Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Daytona 500

If you watched Sunday's Busch Clash, you know what to expect whenever NASCAR Cup Series cars take to the banks of Daytona: carnage.

By the end of the race, only six cars were still in the running, and a car that looked like it was straight off the trash heap took home the checkered flag.

It was just an 18-car field, compared to the 40 they'll have during Sunday's Daytona 500. But those were 18 of the best drivers in the world, and there will be a whole lot more inexperience when they line 'em back up on Sunday.

We shouldn't expect things to be as drastic during the 500, so we don't need to overreact to what happened during the Clash when formulating daily fantasy NASCAR strategies. But the overall nature of Daytona will play a big key in how we build lineups.

Let's dissect that now, looking back at past 500s to see what an ideal roster looks like for DFS. We should expect carnage once again, but from that carnage comes opportunity.

Place-Differential Upside

Specifically with the Daytona 500, the presence of carnage does two things.

First, it pushes good cars to start in the back of the pack. Outside of the front row and some back-dwelling cars, the starting order is set by the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday. The first duel sets the inside line, and the second duel sets the outside line. If you have issues in your duel race -- whether it be a wreck, a blown tire, a bad pit stop, or anything -- you're going to start in the back for the 500. That means the odds we get good cars coming from the back are high.

Second, that carnage during the race itself incentivizes us to use drivers starting further back.

If there's a five-car crash at the front of the pack, that pushes every driver running behind them (if they're not involved themselves) up five spots in the running order. When you add up points for place differential and finishing position on FanDuel, that's 7.5 points in one swoop. Moving from the back to the front is a breeze.

Additionally, if a car that starts up front gets in a crash, they're going to give you a pretty massively negative score. A driver who starts third and finishes 30th gets -13.5 points from place-differential, whereas someone who starts 30th and finishes 30th gets 0. Your lineup is likely still sunk, but it's at least not actively dragging you down.

The drivers in the back also have easier and more predictable access to a ceiling. In a full race, the two sources of upside that a driver has are via leading laps and place-differential. In Daytona, we've got 200 laps, which is 20.0 FanDuel points for leading laps. That's one of the lower numbers we'll have for a race all season, and oftentimes, they wind up being spread out.

In the past four Daytona 500s, only two drivers have led more than 50 laps, meaning only two have gotten more than 5.0 points from laps led. Anybody can lead in Daytona, so even if you do decide to prioritize those laps out front, pinning down who will lead them could prove difficult.

All of those Daytona 500s also had a different aero package than we'll see this weekend. They've run a larger rear spoiler on the cars the past three drafting races, which has allowed cars to get massive runs on competitors, further amping up the ease of passing (and the potential for wrecks). In the three drafting races with this package, the most laps led by a single driver is Austin Dillon, who was out front for 46 laps in the July Daytona race. He wound up finishing 33rd.

Put all of this information in a blender, and it'll be clear that our highest-upside fantasy options will be the drivers who start in the back. The data is in line with that anecdote.

In the past four Daytona 500s, 33 drivers have scored at least 60 FanDuel points. Here are the starting ranges of those drivers.

Starting Range Drivers to Score 60+ FD Points
1st to 5th 3
6th to 10th 3
11th to 15th 4
16th to 20th 1
21st to 25th 4
26th to 30th 6
31st to 35th 5
36th to 40th 7

In total, that's 22 drivers coming from the back half of the field compared to 11 in the top half. You can score well from the front; you're just more likely to do so from the back.

Using drivers with a poor starting spot also gives you more wiggle room from a finishing perspective. Six of the drivers who topped 60 FanDuel points did so without recording a top-10 finish, and all of them did so after starting 34th or lower. The drivers who started in the top 10 all either finished in the top three or led 100 laps. If you want to make your lineups less subject to the wild volatility, you should load up on drivers starting in the back.

This was an especially fruitful strategy for last year's Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin won the race and was in the perfect FanDuel lineup. The rest of the perfect lineup consisted of drivers who started 28th or lower.

Perfect Lineup Salary Starting Position Laps Led
Denny Hamlin $11,200 10th 30
Kyle Busch $10,300 31st 37
Erik Jones $8,800 28th 0
Michael McDowell $6,200 34th 0
Ross Chastain $4,000 36th 0

The back is where we should build our core for tournaments, and it's where almost -- if not all -- of our lineup should come from in cash games.

The Hamlin example up top is also helpful because it shows the value of winning the race. If you win the race, even if you start first and lead just one lap, you're getting 63.1 points on FanDuel. A score like that is very likely to wind up in the perfect lineup.

As such, for tournaments, we've got leeway to pick a driver starting closer to the front who we think has the ability to win. Even if they're starting in the top five, you can justify them as long as they've got winning upside. You just want to make sure you're not going overboard on drivers at the front as doing so would limit the upside of your lineup.

Team Stacking

Going back to the Clash, the only reason Erik Jones won was because he had Hamlin firmly lodged in his trunk, shoving the two hobbled cars past the pack. That probably wouldn't have happened had Hamlin not been Jones' teammate.

And, whaddya know, both Jones and Hamlin -- along with fellow Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch -- were all in that perfect lineup from last year's Daytona 500, as well. It's a trend that has popped up often at Daytona and Talladega.

In the fall race at Talladega, four of the top five finishers were Fords. The top four finishers in the July Daytona race were Chevys, including a pair of Hendrick Motorsports drivers. That came after Hendrick drivers swept the top two spots in the spring Talladega race, leading a train of six Chevys in the top eight. It's not always the same teams dominating the top of the running order, but you can usually sense some sort of a theme.

We should deploy a similar approach if we're multi-entering for tournaments. Pair drivers together in your lineup who could work together during the race so that if their connection hits, that lineup will be a lock to contend in tournaments.

Not every driver in a lineup needs to be paired with a teammate or another driver of the same manufacturer. But if you plug three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the same lineup and fill it out with two others starting in our target range, you'll be positioned well if the JGR drivers have a big day.

In case you're not familiar with NASCAR team alignments, the entry list shows each driver's manufacturer and team. Once the starting order is determined, you can use it to identify drivers who fit with your process and may be able to work together during the race, as well.

This is a high-variance strategy. A lot of times, when teammates are running together during the race, it means they can crash together, as well. So there's plenty of risk in going this route. But in tournaments, you want that volatility because it gives your lineup better odds of hitting the top of the standings. You don't need to stack every lineup, but especially when you're using drivers closer to the front in hopes of a win, pairing them with a potential partner or two is a wise strategy.

Because Daytona is such a unique track, we definitely have additional factors to consider, and it can make things a bit overwhelming. But it's still a cut-and-dry approach: we want to prioritize drivers starting further back. After we make that edict clear, then we can sprinkle in drivers at the front with race-winning upside and start stacking teams. These are the puzzle pieces for building really solid lineups, so even if it is extra work, the potential payoff if everything hits is tremendous.