It’s finally here! After a 3-month off-season, I think it’s safe to say that both drivers and fans are ready for the return of roaring engines. The 2023 NASCAR season kicks off tonight with the Busch Light Clash inside the historic LA Coliseum. This marks the second year in a row that the event will be held inside the Coliseum, which is an incredible sight to see with all these stock cars on such a small track. We have a night jammed full of racing with 6 heat races, followed by the main course, a 150 lap main event. Expect the patience of drivers to wear thin and get ready for some old-fashioned short track action. We already saw patience run thin last night in PRACTICE! Set those line ups, buckle up, and prepare for an awesome night of NASCAR racing! It’s Back Baby!!!
A little bit of a notice about this slate before I begin the breakdown. The schedule is jam packed for tonight which is going to create a very tight window to build line ups. If you can’t be around to set your line up between 7:00PM EST and 8:15PM EST before lock then you should definitely sit this slate out. You won’t know starting positions and multiple drivers won’t even make the main event after the heat races. It would be unwise to make a line up prior to their conclusion. That being said, I’m going to give you my general approach and strategy for tonight’s race along with the drivers I’m looking at ahead of those heat races. Be sure to follow me on twitter, @dfsnascar, for updates after those heat races.
Before the main event, heat races will determine the starting order for today’s race. The starting order for each of the four 25-lap heat races was determined by single car qualifying the last night. The heat races will commence at 5:00 PM EST, and the top five drivers from each heat race will advance to the main event, starting in correlation to their finish. The four winners will make up starting positions 1-4, the four second place finishers will make up starting positions 5-8, and so on.
Additionally, there will be two last chance qualifiers, each 50 laps long, where the top three from each race will advance to the main event and start in positions 21-26. The final starting position will be awarded to the driver who finished highest in the points last season amongst those who did not qualify. This driver will round out the field of 27, starting dead last. All this is “scheduled” to wrap up at around 7:00 PM EST, 1 hour and 15 minutes before the scheduled lock time of 8:15PM EST on DraftKings.
Below are the groupings and starting positions for each heat race. Each of the 4 heat races in 2022 was won by the driver who started 1st in that heat race.
Short flat tracks have always posed the same challenge for drivers, It’s hard to pass! Track position always plays a critical role in determining the outcome of these races. In 2022, passing on these tracks proved to still be difficult in the new car, and the LA Coliseum, the shortest of all short flat tracks at just a quarter of a mile in length, is no exception. With 27 cars packed on to such a tiny track, you can expect the front of the field to have a significant advantage. The drivers starting towards the front will have a clean race track ahead of them, away from the chaos of the back. The 150 lap race may seem long, but it will fly by, and the driver who takes the lead early will quickly rack up dominator points. That’s why it’s crucial to focus on the front of the field when searching for dominator plays.
Last year’s race saw three drivers score over 15 dominator points, and all three started within the top four. In fact, if not for mechanical issues, Reddick could have dominated a larger portion of the race. The drivers starting in the top four spots will have already won their heat races, demonstrating top speed in both qualifying and race conditions.
When targeting dominator plays on tonight’s slate, we are still going to want to target those drivers starting within the top four positions. Someone from the top two starting spots is the most likely to jump out and take the lead early, racking up those all-important dominator points. You normally can’t go wrong with pole sitters on short flats. Last year, out of 9 Short Flat track races, the pole sitter scored more than 35 Dom points 7 times, most of which came early in the race or what would be the entire duration of this event. These drivers will be the chalkiest options on the slate, but they are chalk worth eating. If you’re looking to differentiate your lineup, it might be wise to look elsewhere in your line up to do so, as these drivers will have already proven to have the best cars and prime track position.
After locking in dominators, it’s time to fill out the rest of the lineup, and I’m looking to target drivers that offer some amount of position differential upside. Although it can be challenging to pass on the track, it is not impossible. We just have to lower our expectations as to what a position differential play can be. We are going to want to look to target drivers starting from 10th place and back who can score between 7-12 position differential points. This starting range proved to be a winning strategy last year, with 7 of the top 10 scorers on DraftKings coming from drivers starting 10th or worse. While Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were the top scorers and the main dominators, starting first and fourth respectively. The 10th to 16th starting range provided some great low-owned plays with 3 top 7 scoring performances from drivers less than 15% owned.
Top Scorers and Top High Owned “Busts” from the 2022 Busch Light Clash
The pricing on DraftKings for this event is super soft with only 2 drivers priced above $10k and only 6 over $9k, you’ll basically be able to play whoever you want after the field is set. This means that the higher-priced position differential plays will end up being the highest-owned plays on the slate. To get different, avoid jamming multiples of those high-priced options into your lineup and instead opt for the lower-owned, cheaper position differential options and avoid using all of your salary. Last year’s optimal lineup left $5,100 on the table. It might not translate tonight, but it’s worth pointing out the higher priced PD options that busted in last years race above.
Another way to get different in your line ups would be to build with 1 dominator. Most people will likely go the safe route and build with multiple drivers starting towards the front to increase their chances of hitting the main dominator. It’s more risky, but committing to just one of those guys and locking them in to lead the whole race, while building for Position Differential around them is another great opportunity to get different, while still eating the chalk dominators.
It’s also important to beware of playing drivers starting too close to the rear of the field. The leader was lapping last place in just 13 laps last year and with the addition of 4 more cars to the tail, I’d bet the leader gets to the rear in less than 10 laps now. The “last man in” position that will start last will likely be a bigger name that will draw a lot of ownership. For example, last year Truex was 26% owned in that position and was lapped quickly.
To summarize, my approach going into tonight’s race is to eat the dominator chalk while looking for ways to get different with my position differential plays.
This cheat sheet provides key information to help assist you to build line ups after starting positions have been determined tonight. It includes data from the last night’s practice session, Combined 2022 Short Flat Track numbers, the end-of-year Martinsville race (as it closely resembles the Coliseum), and last year’s Busch Light Clash. These data points should be the key factors used when making roster decisions tonight.
In this section I will run through some drivers that I am high on going in to tonight’s race based on practice and previous performance. I will remind you one more time that STARTING POSITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN SET YET! Just because a driver is listed here does not mean they are going to be in my driver pool or even in the race for that matter. We have a lot of racing to happen before ultimately making those decisions. WATCH THE HEAT RACES! I will try to have updates on my twitter timeline to drivers I like after heat races, feel free to fire questions to at @dfsnascar.
Joey Logano $10,200: Last year’s race winner and the top rated driver on short flats in 2022. Did not show much speed in practice or qualifying, so will likely start in the back half of the field and could offer position differential. Should be popular if that’s the case. His speed doesn’t concern me too much, he did not practice well here last year either.
Christopher Bell $9,700: Toyotas had a ton of speed in practice and topping the charts for them in qualifying was Bell. Bell won 2 Short Flat races last year, which includes the late Martinsville race last season, the most comparable to this track. Expect him to be a contender for Dom points if he wins his heat race, would start inside row 2 as well.
Ryan Blaney $9,300: Had 2nd best rated driver on Short Flats last season and he has been great at Martinsville throughout his career. Blaney had solid, Top 5 speed in practice but botched his qualifying run. He has the potential of being another popular position differential option tonight.
Kyle Busch $9,100: Kyle Busch starts 1st in his heat race again this year, this time though it’s in his new ride the #8 RCR Chevrolet. In this car last year, Reddick was able to win his heat race and got out to an early lead in the main from P2. Kyle ended up leading the most laps in that race and he looks to have a car capable of putting this car out front again. Will likely be the chalk dominator option if he wins his heat race.
Denny Hamlin $8,600: Denny is another guy who has a great history at Martinsville. He recently had 90 fast laps in the Fall Martinsville race and is another Toyota who had speed in practice. I can see him having a run like Logano last year wear he comes on late in each run. You have to consider him as a dominator option if he can win Heat 3 over Bell.
William Byron $8,400: Byron is another guy who has shown speed in his career at Martinsville who also looks to have speed this weekend. This car look strong on the run and all of the Chevrolets looked to get better after the sun went down. Could be a sneaky pick to dominate if he wins his heat race.
Kevin Harvick $7,800: Can’t come to a short flat track and not play Harvick. His speed practice was decent and this veteran will be there at the end. With where he starts in his heat race I love that he could end up in that 10th or 14th place starting position, which would certainly bring down his ownership.
Martin Truex Jr $7,300: Short flat tracks were one of Truex’s better track types last season. Truex looked to have one of the best cars in the practice session but he put down a terrible lap in qualifying. He will likely end up in that 14th or 18th starting position at best, and will again be another popular position differential play with the speed he showed in practice.
Chase Briscoe $7,100: Short Flat tracks were what SHR and Chase Briscoe did best in 2022. This car looked great in practice with Top 3 speed. Ideally would want him to qualify in that 11th or 15th start position to provide some PD upside, any further back than that and he will likely be very chalky. He does have an outside chance at winning this heat race, if that happens then you have to consider him as a potential dominator.
Bubba Wallace $6,700: Historically not a great track type for Bubba but he did finish Top 10 at Martinsville last fall and he looks to have a ton of speed in his Toyota as well, top of the charts in 10 lap average.
Erik Jones – $6,300: Jones did not show much speed in practice and for me that is fine. The Chevrolets looked much better once the sun went down and Jones’ qualifying lap was better than practice as a result. He finished 4th here last year, and if anything, his slow practice speeds could keep people away, making him potentially a low owned PD play again this year if he makes the race.
Ryan Preece $6,000: Preece is another guy I will be targeting for PD if he makes the race. SHR is really good at short flat tracks and their other cars showed more speed than Preece. Preece is also a solid Short Flat track driver, so I expect him and this team to gain speed as he turns more laps in the heat races and the race. Could come in low owned as well.
Justin Haley $5,400: Haley put up the fastest lap in qualifying, giving him the pole position for Heat 1 and with it, the inside track to starting on the Pole in the main event. Haley was fast here last year, winning his heat race and running 3rd most of the race before being wrecked by Larson. He is more than capable of leading a chunk of this race IF he starts with the pole and will be someone we can target for those early dominator points.
Ty Gibbs $5,300: Short Flat tracks were a track type I had circled for Ty coming into the season and he did not disappoint in practice putting down a blistering fast lap before his car literally burst into flames. This team is not going to a back up car and did not get a chance to qualify last night. This means he starts last in his heat race and IF he makes the race he will likely be starting close to the rear, which will likely make him a popular position differential option.
Michael McDowell $5,100 and Todd Gilliland $4,800: These two teammates both showed up in yesterday’s practice with what I would call surprising speed considering how bad they ran on these tracks last year. Todd was Both drivers showed top 10 long run speed and both are also starting in a range in their heat races that will have them barely making the race IF they do at all. I like either of these guys as a potential option for lower owned PD upside IF they do end up in the race.