Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Daytona 500
Daytona is a unique track in a couple of ways as it pertains to daily fantasy NASCAR.
First, it's very much a strategy-driven race where you want to target drivers starting further back in order to maximize the upside of your lineup. You could view a driver favorably but still decide to completely disregard him if he's not starting in our ideal range.
Second, because drivers are in a massive glob, equipment matters a bit less. This allows some drivers with a bit less speed under the hood to get a boost for DFS as their abilities to wheel it come more to the forefront.
That first point is key as we go through some drivers of note for DFS on Sunday. You'll want to heavily account for what happens during Thursday's duel races to set the lineup as starting position will heavily influence each driver's DFS appeal. We'll address this with a full primer post-qualifying, and we'll also have an episode of The Heat Check Fantasy Podcast up on Friday that takes qualifying into account.
But if you're looking for a head start and want to know which drivers should be on your radar this week, here are some names to keep in mind.
Joey Logano (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): Usually, if a driver is consistent on drafting tracks, it means they're due for regression. Consistency is superbly difficult to obtain at spots like these. Joey Logano may be one of the exceptions.
In the past eight drafting races, Logano leads all drivers with five top-fives. Denny Hamlin ($13,000) is the only other guy with more than two. If Logano's car is intact at the end, he's almost always pushing for a win.
As mentioned in this week's track preview, we can still use drivers starting near the front as long as they have the ability to win. Logano has proven plenty of times that he can do that at drafting tracks, meaning we can consider him for tournaments regardless of where he starts. If he were to start further back, though, he'd be a locked-and-loaded stud for all formats.
Denny Hamlin ($13,000): Not only is Hamlin the other guy to consistently crank out top-fives like Logano, but he's also the defending champion of this race.
That win was Hamlin's second 500 championship, in addition to a third-place finish in the 2018 race. Hamlin tends to come through when the stakes are highest.
It doesn't hurt Hamlin's case that the Joe Gibbs Racing cars seemed sporty over the weekend. Sure, Erik Jones ($9,500) getting the win in the wreck-filled Busch Clash may have been fluky, but it was Hamlin's push that got him the win, and Hamlin led 12 laps himself earlier in the race. We definitely don't want to overreact to one exhibition race, but it's a bit more impactful when it's a team that has won two of the past three points-paying Daytona races. Outside of Logano, it'll be hard to find someone who fits better as an assumed winner for a tournament lineup than Hamlin.
Chris Buescher ($7,300): Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,200) effectively swapped rides this year with Buescher joining Roush-Fenway Racing for 2020. With Stenhouse sitting on the Daytona 500 pole, it might look like Buescher made the wrong move in jumping ship. But the race itself could alter that view.
Even while in the lesser equipment with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Buescher ran well in Daytona. He was fifth in both of the 2018 races, coming after a 10th-place run in the 2017 July race. The winner of that 2017 race was Stenhouse, driving the car that Buescher will pilot for the first time this Sunday.
Buescher is one of several drivers potentially primed for a surge after switching teams over the offseason. He has slightly better speed under the hood now and figures to have help from his fellow Fords during the race. As long as Buescher doesn't qualify too well, we should be looking to buy in early this season.
Ryan Newman ($7,000): Buescher's teammate, Ryan Newman, has a very specific approach to superspeedways. He tends to hang out in the back for most of the race, hoping to avoid trouble, before charging at the end. The results seem to suggest this is a profitable strategy.
Over the past two years, Newman has six top-10 finishes at drafting tracks, the most of any driver in the sport. He has -- somehow -- managed to finish all eight races on the lead lap, and he finished out 2019 with top-five runs at Daytona and Talladega. It's hard to argue with that track record.
Roush-Fenway Racing is just a two-car operation, which could put Newman and Buescher at a disadvantage relative to the bigger teams. But with how well the Fords, in general, have worked together recently, they deserve a boost similar to what we give to the Penske and Stewart-Haas cars. Given the relative salaries, Newman and Buescher both stand out as high-quality value options, depending on how qualifying shakes out.
Ty Dillon ($4,000): Only in Daytona can a driver with a $4,000 salary be entering on a three-race top-10 streak. But that's what Ty Dillon has cooking of late at the World Center of Racing.
The streak started in the 2018 July race when Dillon came home with a sixth-place finish. He duplicated that with a sixth-place run in last year's 500 before climbing up to fourth in last year's July Daytona race. That one was rain-shortened and littered with wrecks, but seeing Dillon find success prior to that gives the finish extra legitimacy.
All three of those races were absolute demolition derbies, and that's basically how you need things to break for someone with Dillon's equipment shortcomings to finish that high. If the race winds up being calm, the odds Dillon continues his top-10 streak are pretty slim. But with what we've seen in this aero package both last year and in the Busch Clash, a wreck fest is certainly possible again, making Dillon a viable option if you want to give yourself gobs of flexibility.
Erik Jones ($9,500): This section is a bit of a misnomer this week as there isn't much "current" form off of which to formulate opinions. The info we do have, though, is obviously favorable for Erik Jones.
The lone exhibition race so far in 2020 goes down as a win for Jones, though he needed a whole lotta help in getting there.
The win is cool and all, and he's the only winner we've got to start 2020. But Jones has plenty else going for him beyond that.
Jones showed an ability last year to hit the high end of his range of outcomes, which is really all you can ask for out of someone as young as him. He finished the year with 10 top-five finishes, and they came on seven different track types. He hit the low end of his range of outcomes plenty, as well, but the upside was there.
That win on Sunday wasn't Jones' lone success in Daytona, either. He got his first career Cup Series win in the 2018 July race and followed that up with a third in last year's 500. Outside of satellite teammate Christopher Bell ($6,800), Jones is by far the cheapest access you can get to Joe Gibbs Racing's elite equipment, and we should covet that with what they've done at Daytona recently.
William Byron ($8,500): Prior to last year's July Daytona race, William Byron had never gotten a top-five in the Cup Series. He may have gotten the win there had rain not shortened the race, and it keyed off a strong second half for the youngster.
Byron finished the season with five total top-fives, two of which came in the final five races. Improvement is always encouraging, but when it comes from a driver now entering his age-22 season and his second year with legendary crew chief Chad Knaus, it matters even a bit more.
We know Byron will have speed this weekend. Hendrick Motorsports engines swept the front row, and Byron sat on the pole and led 44 laps in last year's 500. We may not want to have faith in him as an assumed winner if he qualifies well, but if Byron were to slide a bit in Thursday's duels, he'd be a high-upside mid-range option.
Matt DiBenedetto ($8,300): Another surger during the second half of 2019 was Matt DiBenedetto. That big output earned DiBenedetto a ride with Wood Brothers Racing, putting him in a technical alliance with the Penske Racing cars like Logano that have done so well in Daytona. That makes DiBenedetto a big name to monitor early on.
DiBenedetto made his raw talent evident in races last year where the driver had more control than the equipment. All seven of his top-10s came in the final 21 races, and all came at more driver-centric tracks. One of DiBenedetto's earlier strong runs came in the July Daytona race when he finished eighth, and he carried that momentum the entire summer.
Even before the results turned around, DiBenedetto had a wildly impressive run during last year's Daytona 500. He led 49 laps before getting wrecked from behind with just 10 laps to go.
Now, DiBenedetto's upside gets a major boost thanks to his improved equipment. People will be in on DiBenedetto early thanks to his widespread popularity and the publicity his new ride has gotten, but it's possible his salary still sells him a tad short at $8,300.
Austin Dillon ($7,500): Austin Dillon is a Daytona 500 champion, claiming the crown in 2018, so plopping him down here instead of the track history section may feel odd. But Dillon impressed down the stretch last year, as well, which is noteworthy.
Dillon finished the year out on a high note with an eighth-place finish in Homestead where he logged a 10th-place average running position. That was his second-best average running position of the season, and it was also his second top-10 during the playoffs. The other was a sixth-place finish in Talladega.
Dillon's starting near the back for the Duels on Thursday, meaning his car didn't have abundant speed in qualifying, and the Chevys haven't exactly impressed thus far in speedweeks. But it means Dillon's an interesting value option for the Duels slate, and if he doesn't perform well there, he provides us high-quality experience at a value price tag.
Cole Custer ($6,500): In his Xfinity Series career, Cole Custer's best finish on a drafting track was just ninth, and that came in Talladega. His best finish at Daytona was 14th, so there's no track record to go off of here. But he gets us cheap access to race-winning equipment, which keeps him from being a cross-off.
Custer is taking over the seat vacated by Daniel Suarez ($6,000) at Stewart-Haas Racing. The team got a win at a drafting track with Aric Almirola ($8,700) at Talladega in 2018, a race where SHR basically ran a train in front of the field the entire day. Last year wasn't as fruitful for the team, but Almirola was top-10 in all three drafting races with the new package.
In addition to the equipment, Custer is now teammates with Almirola, Kevin Harvick ($12,500), and Clint Bowyer ($9,000), meaning he should have help if he's running near the front of the pack. Custer's $1,800 cheaper than any other car with SHR or Penske backing, putting him on our radar by association.