For the first time ever, DraftKings is holding a Millionaire Maker contest for NASCAR. Yes you read that right. One million dollars is up for grabs to the person that builds the best fantasy NASCAR lineup.
I’ve already dropped a wealth of knowledge about stats and strategy for setting your Daytona 500 lineups. Now lets get into some specific driver talk.
I’ll go over several interesting situations with drivers and give my fantasy take on why and how you should play, or avoid, certain drivers in your lineups.
If you read my stats and strategy article, you’ll know I’m avoiding Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman completely. But where do we go from there?
Daytona 500 DraftKings DFS Picks
The RFK Duo
Right away we need to talk about the Roush Fenway Keselowski (RFK) teammates Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher.
I will have a little bit of exposure to both drivers. I think Buescher can win the race, and he will have to if he is going to be in the optimal lineup.
Buescher’s current 25-1 odds imply that he has about a 4% chance to do so. Even if he does win the race, there’s no guarantee he will be in the winning DraftKings lineup. Thus, we should expect to roster Buescher in only a small sprinkle of lineups.
Instead, I’d rather go with Keselowski. He will likely also have to win the race, but he has an extra advantage. His natural aggression on superspeedways means he’s more likely than his teammate to take the lead and gain laps led points.
Normally I wouldn’t worry about that at Daytona, but both Duel qualifying races suggested that we may see a lot of single-file action, especially sorted by manufacturer. I could see Keselowski leading a Ford line for many laps, reminiscent of how Kurt Busch led the Stewart-Haas Fords for more than 100 laps at the Talladega playoff race in 2018.
I don’t mind if you roster Keselowski in between 5%-10% of your lineups.
The rest of the top 10
The only two other drivers I see really worth playing from a top-10 starting position are Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch. Both are among the top eight favorites to win the race.
Blaney is a strong play and my projections have him in the million-dollar lineup 9% of the time. However, I’d recommend playing him in about 15% of your lineups.
That’s because I don’t see much use for playing the other drivers that start around him, so he effectively absorbs the small probabilities they have to end up in the optimal lineup.
As for Busch …
The Toyota Gang
His 10th-place starting position marks the beginning of a run of five Toyota drivers starting in the next eight spots.
Teamwork always comes into play at superspeedway races, but I believe teamwork this year may be even stronger than ever.
The shortage of parts for the Next Gen car caused by supply chain issues, plus how the Next Gen car races at Daytona, lends itself to a lot of single-file racing. Drivers frequently lost the draft in the Duel races, so it’s imperative that teamwork come into play to help each driver on that team avoid getting kicked out of the draft.
If that holds true, teammates will have slightly stronger correlation than normal. Just like the aforementioned Talladega 2018 race, the 2016 Daytona 500 also saw a line of teammates dominate the race. Except that time it was the Toyotas.
I think the Toyota drivers will do everything they can to hook up and keep pace with the Fords, which have been fastest all week.
As a result, I’m setting a rule in the optimizer to account for this. Since Denny Hamlin starts way back in 30th place and is a great play no matter what, he is exempt from this rule. The other five Toyota drivers, however, are subject to this rule:
If any of these drivers appear in a lineup of mine, they must be accompanied by at least one other Toyota driver.
This accounts for the strong correlation I expect teammates to have. Hamlin can be the other Toyota driver, so we’re not getting too crazy starting too many drivers inside the top 17 starting positions. But any Toyota driver that does start this far forward and makes the optimal lineup will likely do so with the help of a teammate.
Because there were some drivers playing it safe in the Duels, and others getting involved in issues, there is plenty of chalk to go around for the “Great American Race.”
Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola are all extremely strong plays, and all but Harvick project for ownership levels north of 29% according to my model.
However, the singular best play in this group is Harvick. He is the driver in this group with the biggest gap between his projected ownership and his probability of being in the optimal lineup — a nearly a 7% gap. If you want to take advantage of that, play Harvick in about one-third of your lineups.
On the flip side, Hamlin is a great driver to be underweight on. He projects to be in nearly 60% of lineups, but my model shows he ends up in the optimal lineup in just under half of the simulations.
Justin Haley, Ty Dillon, Cole Custer and Daniel Hemric are all solid plays starting 25th or worse. If anything were to happen to Almirola, Austin Dillon or Hamlin, these four drivers would be primed to jump into the winning lineup if they make it to the end unscathed.
Of these, Ty Dillon projects to have the biggest gap between usage and optimal lineup probability, so he’s the best play of the group. Dillon has five finishes of 10th or better in 18 career starts at Daytona.
That would guarantee he gets to 50 DraftKings points, which is the minimum needed to have a shot at being in the optimal lineup. It’s likely that he’d also pick up a few fastest laps in the draft, giving him a great shot to end up in the optimal lineup.
I didn’t mention Noah Gragson in this group because he runs for a part-time team. But he’s piloting the Beard Motorsports car that Brendan Gaughan took to seven top-12 finishes in 16 superspeedway races. Gragson is a very solid play starting in 39th place.
I love using him in about one-third of your lineups.
The “Paul Menard Pick of the Week”
The weekly segment that everyone loves is back!
For those who don’t know what I mean, I once told everyone to get on Paul Menard at a Daytona summer race because he projected to be far too severely underplayed.
All he did was finish third and score myself and my readers a massive return on their investment, becoming a legend in my circles.
The “Paul Menard pick of the week” for the 2022 Daytona 500 is … drumroll please …Todd Gilliland!
Gilliland takes control of the No. 38 car that Anthony Alfredo drove last year. Just one year ago, Alfredo started 36th and garnered only 14% usage. This year, Gilliland starts seven spots in front of where Alfredo did. That difference will likely cause his usage to drop in relation to Alfredo.
I’m not sure what people are afraid of though. Gilliland is a teammate to last year’s Daytona 500 winner, Michael McDowell, so we know this car can come forward.
I like using Gilliland in at least one-sixth of your lineups, but with the added safety of starting 29th I like using him closer to one-quarter of the time.
Good luck with your fantasy NASCAR lineups for the Daytona 500. We have a long season ahead of us, and we’re just getting started, but hopefully we get off on the right foot!