Last week produced some great racing at Darlington Raceway especially for the Craftsman Truck Series. Christian Eckes came away with his second win of the year and he’s been a phenomenal addition for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing. Corey Heim was great in the short run and led 66 laps, but his crew chief made a mind-bending decision to stay out on old tires while everyone else took fresh tires. A couple cautions later, this strategy almost paid off and if they had gotten one more caution, he may have come back to win it. And the NASCAR Cup Series provided plenty of drama as William Byron scored his third win of the year after Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson dusted it up in the final laps and both cars ultimately wrecked. A big narrative heading into All-Star weekend has been Rick Hendrick’s comments about Chastain and even Justin Marks, the owner of Chastain’s car, coming out and saying his driver needs to cool it down a bit. But with Darlington in the rear view, we turn our attention to a truly special weekend. For the first time since 1996, NASCAR fans can say “It’s North Wilkesboro week!” It’s is officially All-Star weekend for NASCAR and you have to imagine they have a lot planned for NASCAR 75 and will pay homage to this track and several of the NASCAR 75 greatest drivers. This was a regular track for NASCAR in the 20th century. And on top of the All-Star race held Sunday night, we’ll also get the Craftsman Truck Series in action as well for an actual points race. So let’s dive in to how we’ll approach our NASCAR DFS lineups for the Tyson 250!
North Wilkesboro Speedway opened 76 years ago in 1947 after being built by moonshiners and it saw plenty of closures and re-openings especially over the last 15 years. A big movement to re-open this track came three years ago during the pandemic when NASCAR scheduled an iRacing event for this track and that slowly got the wheels turning by NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and plenty of other parties to renovate and re-open the track. It’s also been a long time since it was last paved so it’s certainly an older track and the track is built on uneven terrain. The front stretch goes slightly downhill while the back stretch is on an incline. This track is 0.625 miles in length with 14 degrees of banking in the turns and three degrees in the straights. So it has some similar characters to Martinsville but it’s larger in size and features slightly more banking. Another comparison might be IRP which the Truck Series ran last year as it measures 0.686 miles in length with 12 degrees of banking and the turn radius isn’t as tight as it is at Martinsville. Other tracks that draw some comparison to North Wilkesboro might be Richmond (0.75 miles in length with tire wear) and possibly Phoenix.
The schedule for the Tyson 250 this weekend is a little odd. Practice was at 3:05pm ET on Friday. Normally we would get qualifying right after that, but instead qualifying won’t be run until 10:30am ET on Saturday with the race set to go green at 1:30pm ET. So we’ll have about a two-hour window to get our lineups built. Because of this small window I’m likely going to take a lighter approach and do at least three lineups, but no more than ten. Saturday afternoon’s race will be for 250 laps broken into 70-70-110 lap segments. But keep in mind, and this is important, this track is old. Ryan from ifantasyrace.com had this gem of a tweet earlier in the week:
Now that thread between him and Phil Bennetzen (RaceSheets) was geared more toward the Cup race, but the same holds true: this track is a dinosaur. There are rumblings at the track that there’s no grip and we could see a race similar to Bristol Dirt. Don’t take that as scripture because dirt races are high variance. But I think it’s just worth noting because there are unknown factors in play, but we should expect tires to get chewed up and an abundance of cautions could be in order because this is a short, flat track.
The contests for this race are similar to last week in that they aren’t great. I’m not committed to playing Cash games at the moment considering the “great unknown” that looms over this track. The $70K Piston contest is $10 per entry with $20,000 going to first which is almost 30% of the prize pool and tenth place only gets $200 which is 1% of what the winner gets. That’s not an ideal payout structure. The $5,000 Happy Hour contest is $1 per entry with $1,000 going to the winner (20% of the prize pool) but only $20 going to tenth, which again, is an awful payout structure. I hated the payout structure last week but I did have a lineup that finished in the top five and had about 590% ROI in last week’s Truck Series race at Darlington. But the big concern I have with making 20 lineups this week will be that quick turnaround between qualifying on Saturday morning and the actual race going green around 1:30pm ET on Saturday. I am likely to do just five lineups and enter them in the Chrome Horn which has a much better payout structure in addition to some single-entry contests and three-entry max opportunities as well.
Tyson 250 Practice Notes
Practice was fairly eventful, but below are the single-lap and ten-lap averages. Akinori Ogata and Norm Benning, the two cheapest drivers in the field, both had severe issues. Benning got loose and hit the wall pretty hard. He had significant damage to the rear of his truck. Ogata’s truck caught fire and sustained heavy damage as well. Luckily he was okay. Truck garages are open until 10:00pm ET Friday night for repairs so we’ll see if they can post a qualifying lap Saturday morning.
NASCAR DFS Driver Pool
As always, once we know the starting order, I will have updates in RED hopefully around 12:30pm ET on Saturday.
Kyle Larson ($12,000)
There’s a fair argument that Larson might be $2,000 too cheap. If we’re regularly pricing Kyle Busch around $13,500 in the Truck Series, why aren’t we don’t the same when other elite Cup drivers enter this field? Larson will be in the 7-truck for Spire. Corey Lajoie drove this truck last week at Darlington. He started P29 and finished 16th but had an average running position of 21st. Larson is a different breed of driver though, and this is an entirely different track, but Larson should manage his tires pretty well. If the talk is true about no grip, worn tires, and comparisons to a dirt track then those are three factors that are right in Larson’s wheelhouse. There is that concern he is just trying to get extra laps in for the All-Star race, but there’s still some win equity here. Even scoring the Xfinity Series win at Darlington last week meant a lot to him. I’m sure he’d like to even win this race given how long it’s been since NASCAR appeared here.
William Byron ($11,500)
Byron ran the Truck Series race at Darlington last week in this same truck and had a good run. He didn’t dominate the race as much as I thought he would have, but he had 19 fastest laps and only seven laps led. That pure speed alone salvaged his day and if you look at his two appearances in the Truck Series this year, he’s put up 52 DraftKings points at Bristol Dirt, and 54 at Darlington while finishing in the top four in both races. So far this year in the Cup Series he has wins at Vegas, Phoenix, and Darlington. In some form or fashion there are details of those tracks that may compare to this track and he has a win at Martinsville on his resume from a year ago. This will likely be the best truck in terms of equipment and he has the experience and knowledge to properly manage his tires. Byron also finished as the runner-up in Wednesday’s ASA Super Late Model race.
Zane Smith ($10,300)
Smith failed tech inspection three times, but did pass on the fourth time through so he'll start from the rear. They're working to repair some issue with the truck that raised some question during inspection, but the truck had decent speed in practice yesterday and the general notion of a talented driver in good equipment starting from the rear will impact ownership. He's a Cash game lock and easily viable in Tournaments as well. Christopher Bell flashed good long run speed in practice and laid down a good qualifying lap so he's live for Tournaments.
Ross Chastain ($9,800)
I couldn’t really get on board with Chastain the last two weeks at the $11,500 price tag for Kansas and Darlington. But I’ll consider him for $1,700 less for his race. He did his absolute best to get accustomed to the track as nobody ran more laps during the Truck Series practice than him. But if I can be honest, the truck hasn’t looked very good. Sure, he has three performances this year returning 40+ points in the Truck Series, but if you just watch the speed from the last two races, this truck has run outside the top ten without carnage. Sure, he finished fifth at Kansas, but his average running position was 12th and only 61.9% of his laps were run in the top 15 in that race. No other driver that finished in the top ten in that race had a top 15 lap percentage lower than 77%. Even last week at Darlington he finished 13th with just 60.1 percent of his laps in the top 15. I like that the price tag is more reasonable and if he happens to qualify poorly, which he’s done lately, then I think he can be in our pool for Saturday afternoon’s race as a driver that has top ten upside with PD, but don’t be surprised if he’s running laps in the middle of the pack.
Corey Heim ($9,600)
Heim has had great speed lately and his crew chief’s moronic decision to stay out on old tires while everybody else took fresh ones almost paid off last week. If the caution is thrown before Christian Eckes takes the white flag, then Heim restarts eighth on the freshest tires and he maybe wins the race at Darlington. He’s finished eighth or better in five of the last six races, but the big thing is that he’s coming in with form and momentum. He won at Martinsville, finished second at Kansas, and was eighth last week but he’s been collecting dominator points in all three races. He’s put up at least 54 fantasy points on DraftKings in each of those three races and the price is still reasonable and the truck had speed during Friday’s practice session. Update: Heim won the pole and should dominate the early portions of the race assuming he can hold off Hocevar who will start next to him.
Bubba Wallace ($9,200)
Bubba is interesting. The truck is from TRICON so it's obviously good, but he was so loose on his opening lap of qualifying and it impacted his first lap which had him qualifying P23 out of 28 drivers at the time. But he then rebounded to qualify in the top ten (again, at that specific time) so he showed good speed. But the truck still looked pretty loose despite all the speed. He may struggle with the handling here, but I think he's worthy of some love in Tournaments. I'll have him in 1/5 lineups.
Carson Hocevar ($8,800)
It’s fairly surprising Hocevar is priced up, but it’s likely reactionary since he put up 60 fantasy points last week at Darlington. Hopefully that tire management translates here, and based on practice, it looks like it may have. Hocevar laid down the fastest lap in practice and the fastest ten-lap run as well, but his fastest ten-lap metric was measured over his first ten laps when the tires were most fresh. He finished top five on a high tire wear track last week and followed it up with a sixth-place finish in the Xfinity Series race as well. Temper expectations because of the drivers he’ll be going against, but he could be somewhat of a contrarian option since he’s one of the few drivers to not get a discounted price tag.
Ben Rhodes ($8,500)
Unlike Hocevar, there are going to be regular Truck Series drivers that are discounted this week because of the presence of the other Cup Series drivers. But there probably isn’t a bigger pricing discrepancy than Ben Rhodes. He’s not having a great year, considering where he was a couple years ago. He has just one top ten finish in his last four races, but he hasn’t cracked the top five since Atlanta two months ago. But he’s normally about $1,000-$1,500 more and now he’s right in the mid-range of the pack. I don’t believe there is a ton of dominator upside this week, but all he really needs is some PD to go along with a great finish and he’ll make for a strong DFS play. Despite the down year, he has previously won on dirt tracks and he had great runs on shorter flat tracks in 2022. Update: Somewhat underwhelming qualifying lap from Rhodes, but still too cheap and he has top five upside.
Stewart Friesen ($8,300)
Friesen had a poor qualifying effort and will start outside the top 30. It was a little odd, but he does have a dirt racing background and should be able to rebound and move up through the field. Probably a good Cash game piece given the position differential that's on his side.
Matt Crafton ($8,100)
Crafton carries enough veteran experience, and strong equipment, to be considered too cheap at $8,100 on DraftKings. There’s very little win equity in this race considering the elevated talent pool, but there’s still a fair chance he can grab a top ten. He’s finished 13th or better in four of the last five races including a top five at Bristol Dirt last month and he hasn’t been qualifying particularly well this year. It’s probably another week he goes out and qualifies just inside the top 20 and he can post a good fantasy score with another top 12 performance. He’s put up at least 38 fantasy points on DraftKings in five of his last seven races. That wouldn’t quite be 5X value at this price tag, but if you pair him with the right dominator(s) and value plays, he can be a part of the optimal lineup.
Nicholas Sanchez ($7,900)
Sanchez is in the Truck Playbook ahead of Saturday morning’s qualifying session simply because he’s too cheap. He was $9,200 last week and I understand the loaded field, but he’s shown promise at times and I believe he’s capable of winning in this series in 2023. I don’t think it happens on Saturday, but the point remains that the price is too low for a truck that has an affiliation with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Tanner Gray ($7,300)
Gray’s recent form has been pretty impressive and we’re getting him at a fair price tag this week. He finished third in last week’s race at Darlington, finished fifth at Martinsville last month, and he was eighth at Bristol Dirt. Those three tracks contain features that could apply to North Wilkesboro this week and despite the loaded field I think he can still finish top ten. I’m even more encouraged by his success in last Fall’s race at Phoenix. He was one of the drivers in my best GPP lineup last week so I may be a bit partial, but he still has top five upside this week. The downside is that he and his brother looked awful in practice, so they will need to show something in qualifying on Saturday because I’m not as confident in this play as I was heading into practice. Update: I'm tempted to pivot to Taylor Gray for $200 less. Tanner has voiced his discomfort with this track. He'll have a ton of PD to work with, but so will his brother who is cheaper and might have a better read on this track.
Chase Purdy ($6,900)
I made a comment in the NASCAR DFS channel that Purdy’s single-lap speed is misleading because he took fresh tires toward the end of his run and laid down a top five lap. But I believe he has to use those tires for his qualifying lap tomorrow and they’ve already got some wear and tear on them. I’ll update if that changes given that this is a new track and there may be some exceptions because the surface is so old, but if he qualifies poorly I like him as a PD play given the equipment and position differential upside. Update: Good to go. Starts outside the top 20 and doesn't need to do too much to pay off the price tag.
Colby Howard ($6,500)
Colby Howard was the chalk last week and he paid off handsomely with 46 fantasy points at the light price tag of just $6,100. Howard did post a top 15 lap in practice, but if we’re being honest he’s probably going to be another driver that qualifies poorly and can move up through the field. It just depends if you think chalk Colby Howard can hit two weeks in a row. He’s flexed his top 20 upside plenty of times this season, it just depends on how much PD he can give us. I’ll also acknowledge Tyler Ankrum ($6,600) who is coming off back-to-back top 15 finishes. He’s in similar equipment to Christopher Bell and while neither looked amazing in practice, it’s a little too cheap for Ankrum. Exposure will depend on where he qualifies so keep him in mind Saturday morning when we start constructing lineups. Update: Howard is one of the few “value” plays in this article that went out and laid down an outstanding qualifying lap. Sadly it'll likely relegate him to just Tournaments this weekend.
Dean Thompson ($6,300)
Thompson starts P25 next to Timmy Hill and they're arguably identical plays. He grabbed a top ten at Darlington last week and looked great at the dirt race earlier this year so I wouldn't be surprised if he grabbed a top 15 finish on this track. Additionally, Lawless Alan can be added to our driver pool. He doesn't offer as much PD as Thompson, but can still get a top 20.
Conner Jones ($5,900)
This is an interesting price range on DraftKings because I do actually like Hailie Deegan ($6,100) and Timmy Hill ($6,000), but don’t want to overload the Playbook. Once we know the starting order I’ll provide an update on where I stand with them as well. They’ve both made the Playbook enough to where we know what they’re capable of. Hill is a value play that can provide some PD. Deegan is a GPP play with a handful of consecutive top 20’s. But let’s touch on Conner Jones who could go overlooked a bit in this range. Jones started P15 at Martinsville and ultimately finished 18th for just 22 fantasy points, but he was regularly running in the top 15 for most of the race. His price tag is bumped up $1,100 for this race, but the equipment (Thorsport) is still very good and he has experience on shorter, flat tracks. My biggest concern with him is going to be the high tire wear. Update: All three drivers are in play as Jones qualified behind Deegan and Hill so he's going to be popular, but he's a good play. Deegan is a GPP only play due to her qualifing spot.
Bret Holmes ($5,200)
Holmes will likely be a popular option this week. Since Vegas, he’s finished 23rd or better in seven straight races. Last week he gained 11 spots at Darlington, a week after gaining 14 spots at Kansas. He was just outside the top 20 in single-lap speed, but he was top 15 in ten-lap averages and because he will likely qualify early, we can assume he’ll have some PD to lend us for Saturday’s action. If the equipment holds up, he’ll be a popular value play once again. Update: Sadly Holmes laid down a blazing qualifying lap, besting even Larson and Bell, so at best he's a deep-field MME play in tournaments. But we'll likely need to find value elsewhere.
Kaden Honeycutt ($4,900)
Honeycutt is a pretty decent driver and even after his removal from the 4-truck with Roper Racing, he went out and grabbed a top ten finish last week at Darlington with Young’s Motorsports. That’s outstanding given how tough Darlington is and how bad this equipment is. And that’s a point that should be emphasized, this truck still isn’t all that good, but he survived the war of attrition last week and we’ll have a similar high tire wear track and he’s cheap enough where you just need him to not wreck and he probably doesn’t kill your lineup. He finished in the top ten at Bristol Dirt back in April and grabbed a previous top ten at Phoenix last Fall. Update: Qualified just outside the top ten so he's just a Tournament play, but there's talent with this kid that might keep this crappy truck competitive.
NASCAR DFS Core Plays
The Core Plays will be published in the NASCAR DFS Discord channel around 12:45pm ET on Saturday once we know the starting order.