Welcome to my FREE NASCAR DFS breakdown of today’s Cup series race from Gateway. I normally start these breakdowns talking about how excited I am for the race and all the fun we are getting ready to have when the green flag waves. Unfortunately, that’s not the way this one is going to start for Gateway. The inaugural race here last year was a snoozer except for a few on track incidents that caused some on track drama, cough cough, Chastain.
We did not see a whole lot of racing throughout the field, passing was super difficult and the race was basically all about track position and pit strategy. Expect more of the same today. The bright side is that the lack of excitement should also mean less carnage, which means we have a good opportunity to have a great fantasy day in a race that “should” be somewhat tame without the need to dodge a bunch of whammies. So, let’s dive in to what to expect in today’s race at Gateway.
Gateway brings its own unique flavor to the NASCAR schedule as a 1.25 mile long, flat oval. Although technically not classified as a short track, its low banking and tight turns lend it a similar racing dynamic to that of a short track. Today’s race signifies quite a shift in pace. We’re transitioning from last week’s Coke 600, the longest race of the year, to one of the shortest races on the calendar: a brisk 300-mile, 240-lap dash. The laps will disappear quickly, given the stage lengths of just 45, 95, and 100 laps respectively.
While looking for comparable tracks to Gateway, it may seem fitting to consider other short, flat tracks like Phoenix, Richmond, and perhaps even Martinsville. These tracks could potentially provide insights into the contenders for today’s race, but the most crucial takeaway from these comparisons, and from last year’s race at Gateway, is that track position is paramount.
The inherent difficulty of passing at Gateway, especially a few laps into a run, significantly elevates the importance of track position. The leader in last year’s race was almost impossible to pass, with only a single on-track pass for the lead that didn’t occur during a restart. That solitary pass was achieved by Logano who overtook Busch with just 33 laps remaining.
It was almost a given that drivers who reached the front retained their lead until they either lost it on pit road or faced tire issues. We even saw McDowell, despite staying out on worn tires, lead for over 30 laps until the next caution forced him to pit. Therefore, today’s race is not likely to be dictated by practice speeds or past performances. Instead, it will primarily hinge on who manages to secure a front-row position on pit road. Even Logano, last year’s winner, despite having the fastest car in practice and qualifying 7th, was unable to approach the front until he opted for a two-tire pit stop during a caution with 40 laps remaining. This strategic move earned him 8 spots, positioning him in 3rd for the restart.
In last year’s race, nine out of the top eleven finishers began inside the top thirteen. This select group of top thirteen starters led a substantial 84% of the laps, shared between seven different drivers. Eight drivers managed to gain more than 10 Position differential points. Seven of those drivers started 20th or worse, and all but one of them scored over 40 points.
However, it’s worth noting that today’s race might unfold slightly differently. Last year, persistent tire issues led to three cautions, sparking other caution periods and leading to a multitude of pit road strategies. This unpredictability contributed to seven different drivers spending time at the front, each leading over ten laps. This was also a contributing factor to the success of several of those PD plays.
Today’s race, however, is more likely to see extended green flag periods due to the mitigation of these tire issues. The first stage is set at only 45 laps, during which no driver is likely to pit without a late stage caution. Both stages two and three can be completed with teams making just one pit stop at the end of their 70-lap fuel window. Given that tires won’t significantly affect performance today, we won’t see any short pitting. All drivers are expected to stay out for as long as possible if the stages run green, considering the substantial amount of time it takes to get on and off pit road. This could set up for us seeing one driver spending a ton of time out front if the race runs green.
Welcome to my cheat sheet for today’s Cup Series race at Gateway. Included within are the race statistics from 2023’s Phoenix and Richmond races, as well as data from last year’s inaugural event at Gateway. Also provided is data gathered from yesterday’s practice session. However, don’t rely too heavily on these practice times; an apparent track advantage for Group A over Group B drivers skews the results somewhat, making the times slightly deceptive.
Drivers that I have interest in today are highlighted: those shaded dark green are my core plays that can serve as the foundation for your line ups, while drivers highlighted in pink are my preferred choices for GPP contests.
Yep, I’m off the HMS boys up top of Larson and Byron this week. HMS was pretty pedestrian in this race last year, showing little speed in practice, qualifying and the race. They didn’t exactly unload with rockets here this week and Larson rolls off the grid in 22nd. Last year he qualified in 15th and just kind of ran in that range all race. Even if he has a faster ride than last year it is still going to be slow work moving through the field in a short race. Going to need to use strategy to get to the front in my opinion. Byron has better track position and had a little better speed in practice, so if I was going to play 1 it would be him. But I still think he has some fast cars starting in front of him that are going to be difficult to pass. They’ve had the speed, but today is not about speed, I will rather be overweight on some cheaper options.
Denny Hamlin is one of those cheaper options. Starting 3rd and had great long run speed in practice. Odds on favorite now to win so he will be popular. Gibbs cars led 108 laps in this race last year. Denny has been hot lately, but can you trust his pit crew to get him to the front?
I think team mate Truex is a very similar play to Denny this week in terms of upside, but Truex will likely be the lower owned of the two. Truex was able to find his way to the front here last year to lead 42 laps on his way to a 6th place finish.
Blaney finally sealed the deal after a long drought at the 600 last week. Penske has always been strong on short flats and they were one of the only teams who’s 2022 short flat track speed translated to speed at Gateway. All 3 team members led laps in that race. Logano got the win, but Blaney looked to have the fastest car. He was one of the few cars that could gain positions on the track. Had the 2nd most fast laps while only leading 12 laps and finished 4th. Starts on the front row as well!
With the difficulty in passing the leader, you are going to have to love some Kyle Busch from the pole today. Last years pole sitter, Briscoe, would have easily led the whole first stage if not for a tire issue. Barring something stupid like that then Busch should absolutely lead the whole first stage. Practice speeds were solid and he led the most laps and had the most fast laps, albeit in a different car. But if McDowell could lead this race last year then Busch will be able to in an RCR car. The question is, can he hold the lead in to stage two? That first pit box is a big advantage, and if he maintains his lead to start stage 2 then he will be well on his way to being optimal if it runs green.
Got to have some of my boy Ross Chastain this week. He has been solid on the short flats this year, Top 10 contender at Phx and had the 3rd best Avg pos and 4th best fast lap % at Richmond. Last year’s run here was marred by the Denny/Chase drama, but he was running Top 4 before that fiasco and still rallied for an 8th place finish. Had the 4th most fast laps without leading a single lap. The big edge he has this week though is his pit crew, this race will be determined by a race off pit road and this 1 team has been lights out all year. If Ross can keep them them close to the front they can push him the rest of the way.
Last years winner, Joey Logano rolls off with some track position as well in the 6th starting spot. $9400 is a great price tag for the upside Logano provides today. Penske was lights out here last year and they look lined up for another great showing with all 3 cars starting inside the Top 10. This team seems to have the ability to find the front a multiple different ways, whether it’s by strategy or with Joey wheeling it.
Alex Bowman and Keselowski are both solid PD plays on the slate. They don’t start too far back and they are pretty affordable, perfect combination. HMS has obviously had the best equipment all year and Bowman has seen an uptick in his performance on short flats as a result. Top 10 at both PHX and Richmond while having the 4th best avg position at Richmond after starting on the pole. Blake Harris at crew chief also gives him a bump at a track where the right strategy call can land your driver up front. Blake was able to put McDowell in position to lead laps here last year. Keselowski struggled here last year after starting 30th but this year has been a different story for this team on short flats with an average position of 7.8 between Phoenix and Richmond. Kes will likely be the lower owned of the two too.
Gibbs is a great lower owned option for GPP’s today. He’s already had some success in his young career on short flats with a Top 10 at Richmond this season. The kid has been fast lately but just hasn’t finished. I expect the JGR stable to be fast today and Gibbs should be able to provide Top 10 upside.
Briscoe is a great PD option today. Short flats are what SHR does best and Briscoe already has a 12th and 7th on them this year. Phoenix is the track that most will compare to Gateway and Phoenix is Briscoe’s best track. He won the pole here last year and was looking strong early before tire issues.
Corey Lajoie is filling in for a suspended Chase Elliott in the #9 HMS car. He rolls off 30th and I’m sure he will be a popular play at this price tag. He did not show an ounce of speed in practice and qualifying and moving forward from here will be difficult for him without some pit strategy falling his way. Call it a hunch, but I think Lajoie chokes today in this ride. He has a ton of pressure on his back as this being the 1 shot he has been asking for for years. I’m fading here and opting for some other guys in this range who I like more.
I love me some Aric Almirola today. Always a contender on the short flats and ran inside the Top 5 all race here last year. Practice times looked really good and he rolls off 24th providing us with solid PD upside for $7200. I’m sure he will come in pretty popular, but perhaps some guys with higher starting numbers priced around him will help suppress ownership a touch.
If I am going to play Briscoe and Almirola from P25 and P24 then I am certainly going to be looking to play their teammate Ryan Preece starting 29th. Preece is also exceptional at short flats and this is the exact type of track we want to target him at. Nice pivot off a chalkier PD option priced below him.
That chalkier PD option is Erik Jones starting P31. Hard not to have some shares of him here with the amount of upside he brings at this price tag. Had a great run in last years race here but this team has been plagued by all sorts of trouble all year, all 3 Legacy Motorsports cars had mechanical issues last week. Are they getting 3rd rate equipment now that they are going to Toyota next year? Going to likely be chalk city as well. I’m leaning towards coming in under the field here.
I already mentioned about McDowell’s great run here last year. It was a stand out performance for this team on short flats. Average position of 11th with 34 laps led before settling for an 18th place finish. This team has also been much improved on short flats this year with a 6th place finish at Richmond and a 13th place finish at Phoenix. Love him as a top value option today.
Below are my core plays for today that you can build your line ups around today. Good Luck today and Run Pure!