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Increase your bankroll on DraftKings with Brian Polking's top NASCAR DFS picks for the GEICO 500!


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If you plan on playing NASCAR DFS this weekend, you need to be prepared to completely alter the typical strategies and approaches to building a winning lineup. For the first time since Daytona, it is all about the place differential category.

With restrictor plates keeping the field bunched together and the running order constantly changing, cars will be gaining and losing tons of spots each and every lap. As a result, the value of the dominator categories declines dramatically. In fact, the fastest lap run category is useless.

On the flip side, there are a ton of points to be had in the place differential category. Drivers starting at the rear have no issues getting to the front, and in this year's Daytona 500, three drivers who started outside the Top 30 finished in the Top 5 and six drivers who started 25th or worse finished in the Top 10.

Historically, drivers starting at the back have been the most productive at DraftKings. They also tend to be the safest plays. Big wrecks are the norm at plate tracks like Talladega, and there are many plate races where half the field fails to make it to the finish.

If you pick a bunch of drivers starting up front, there is a good chance that at least a couple are going to crash and end up posting negative scores. If a driver starting near the back wrecks, they at least break even in the scoring department and still give you a chance to cash. With that in mind, many of my lineups will feature six drivers who are all starting outside the Top 30.

Needless to say, qualifying means everything this weekend, so make sure to check back for updated picks following Saturday's time trials. In the meantime, here is a closer look at the drivers I'll be keeping a close eye on heading ahead of Sunday's GEICO 500.

Must-Own Drivers

Joey Logano ($10,700)

Since the start of the 2015 season, no driver has scored more points at the plate tracks than Logano. He has also won two of the last three races at Talladega, leading a combined 65 laps in those victories. Logano finished sixth at Daytona in February, so his recent run of success shows no signs of coming to an end.

Brad Keselowski ($10,500)

Fast have been the norm for Keselowski at the plate tracks, and no driver has led more laps in plate events over the last two years. He has wins at both Daytona and Talladega during that span, and Keselowski has already amassed for four career wins at Talladega. He has to be considered one of the favorites to win Sunday, and he could win in dominating fashion.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($9,400)

It has been a frustrating year for Junior, but you can never write him off at a plate track. He is a six-time winner at Talladega and a 10-time winner at plate tracks overall. He also ranks second in laps led in plate events since 2015. I wouldn't be a surprise to see him go out and dominate Sunday, and even if he qualifies well, Junior would still be worth considering in GPPs.

Kevin Harvick ($9,300)

Harvick probably had the strongest car at Daytona in February, leading a race-high 50 laps before being involved in an accident. He has also been incredibly reliable at Talladega, reeling off seven straight Top 15s at the track. Harvick is one of the few big names you can still consider using in a lineup or two regardless of his starting spots.

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Value Plays

Ryan Blaney ($8,700)

The sample size is small, but Blaney has already shown serious potential at Talladega. He has finished in the Top 15 in three of his five starts at the track, finishing ninth and 11th in two starts last year. He also had an absolute rocket at Daytona back in February, starting 36th and finishing second. With Woods Brother alliance with Team Penske, Blaney is a much cheap way of getting some exposure to Team Penske's surging restrictor-plate program.

Clint Bowyer ($8,200)

He has been a dependable plate racer since breaking into the Cup Series, and Talladega has been among his best tracks. Bowyer is a two-time winner here, and he has 12 Top 10s in 22 starts. His 12.6 average finish at Talladega over the last ten races ranks second in the series, and Bowyer has six Top 10s in that stretch.

Kurt Busch ($8,000)

Busch won the Daytona 500 to open the year, continuing an impressive run of consistency at the plate tracks. He now has six Top 10s in his last seven plate races, and he has finished 12th or better in his last five starts at Talladega. He has a chance to be a bargain at this price depending on how qualifying shakes out.

Austin Dillon ($7,700)

Some drivers just have a feel for the draft, and Dillon has been one of those guys. Since the start of the 2015 season, he has scored the third-most points of any driver at restrictor-plate events. In seven starts at Talladega, Dillon has managed five Top 15s, including a pair of Top 10s last season. If he starts deeper in the field, he is a no-brainer play in cash games at this price.

Paul Menard ($7,300)

Menard just seems to have a knack for pulling out solid finishes at Talladega, and he ranks fifth in driver points scored at the track over the last ten races. Menard has five Top 15s in his last seven starts here, finishing sixth or better four times.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,200)

Although consistency tends to be tough to find at Talladega, Stenhouse has been one of the exceptions. His 11.7 average finish is the best among drivers with more than two attempts, and he has finished 16th or better in seven of his eight starts at the tracks.

A.J. Allmendinger ($6,800)

Allmendinger was one of the DFS stars of the Daytona 500, gaining 35 spots on his way to a third-place finish. It was the fifth straight plate race where Allmendinger has gained at least nine spots and his fourth straight Top 15. In two starts at Talladega during the same span, he has finished 14th and 10th, gaining 14 and 22 spots, respectively.

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Sleeper Specials

Michael McDowell ($5,900)

His Top 15 finish in this year's Daytona 500 continued an impressive stretch at the restrictor-plate tracks. He has finished 21st or better in his last five plate races, gaining seven-plus spots in every race and posting an average place differential of +15.6.

Brendan Gaughan ($5,600)

Gaughan will be attempting to make his second Cup start of the season, but he showed in the Daytona 500 that he could be a valuable fantasy option despite driving a minimal schedule for a smaller team. Gaughan started 39th but came away with an 11th-place finish in the season opener. Don't hesitate to use him if the starting spot is right.

Cole Whitt ($5,200)

You won't find a better play for the price this weekend than Whitt. He logged a Top 20 finish at Daytona back in February, and he has finished 22nd or better in each of his last five starts at Talladega. More importantly, Whitt has gained at least seven spots in every race at Talladega in that stretch, gaining an average of 15.2 spots.

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