FREE NASCAR DFS Cup Series Sonoma Breakdown, Cheat Sheet, and Core Plays

Welcome to Run Pure Sports and my FREE NASCAR DFS breakdown of today’s Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, located in the heart of wine country. We’re visiting the second road course on the Cup Series schedule, and one that boasts a rich history spanning 34 years. Sonoma holds some fond memories for race fans, with turn 11, in particular, standing out.

There was a time when NASCAR and road racing were synonymous with just two names – Sonoma and Watkins Glen. However, times have changed, and we now have six road courses on the schedule, and perhaps “jumping the shark” with a street race in Chicago slated for next month.

I must admit, road courses aren’t my preferred type of racing, and Sonoma often lends itself to a more subdued race, lacking the usual thrill of chaos and close battles. However, what road courses lack in excitement, they make up for in predictability, which bodes well for DFS. Let’s delve into the strategies and drivers to watch out for in today’s race.

Breakdown

Sonoma Raceway is a ~2-mile road course featuring 11 turns. The race scheduled today consists of 110 laps – the most of any road course on the schedule. Clean air has been king on road courses in the next gen car and Sonoma is no exception. Passing has been very difficult, particularly when it comes to getting past the leader. The racing here typically runs green, with minimal incidents and chaos. In fact, in three of the last four races held at Sonoma, there have been two or fewer cautions due to incidents. The 2021 race was the exception, featuring a single caution for incident until a car stalled on lap 72. This triggered a subsequent caution and a flurry of chaos in the remaining laps.

There is also a new element to consider for 2023 – NASCAR has decided to remove cautions for stage breaks at road courses. Given the combination of this new factor and the aforementioned difficulties in passing, we may see someone get out and hold the lead for a long time today. For instance, if there had been no stage breaks in last year’s race, Larson would have likely ran away with that one.

When it comes to NASCAR DFS and road course racing, scoring trends have painted a telling picture. Last year, across six road course races, only 10 drivers managed to tally more than 10 dominator points in a race. Out of those 10 drivers, only seven were able to finish within the top 10 in DraftKings scoring.

However, the story was quite different when it came to position differential points (PD points). 55 drivers managed to score more than 10 PD points in those 6 races. Moreover, 32 of those performances were good enough to land a spot within the top 10 of DraftKings scoring.

Looking at the last three races at Sonoma specifically, only five drivers were able to score 10+ dominator points. All of these drivers started within the top 8, with three starting on the front row. In last year’s race at Sonoma, six drivers scored 10+ PD points, four of whom landed in the top 6 in DraftKings scoring. Those 4 also all started between 20th-25th, so take that for what it’s worth.

Interestingly, the 2023 COTA race exhibited a similar trend despite the removal of stage breaks. Six of the top 8 performers in DraftKings scoring started outside the top 10, with five of them scoring 10+ PD points. The top dominator, Tyler Reddick, who started in 2nd place, scored 16 dominator points, and won the race, was third in scoring. The pole sitter, Byron, despite leading the second most laps and finishing fifth, managed only the ninth-best DraftKings performance.

When constructing your lineups for today’s race, the strategy should involve centering your picks around a single main dominator, preferably one starting at or near the front. While it’s likely that multiple drivers will lead at different stages of the race, the limited amount of dominator points available means that only the driver with the highest amount will likely be optimal. The only exception to this would be if a lower-priced driver manages to lead for a significant amount of time, accruing dominator points in the process. In this scenario, including two dominators in your lineup could prove beneficial. Once you’ve secured your dominator, shift your focus towards securing position differential and finishing position points. In GPP tournaments, consider incorporating some lower-priced drivers that start in and around the top 10. These drivers could turn out to be high performers with solid finishes, and at low ownership to boot.

Yes, I expect a green race, and a race that should be relatively predictable. But keep in mind, this race could be flipped at any moment. Look for drivers to try to short pit a fuel/tire run and pit a handful of laps before everyone else. If these drivers catch a caution before everyone else pits, they instantly lead frog everyone who has to pit under that caution. This creates a little wrinkle for unpredictability in today’s race, and for that reason, you might want to take a few shots on guys today that normally wouldn’t make sense in a few of your GPP builds.

Cheat Sheet

Below is my cheat sheet for today’s Cup Series race at Sonoma. I have included the combined data from all 6 road course races in 2022. I have also singled out data from this season’s race at COTA earlier this year. Finally, I have included fast lap and lap averages data from yesterday’s practice session. I highlighted the drivers I am interested in for today’s race. Dark green are what I consider core plays you can build a line up around. Purple indicates drivers that are ideal for GPP that I think could carry low ownership.

Driver Notes

No secret how good Kyle Larson has been this year, now he comes to one of his best road course tracks. Has led laps in the last two races here, dominated from the pole in 2021 while leading 57 laps, and was well on his way to similar performance in 2022 before he opted for the stage win in stage 1, burying himself in the field. Has been the fastest thing running in both series this weekend. PD and race winning upside.

Kyle Larson (5) leads the field during a NASCAR Cup Series race, Sunday, June 6, 2021, at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

Reddick has been THE MAN on road courses in the next gen car. He has won 3 of 7 races on road courses since the transition. Toyotas as a whole actually showed up with speed this weekend, even bigger bonus for Reddick who starts on the front row. Could see him dominate again like he did at COTA earlier this year.

Byron is a solid PD option today. He did not show much of any speed in practice and his qualifying run is concerning. But, it’s Byron and this team has been great all year, too much upside to not have some exposure despite his poor practice speeds. I however do prefer some of the cheaper PD plays on the slate. He does make a decent pivot option off Larson though.

How do you not love some Dinger the Road Course Ringer! Got to love that he got added track time this weekend with the Xfinity race and his car looked really fast in practice. Qualified towards the front as well! I expect AJ to be a contender today and you might be able to get him at  a suppressed ownership with all the PD options priced around him.

Another chalk PD play on the slate, Austin Cindric. Austin has not had a great year and did not show much speed in practice. But, road courses are kind of what he does and the other Penske boys weren’t terrible in practice. He can’t afford any mistakes today, but if he has a clean race, he should move steadily through the field.

I’m fading the pole sitter Denny Hamlin today. I know clean air is king and he has a shot at leading early, but ultimately I think some of the faster cars with better RC drivers behind the wheel gets to the front. I think his upside would be having a day much like Byron from the pole at COTA. Lead the second most laps and finish Top 5, but barely make the Top 10 in DK scoring.

Martin Truex for only $8800 at a road course he has had success at interests me a lot today. He looked to have a fast car in practice and starts inside the Top 10 with track position, but also has enough room to move forward to pick up a handful of PD points. Don’t sleep on his winning potential either.

Ryan Blaney is probably my favorite PD play on the slate today. He is priced perfectly at $8400 and showed speed in practice that was far better than what he qualified. COTA wasn’t great but he had the 5th best Avg position on RCs in 2022 and has also finished top 10 in 4 of his last 5 Sonoma starts.

I haven’t mentioned much about tire wear in this article, but it will play a factor today, which is why this is one of Harvick’s better RC tracks. He won here in 2017 and has 6 Top 6 finishes in his last 7 races here, which includes a 4th place finish in this race last year. Not worried about P&Q for him, they will figure it out, he has started outside the top 20 in 3 of those 6 top 6 finishes. Could go overlooked as well.

Bowman is another guy that could go overlooked today from P14. Not known for a road course driver, but he had a great run at COTA this year finishing 3rd. He also had a good run going in this race last year before getting wiped out late by Kyle Busch. Top 10s in 2 of his last 4 here.

Chris Buescher was lights out on road courses in 2022 with 5 Top 10s. He tied Chase Elliott with the best average finish. This race last year was a break out performance for him. He started 3rd and spent more time running at the front of the field than anyone. He had the most fast laps while only leading 4 laps. He finished 2nd in that race and has went on to rip off 5 straight Top 10’s on RC’s since. That includes an 8th place finish this year at COTA after starting all the way back in 32nd and catching on fire.

You know who else ran up towards the from for a lot of that race at Sonoma last year? Michael McDowell, and he looks to be in line for a other strong run today with Top 5 speed in practice and a 3rd place qualifying effort. I would not be surprised at all if he found his way to the front in today’s race.

Justin Haley has been about as consistent as anyone in this range with Top 20 finishes in 6 of his last 7 road course races. He continues to get better as he gets to learn from one of the best in his team mate AJ Allmendinger. He finished 12th in this race last year after starting 18th.

Austin Dillon will be a nice sneaky cheap option today. Looks to have solid pace this weekend. Was feast or famine last year on road courses with 2 Top 10’s and 2 finishes worst than 30th. He finished 11th in this race last year after starting 13th, so very similar set up today. He had a solid day going at COTA this year, was running Top 10 for much of that race before finding trouble late in the race once the chaos got rolling. Has 6 finishes of 18th or better in 8 Sonoma starts, never finishing worse than 24th. Not bad for a cheap $6100 price tag.

Harrison Burton and Zane Smith are the two cheapest options I am looking at today. Not really excited about any of them, but you might need the salary today and these guys can’t kill you, and they both do have potential to deliver on a 20th place finish or so. If I’m picking 1 then it is Zane Smith. He will likely be the lower owned of the two and I just trust him more than I do Burton at this point. If you look at Burton’s RC finishes, he generally finishes around where he starts, not good considering where he is starting today.

Core

Below is my core for the slate today. Good luck and Run Pure!

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