It’s finally here: the 2021 Daytona 500! Of course there is potential rain in the forecast–it’s NASCAR, they could make rain happen in a desert–but we’ll eventually get this thing in and get the Cup Series season officially underway. Playing DraftKings can already a crazy sweat on any normal race weekend, but now with a race at Daytona we’re going to kick it up a notch…or ten. Strategy is the name of the game when it comes to building good lineups for Daytona and we’re going to get plenty into that here soon. Buckle up because this article is a little lengthy, and LEETTTT’SSSS GOOOOO!!!!

Be Sure To Check Out My Algorithm Predicted Finishing Order For This Race (click here)

DraftKings Strategy for the Daytona 500

Big One at Daytona 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400
Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

We’re looking to avoid that above, my friends!

Seriously. It’s called “The Big One” and it’s going to happen. These drivers are going full throttle, 200+ mph, inches away from each other, and one or two are eventually going to make a mistake. And it’s going to cause a pileup wreck that could take out anywhere from 5 to 30 cars. Not joking.

So while it can definitely be frustrating when your DFS lineups are ruined by something like that, it’s simply a way of life at these superspeedway race tracks (Daytona and Talladega).

Now, you may be wondering then, “so how can you predict which drivers will be good picks on Sunday?” And honestly, you can’t What you can do with your DraftKings lineup, though, is strategically pick these drivers. I tell my friends all the time when they want advice for Daytona/Talladega: I don’t care who you pick, just follow this formula:

  • Top 5 starting spot: sparingly, absolute max of one
  • Top 12 starting spot: one driver, maybe two
  • 13th-29th starting spot: two or three drivers
  • 30th-40th starting spot: remaining spots left
  • And don’t forget, it’s perfectly fine to let plenty of salary cap on the table. In fact, it’s encouraged.

Now you may be thinking, “But what about laps led points? And fastest laps points? Those are important in DraftKings!” And yes, they are. But not as important as finishing position and place differential at these big superspeedways. Plus, when it comes to fastest laps, they are completely spread out all over the board. It’s unlikely any driver has more than 10 on Sunday.

But let’s talk about finishing position and place differential for a second. Take a look at this chart below (click to make it bigger). It shows each drivers base DraftKings scored by simply taking into account their starting position (top row) and finishing position (left column).

As you can see, it rarely pays off to take the guys starting up front! A driver that starts 40th and finishes 15th scores more DraftKings points than a driver starting 10th that finishes 2nd!

Superspeedway Finishes in 2020

DriverAvg. Finish Daytona 500TalladegaDaytona 2Talladega 2
Denny Hamlin02.251431
David Ragan04.004
Chris Buescher06.003696
Ryan Blaney08.5021625
Kyle Larson10.0010
Alex Bowman13.00247714
Kevin Harvick13.755102020
William Byron14.00401114
Bubba Wallace14.501514524
Erik Jones15.00185352
Ty Dillon16.753012223
Corey LaJoie18.258162128
Ryan Newman18.25923365
Cody Ware19.0019
Matt DiBenedetto19.5019261221
Chase Elliott19.751738222
Aric Almirola20.002231837
Michael McDowell20.5014181436
Ross Chastain20.502516
Martin Truex Jr20.753224423
Brad Keselowski20.7536191018
Tyler Reddick21.002820297
Austin Dillon22.0012392512
Ryan Preece22.7529153710
Ricky Stenhouse Jr23.002023238
Joey Logano24.0026172726
Timmy Hill24.7527332415
Christopher Bell25.5021291339
Quin Houff25.5039272313
Kurt Busch27.003393432
Joey Gase27.0023373117
Daniel Suarez29.33282634
Cole Custer30.0037223031
Kyle Busch31.5034323327
Garrett Smithley34.0034

GPP / Tournament Picks For Daytona

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joey Logano ($9,900) – I debated for quite a while on whether to write up Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick ($9,700) in this spot, but ultimately landed on Logano (obvs., as Chris Knight would say). I still like Harvick as a tournament play, don’t get me wrong, but I also like Logano starting one position further back, plus Harvick is $200 cheaper in salary, so other players might gravitate toward him for the savings. I feel like both Logano and Harvick are nice pivots off of Ryan Blaney ($10,000), who should get a nice share of ownership on Sunday since he starts back in 14th and almost won this race a year ago. But back to Joey Logano, who had a surprisingly bad season on the superspeedways in 2020: 26th at Daytona, 17th at Talladega, 27th at Daytona-2, and 26th at Talladega-2. But if you look at Logano’s average running position across those four races, nobody else is even close. Logano’s average was 7.7. Next best? Ryan Blaney at 11.3. Looking back at the 2019 season, Logano again had the best average running position in the series on this track type (8.5) and also got some good finishes: 4th in the Daytona 500 and 4th at Talladega with an 11th in the second Talladega race. Logano is a smart racer at superspeedways and has a great car to work with this weekend, like we saw in the Duel on Thursday. He’s a race-winning contender for this year’s Daytona 500.

Bubba Wallace ($7,400) – Once again I debated for quite a while between two drivers in this spot but ended up going with Bubba Wallace over Christopher Bell ($7,600) as my official tournament pick for the Daytona 500 this year. What we saw in the Duel races on Thursday, in my opinion, was Toyota closing the gap to Ford a bit on these superspeedways. The Toyotas have solid speed this year, and while Ford still has an advantage, it’s not nearly as much as the last few seasons. As far as Bubba Wallace goes, he starts up in 6th, which is super risky, but he is a really solid superspeedway racer. “Solid” as in has the best average finish (14.9) at Daytona among active drivers. “Solid” as in has really only had one bad race here (38th in the 2019 Daytona 500). Solid as in has two top 5 finishes in seven starts here despite running in just average equipment. Bubba is in the fastest Cup car he’s had now, and he could end up being a surprise challenger at the end of this thing. That’s my type of tournament pick in DraftKings.

Chris Buescher ($6,900) – I talked up Chris Buescher quite a lot for the Duel races on Thursday and he responded with pretty much his average type of Daytona Duel race: a 10th-place finish. This puts Buescher in the 22nd starting spot for Sunday’s Great American race, which is a position I kind of love because it’s right there at the point of being overlooked by a lot of players. For some, it’s a questionable pick, for others, Buescher starts too high up. For me, I see a low-owned play to be overweight on. Looking at last season, Chris Buescher finished top 10 in all four superspeedway races (the only driver other than Denny Hamlin to do so) and here at Daytona, Buescher has five top 10s in his last seven points-paying starts, including two top 5s in the last three Daytona 500s.

Michael McDowell ($6,300) – My boy Corey LaJoie ($5,800) is typically my GPP play whenever we come to Daytona or Talladega, but I’m going one spot back in the starting order and rolling with Michael McDowell in the #34 Ford. Honestly, the Spire cars kind of concern me longevity, plus I’ll always favor Fords at the superspeedways. As far as McDowell’s record at Daytona, he has finished 15th or better in nine of his last ten points-paying starts here, and has finished 14th, 5th, and 9th in the last three Daytona 500s. McDowell will start 17th here on Sunday, which makes me love being overweight on him as a GPP option–especially with Jamie McMurray ($6,400) priced right there with him and starting a little further back (in 19th). That will pull some ownership away from McDowell. Also, for what it’s worth, McDowell had the best Green Flag Speed in his Duel race on Thursday and ended up with the 3rd-most quality passes in that race.

Cash Core Drivers For Daytona

Denny Hamlin 2019 Paint Scheme FedEx Fantasy NASCAR
Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin ($10,400) – Now I don’t like to give this man much praise, but you have to give credit where credit is due: Dennis Hamlin is the best superspeedway racer right now. Last year in the four races at Daytona and Talladega, he finished 1st, 4th, 3rd, and 1st, and when you include the 2019 superspeedway races, he tacks on two more top 5 finishes. Oh, and did I mention that Hamlin has won this race, the Daytona 500, back to back years? He starts 25th on Sunday, which puts him as a cash play option in my book, but he’s definitely worth having plenty of exposure with in tournaments as well–unless you want to purposefully go contrarian and hope the #11 Toyota wrecks.

Austin Cindric ($6,100) – On Sunday, Kaz Grala ($4,900) is the safest DraftKings option there is because he starts dead last and has a decently solid car to work with. And while Grala is a great cash lineup play as well, Cindric has to be the top option for this version of lineup construction. You can argue all you want that Ty Dillon should’ve made the race instead of Cindric, but all that matters is reality: Cindric is in–and he’s in with a Penske car. These Fords are arguably the strongest cars on the superspeedways right now, and Cindric looked strong in his Duel before the speeding penalty. Unless he wrecks early, I’m expecting Austin to be one of the highest scoring drivers on this slate.

Anthony Alfredo ($5,200) – I guess you can consider Alfredo as a pivot option off of Kaz Grala, at least in the cash lineup world. Alfredo will be piloting the #38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, and although I have serious concerns about the consistency of finishes he will be able to put up throughout the season, this first race is different. I really like the car that Alfredo is driving, and if he can have a clean race, I think a mid-teens finish (or better) is well within his reach. John Hunter Nemechek drove this car last season and piloted it to finishes of 11th in both Daytona races and had results of 8th in each Talladega race. The Ford power is the best to race with here, remember that…

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Daytona 500 DraftKings Projections

The following chart takes into account the very basics: the starting position and the projected finish of each driver. The projected finishes are averaged from six different ranking systems. Also factored in are projected laps led and fastest laps for each driver. You can click the headers below to sort the chart by that attribute. By default it is sorted by average projected FPTS.

DriverDraftKings SalaryAvg Proj FPTSStarting PositionAvg. Projected FinishDollar Per FPT
Denny Hamlin$10,40064.802505.8$160
Ryan Blaney$10,00051.781405.7$193
Brad Keselowski$10,10049.222410.2$205
Joey Logano$9,90046.52907.0$213
Chris Buescher$6,90046.432211.3$149
Chase Elliott$10,30046.081206.8$224
Martin Truex Jr$9,30042.222614.0$220
Alex Bowman$9,20041.02108.7$224
Austin Cindric$6,10040.303922.3$151
Erik Jones$7,30039.753118.5$184
Ross Chastain$7,80039.233419.2$199
Kurt Busch$8,80037.472013.8$235
Matt DiBenedetto$7,90036.632315.7$216
Kyle Larson$8,50036.131312.2$235
Kyle Busch$9,50035.551010.0$267
William Byron$9,00034.97208.3$257
Tyler Reddick$7,10033.372921.0$213
Kevin Harvick$9,70033.02810.3$294
Chase Briscoe$6,60032.753021.2$202
Michael McDowell$6,30031.651717.2$199
Ricky Stenhouse Jr$8,10030.852117.7$263
Kaz Grala$4,90029.924027.8$164
Aric Almirola$8,60029.82311.5$288
Cole Custer$6,70029.522721.3$227
Ryan Newman$7,00029.38713.3$238
Anthony Alfredo$5,20029.183626.0$178
Bubba Wallace$7,40028.73613.2$258
Christopher Bell$7,60026.30515.2$289
Jamie McMurray$6,40024.471920.2$262
Corey Lajoie$5,80022.351619.7$260
BJ McLeod$4,80020.453831.0$235
Cody Ware$4,50018.453530.2$244
Austin Dillon$8,30017.47416.2$475
Josh Bilicki$4,60016.623732.5$277
Quin Houff$4,50016.123331.0$279
David Ragan$5,40014.081824.3$383
Derrike Cope$4,50013.783231.5$326
Joey Gase$4,50011.782830.0$382
Ryan Preece$6,00009.251122.7$649
Daniel Suarez$5,70000.181529.0$31,091
As someone who has always been obsessed with numbers, Fantasy NASCAR has been the perfect fit with me. I pride myself on the quality of my analysis for each race, and am glad that I have been able to help others along the way. I've been a serious Fantasy NASCAR player for over 10 years now, and I'm just getting started.