Daily Fantasy NASCAR Strategies for the Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona

Every other time you fill out a daily fantasy NASCAR lineup this year, it'll span a single race. You'll have one winner, one second-place finisher, and on and on.

The Bluegreen Vacations Duels at Daytona are the one exception.

For the second straight year, FanDuel is offering contests for the Duels where drivers in both 150-mile races are in the same pool. Instead of having one winner, we're going to have two. That makes Thursday's races a whole new animal.

On FanDuel, the driver who wins the race gets 43 points. It's 40 points to second, 38 to third, and then dips one point for each position after that.

In a short race, points are at a premium, and we're going to want to sell out to get those on our rosters. What's the best strategy for doing so, and how can we maximize our win odds in DFS for this unique format? Let's check it out.

A New Script

For almost every superspeedway race throughout the year, our creed for DFS is going to be to stack the back. Drivers can make up spots in a hurry at these tracks, giving upside to those starting further back who can snag place-differential points. There's also a lack of upside and predictability in the points for laps led, further pushing us toward the back.

The limited number of laps is still a major factor on Thursday. Each duel will be 60 laps, meaning there are only 6.0 points available for laps led in each race. It's a super small number, which does incentivize targeting drivers further back who can get upside via picking up spots from where they start.

Having two drivers get points for winning, though, changes the equation quite a bit. And finding quality drivers further back isn't as easy as it will be for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Let's start with the qualifying aspect here. The starting order for the duels was set Sunday in single-car qualifying. In theory, this should mean that the fastest cars are starting at the front, and speed does still matter at pack-racing tracks.

For the Daytona 500, the starting order (outside of the front row) is set by what happens in the duels. If a driver were to crash on Thursday, they'd be starting in the back on Sunday, and they'd have big place-differential upside. We're more likely to have the flukiness of fast cars starting in the back for the 500 than we are on Thursday, which naturally funnels us a bit closer to the front.

Then you factor in the points for a win. Instead of having one driver get those coveted 43 points, there will be two. With so few points available, we're going to want to dig hard to get the winners of both races on our roster.

Let's get some more evidence of this by looking back at past duel races, assuming FanDuel had been offering contests for them. The table below looks at the five highest-scoring drivers from each year in terms of FanDuel points. The number on the left is where they finished the race; the number on the right is where they started. Both numbers are key to study.

Year Most Points Second Most Third Most Fourth Most Fifth Most
2019 1st | 8th 2nd | 4th 1st | 3rd 2nd | 10th 4th | 16th
2018 1st | 5th 2nd | 6th 1st | 8th 3rd | 13th 2nd | 4th
2017 1st | 1st 2nd | 12th 1st | 3rd 3rd | 11th 4th | 13th
2016 1st | 2nd 1st | 2nd 4th | 22nd 2nd | 10th 2nd | 7th

In all four years, the two winners were among the three highest-scoring drivers. Even once you grade this on a curve to account for the restrictions of a salary cap (which are not apparent in this table), it's clear we need to prioritize identifying who will win each race.

Obviously, that's not an easy task. If it were, we'd just bet every race and retire within a few months. But we can increase our odds of doing it with some strategy.

The biggest thing is that we want to give ourselves multiple cracks at identifying each race's winner within each lineup we create. We can do so by ensuring we have a relatively even distribution of drivers between the first duel and the second.

If you use four drivers from the same duel in one lineup, you're giving yourself only one chance to identify the winner in the other duel. It could work out, but from an odds perspective, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage.

The other downside of doing this is that you're limiting the finishing-point potential of the lineup. If you use three drivers from one race and two from the other, you could -- in theory -- get as many as 204 finishing points on your roster. If you do four from one race and one from the other, that drops to 201, and it's just 194 if you use five drivers from one race. You want to spread things out, not only so you can get extra chances to identify the winner but also so you can maximize the number of potential finishing points on your roster.

The other thing that should pop on that table for those of you who are used to pack-racing DFS is that not many of the drivers who scored well started in the back. In our four-year sample, 14 drivers have scored at least 50 FanDuel points in the duels. Only two of them started outside the top 10.

Most of the drivers starting in the back for this race are starting there because they have sub-par speed. Some of that can be masked by the draft, but if you're too slow, you'll lose that draft and finish well behind the pack. We need to be mindful of that when making selections, and it means we're going to be more top-heavy with our rosters than we'd be for pretty much any other superspeedway race.

The exception, obviously, is if we do get drivers with speed who -- for some reason -- slipped in qualifying. Kevin Harvick started 22nd in 2016, and it would have made him a pretty obvious option with place-differential upside. We'll go through some drivers who could fit this when we do our overall picks for the race later in the week, but that is a mold that allows us to deviate a bit from the front-centric model.

One way to judge whether a car has the necessary speed to keep pace is by looking at their actual speed in qualifying and what they did in Saturday's two practices. Those two practices involved a lot of single-car runs as cars were preparing for qualifying, and then qualifying itself was obviously cars by themselves, as well. If a driver's times in those sessions were significantly off that of the other competitors, the odds they lose the draft are pretty high.

When you combine all of these factors together, you'll see that we should be far more inclined to target drivers starting near the front than we are at most Daytona races. The one position that requires a bit extra consideration is the driver on the pole.

As mentioned, the duels set the starting order for the Daytona 500. The only drivers currently locked into their starting positions are Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman, the top two drivers in Sunday's qualifying session. They'll start on the front row for the 500, and what happens in Thursday's race won't change that.

Unless they wreck, that is.

If a driver has to go to a backup car, they forfeit their starting spot and will move to the back of the pack to start the race. So, for Stenhouse and Bowman, there's not a whole lot of upside for them here, but there is a heck of a lot of downside.

That doesn't mean we necessarily have to skip over them completely.

Back in 2017, Chase Elliott won the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday and followed it up with a win in his duel race on Thursday. He led 24 laps and was the third-highest scorer for that year.

In what is likely not a coincidence, that 2017 duel race was the first time since 1971 that NASCAR had offered regular-season points for the duel races, a system that will be in place again this year. The top 10 finishers all get points, with 10 going to first, 9 to second, and so on. There is at least a small incentive for Stenhouse and Bowman to push because every point does matter when you're trying to make the playoffs.

That's why they're still viable despite not having their starting spot on the line. They're still very risky, though.

Let's say there are five laps left, and Stenhouse is running in eighth spot. He could try to move his way forward and push for a win. However, there's also a chance that his crew chief, Brian Pattie, could realize that the potential stage points aren't worth the risk of losing their primary car and their starting spot, and they could dip out of the pack.

Since the introduction of points to the duel races, Elliott's 2017 win has been the exception rather than the expectation. Here's what the two drivers who started on the pole for each race have done the past three years, even with a handful of points on the line.

Driver Year Finish FanDuel Points
Alex Bowman 2019 13th 29.0
William Byron 2019 16th 25.0
Denny Hamlin 2018 9th 35.8
Alex Bowman 2018 14th 26.8
Chase Elliott 2017 1st 51.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2017 5th 45.3

If anything goes awry, these teams will cut their losses, pack it in, and ensure they get to keep their spot on the front row. There's a lot of risk here, and the odds of a big payoff aren't all that large. You can check out Stenhouse and Bowman if you want, but you have to be willing to accept the downsides of making that investment.

All in all, you've got a lot to consider when filling out lineups for the duels. You want to identify both winners, make sure you're not overexposed to a single race, hunt for viable drivers starting further back, and make sure you're not targeting drivers with non-viable speed. It's definitely one of the trickier contests we'll see this year. But if you're considering those things while your competition plays it more straight up, it should position you well to beef up your bankroll one last time before Sunday.