.m. EST

For the first time in 2023, we'll be going right.

It's the first road course of the year in the same place it has been for three years. Circuit of the Americas, one of the most famous domestic circuits and host of the American F1 Grand Prix, is a 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas. It's often referred to as "COTA" for short.

This is the second-longest road course on the circuit and has both fast and slow elements. Tire wear is fairly substantial. Interestingly, this will be the first race at COTA without cautions for stage breaks -- largely due to how prohibitive they were in terms of strategy.

General Lineup Strategy

With just 68 laps on the docket, there are only 6.8 FanDuel points available for laps led.

For years, my cohort Jim Sannes has referred to the general strategy of "accepting but not forcing place-differential points" on road courses. Laps led are a very small part of the equation, so we really just need the winner and other top finishers -- preferably ones that started as far back as possible.

We saw this play out last year. Ross Chastain led 31 laps and won the race from the 15th starting spot, accruing 10.6 FanDuel points for laps led and place differential. Erik Jones finished 9th, but from the 30th starting spot, he scored 10.5 place-differential points while never even leading.

We're looking for fast cars and top finishers, and we have a generally strong idea of who they'll be. However, the priorities amongst value options could change greatly depending on the starting order, which will be set on Saturday.

Driver Rankings

Below are my pre-qualifying rankings for each driver based on equipment, track history, recent form, and overall talent level -- in that order. Only drivers with a win probability above 0% in Jim Sannes' win simulations were included.

MLT Rank is the driver's weighted average median lap time ranking at the relevant sample of similar race tracks to this weekend as a great indicator of overall speed. The prior races in the sample (with weight percentage) this week are:

2022 COTA (Spring) - 35%
2022 Charlotte ROVAL (Fall) - 15%
2022 Watkins Glen (Fall) - 15%
2022 Indianapolis (Fall) - 15%
2022 Road America (Spring) - 10%
2022 Sonoma (Spring) - 10%

For dominator viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale to potentially lead laps and win the race if they start upfront. A "10" is among the favorites to win the race, and a "0" has no realistic chance of leading the race at any point.

For flex play viability, the driver is ranked 0-10 on a scale of potentially finishing inside the top 15 spots. These drivers will be better daily fantasy plays the further back in the field they start for optimal place-differential points.

Driver Sannes'

1 Ross
9.50% 4 10 10
2 Tyler
8.38% 1 10 10
3 Kyle
11.68% 6 10 10
4 Kyle
4.06% 12 9 10
5 Daniel
7.96% 7 8 10
6 A.J.
6.00% 2 8 10
7 Austin
4.42% 5 8 10
8 William
4.22% 17 7 10
9 Christopher
5.72% 14 6 9
10 Ryan
5.00% 3 6 9
11 Chris
4.18% 16 5 9
12 Michael
6.32% 8 4 9
13 Chase
3.26% 15 4 8
14 Joey
2.28% 8 3 8
15 Martin
Truex, Jr.
1.48% 19 2 7
16 Alex
2.98% 13 1 7
17 Kevin
3.66% 21 1 7
18 Denny
2.58% 20 1 7
19 Ty
1.12% 27 0 6
20 Jordan
1.06% 30 0 6
21 Ryan
0.66% 30 0 5
22 Erik
0.42% 23 0 5
23 Noah
0.04% 28 0 5
24 Brad
0.76% 18 0 4
25 Justin
0.14% 10 0 4
26 Bubba
0.04% 11 0 3
27 Todd
0.02% 26 0 2
28 Jimmie
0.68% 30 0 1
29 Austin
0.60% 22 0 1
30 Kimi
0.68% 29 0 1
31 Ricky
Stenhouse, Jr.
0.06% 24 0 0
32 Jenson
0.02% 30 0 0
33 Aric
0.02% 25 0 0

Ross Chastain ($13,000) likely earned his current job at Trackhouse Racing with a fourth-place run at COTA in 2021. He rewarded them in 2022 with the team's first win on the same track. It's hard not to call him the favorite entering this one.

That's especially true with Kyle Larson ($14,000) having a dismal run here a year ago. Larson finished 29th and never led. He's definitely one to buy into if the practice times are stout, but he's not the horse for this particular course.

Though Richard Childress Racing's #8 car went to victory lane twice on road courses last year, it was with Tyler Reddick ($12,500) driving. Now Kyle Busch ($13,500) is in the car, and Busch, a four-time career winner on road courses, is capable, but I'd like to see it to believe this salary. His last victory came in 2015.

As for Reddick, he'll have to be a force for change to pull Toyota out of a horrid slump on road courses last year. Busch's 12th-best median lap blend from last year's road courses was the fastest for the organization, and they were never a true threat to win on speed. It's why Christopher Bell ($10,000), Denny Hamlin ($8,500), and Martin Truex Jr. ($7,500) all carry such low salaries.

With an offseason to improve their program, Toyota could be the buy-low opportunity of the weekend.

A road course will always bring out the ringers that are far more capable on this type of circuit, including A.J. Allmendinger ($12,000), Austin Cindric ($11,000), Chase Briscoe ($8,200), Michael McDowell ($7,800), and Chris Buescher ($7,000). All expect Briscoe scored at least one top-five finish on a road course last year, but Briscoe is also a five-time Xfinity Series winner on them.

Chastain's teammate Daniel Suarez ($10,500) had a horrid road course history before a year to remember. He led 15 laps at COTA before winning his first Cup Series event at Sonoma in June. Not even including COTA, he totaled three top-five finishes and should be a threat Sunday.

In terms of pace, Ryan Blaney ($9,500) and Joey Logano ($9,000) had plenty last year with top-eight median lap average rankings in this week's blend. It only resulted in four top-10 finishes, though. Their salaries are tantalizingly low for the equipment, but we'll need to see a ton in practice to call them contenders.

Superstars in the driver pool should command some attention, but none are real threats to win. Jimmie Johnson ($6,200) has never raced here and had just a single top-five finish on a road course in his last 18 Cup Series tries. He's potentially viable as a place-differential punt, but that's it.

F1 stars are represented here, too. Kimi Raikkonen ($6,000) is a teammate of Chastain and Suarez, so his equipment is good, but he crashed out at Watkins Glen last year due to a lack of experience in stock cars. Jensen Button ($4,200) is getting Stewart-Haas funding to run this event, but this is his first race like Raikkonen's trip to Watkins Glen was.

I prefer off-brand value plugs. Ryan Preece ($6,000) is an excellent road course racer with three top-15 finishes in awful equipment back in 2020 and 2021. Ty Gibbs ($5,500) won several Xfinity Series events on road courses and could be another Toyota with value. Todd Gilliland ($3,000) also won the 2021 Truck Series race here.

Jordan Taylor ($6,500) has also been tabbed to replace former COTA winner Chase Elliott with Hendrick Motorsports as a team car of Kyle Larson. He's in the best possible equipment and should be viable if he shows speed in practice.