The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series kicks off Sunday with the season’s biggest race … the Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX)! DraftKings is offering a $1 million prize pool tournament, with $200,000 going to first place! I’m here to help you try to attain a piece of the largest pie in Fantasy NASCAR.

To get started, we’ll need to talk about all the change that comes with the 2021 season. There are new tracks, new drivers, new teams and old faces in new places.

Another change for 2021 is that I will be providing my own personal machine learning projections for every Cup race of the 2021 season, including any special events like the All-Star Race. That means, if you sign up today, you can get access to at least 37 DraftKings (DK) slates and 36 FanDuel (FD) slates for the Cup Series.

As part of the Cup Series projection, each regular season race will include:

  • Driver points projections: Median, Ceiling and Floor for both DK and FD
  • Ownership projections for both DK and FD
  • Perfect% projections — the percentage of times in 50,000 race simulations using my model that a driver ends up in the optimal lineup

You’ll also get access to FantasyLabs’ optimizer, which allows you to create hundreds of lineups quick and easy. You can set custom rules, driver groups and driver correlations in addition to standard options like salary restrictions and driver exposures.

I will also be adding projections for both the XFINITY Series and the Truck Series in the coming weeks. That means there will be dozens of extra slates coming throughout the year as well from these two series.

Click here to sign up for my NASCAR DFS package and start building smarter Daytona 500 lineups now!

If you have questions about anything that comes with my projections, you can always find me on Twitter where I’m commonly known as RotoDoc.

One other change for the 2021 season isn’t on the track, or here on FantasyLabs, but DraftKings itself. DraftKings has slightly altered scoring for its NASCAR contests.

The adjustments are so minor that I’m not planning any strategy changes, but they are still worth discussing just so contestants are aware.

The first change is that fastest laps have been cut from 0.5 points to 0.45 points per fastest lap. A very minor change that I believe was made to reduce the number of potential scoring ties.

The second change comes in finishing position. Instead of a formula of (44 – finishing position) with first place also receiving two bonus points, DraftKings is now using a multi-tiered formula:

  • 1st-10th: 44 – finishing position
  • 11th-20th: 43 – finishing position
  • 21-30th: 42 – finishing position
  • 31-40th: 41 – finishing position

Additionally, first place will receive two bonus points.

This is again, a subtle change that seems like it was created to reduce ties. I have no plans on attacking slates any different.

Daytona 500 DraftKings DFS Strategy

For those of you new to NASCAR DFS, this section will be important to read through. If you’re a veteran, you can skip on to the next section.

Daytona is a 2.5-mile oval with high banking. NASCAR brings a specific aerodynamic and engine package that limits the top speed of the cars. As a result, cars run tightly together in a big pack.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, leads the field

The cars in the front of the pack have to push through the air, and in doing so push air out of the way for the trailing cars allowing them to draft up and gain speed. This means that at many points in the race, there will be 20 or even 30 cars grouped together very tightly. From this, three things can happen:

  1. A car near the front can get shuffled out of position and lose many spots quickly. It’s not uncommon to see a car drop from the top five to worse than 20th in a single lap.
  2. A car can get a big push from behind and pass several cars in the span of a single lap, sometimes gaining double-digit positions.
  3. Two cars can start a wreck, which will then likely collect many other cars since they are all bunched to tightly together.

Each of these three things creates plenty of randomness. Additionally, with the ability to move from the back to the front and plenty of cars wrecking out, it’s not uncommon to see drivers who start 30th or worse finish the race inside the top 10.

That’s critically important for DraftKings because place differential is one of the main scoring components. Place differential is simply the difference between a driver’s starting position and finishing position. So if a driver starts 30th and finishes 10th, they will net 20 points from place differential, in addition to 10th-place finishing position points.

On the flip side, if a driver starts fifth, crashes, and finishes 35th, they will have -30 points of place differential as well as very few points from finishing position.

That means we want to load our lineups primarily with drivers starting in the back. Of course, drivers who start mid-pack or even toward the front can still win the race and pick up a handful of dominator points (points from laps led and fastest laps).

Picking multiple drivers starting toward the front limits your upside. You don’t get the benefit of a large amount of place differential, and each of the drivers starting toward the front would likely have to finish inside the top three.

That leads me to my four DraftKings Lineup Rules for the Daytona 500.

Daytona 500 DraftKings DFS Lineup Rules

Last year I laid out my four rules for Daytona 500 DFS strategy on DraftKings. Those rules don’t change this year, but I will note where there are some nuances since each year is different.

Rule 1 Rarely use drivers inside the top five, and avoid the front row almost completely.

This rule is one that will never change for me. You should not use more than one driver in a lineup who starts inside the top five.

Rule 2 – Use no more than two drivers starting inside the top 10. Preferably one or zero.

With Ryan Preece starting 11th, and unlikely to make the winning lineup, we can safely keep this rule in tact. You should use zero, one or two drivers starting inside the top 10. In fact, I’d recommend one or zero most of the time.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Ryan Preece, driver of the #37 Cottonelle Chevrolet

Only about one in every eight or nine lineups should you put in two drivers starting this far forward.

Rule 3 – Tailor your strategy to the individual drivers.

A couple of interesting situations arise this year. From 15th to 19th starting position, five consecutive drivers are racing for teams that are relatively underfunded compared to the big boys, but certainly not back markers. You definitely do not want to load up on more than two drivers from this range.

It is notable that teammates Corey Lajoie and Jamie McMurray of Spire Motorsports, as well as teammates David Ragan and Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports lie in this range. Teammates often work together at superspeedway races, so there is potential for adding a correlation rule to your optimizer settings.

Another major strategy when races are as unpredictable as this: leverage ownership percentages. It is far and away much easier to project ownership percentages than it is to project the race outcome. That means drivers who are expected to be heavily-owned in such a highly random event can be used less. Instead, find other similar drivers in similar starting ranges to use.

One example of this comes from three top-tier drivers starting 24th through 26th. Denny Hamlin starts 25th and is the two-time defending Daytona 500 winner, as well as a three-time winner of this race overall. He will certainly draw the highest ownership among this trio of drivers.

Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Crew members of Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing FedEx Express Toyota Camry, celebrate

My Daytona 500 projections have Hamlin slated for 37% ownership. However, according to my model’s simulations, his winning lineup chances are less than his ownership percentage. One strategy would be to use 25%-30% Hamlin, and use that extra lineup space to add exposure to Keselowski and Truex.

See full Ownership and Perfect% Projections by signing up for RotoDoc’s model.

Rule 4 – Use plenty of drivers starting 29th or worse.  

I usually say 30th or worse, but Tyler Reddick is starting 29th and he’s one of my favorite plays on the slate. There are several good cars starting in the back, including drivers my model has projected for the second- through fifth-highest ceilings, after Hamlin.

The sixth-highest projected ceiling belongs to Reddick. While you should have plenty of exposure on these drivers in good cars starting 30th or worse, a strategy I like is going underweight on one or two of the better drivers in the back and loading up on Reddick who should have lower usage.

Daytona 500 DraftKings DFS Picks

Cash Games:

Kaz Grala ($4,900): This 2021 Daytona 500 Rookie starts dead last in 40th place, but don’t let that fool you. He had the 20th-best speed out of 42 cars that made a qualifying run before finding trouble in his Duel race. Grala has placed in the top five in every single Daytona start he’s made in the XFINITY and Truck Series.

Tournaments:

Anthony Alfredo ($5,200): In addition to Reddick above, Alfredo is another driver I like in tournaments because he should be under-played. His superspeedway resume in the XFINITY and Truck Series is less than stellar, which is cause for concern.

However, he is in one of the Front Row Motorsports cars and will be racing the full 2021 season, so there is upside here. With two teammates to learn from and lean on and a 36th-place starting position, all Alfredo needs to do is turn laps and survive. If he’s there at the end, he has a car capable of a top-12 finish.

My model projects him for only 20% usage in tournaments, but closer to 30% optimal usage.

Fades:

William Byron ($9,000): As the Series’ most recent superspeedway winner, Byron could garner extra attention. Novice DFS players will also load up on drivers starting in the front more than they should, causing a bloated exposure level in lower dollar and large-field tournaments.

Another minor factor is that Byron crashed in his Duel race, so while he’ll be officially scored from the second-place starting position, he will drop to the tail end of the field for the start.

As Rule 1 above states, it’s wise to avoid drivers on the front row. This is especially true if a driver’s ownership could be bloated and he’s guaranteed to have to come through the field just to get back to the front.