The 2023 Daytona 500 is the biggest, most bombastic race on the NASCAR schedule, and the powers-that-be put it first on the docket as a celebratory affair for fans and fantasy NASCAR players alike. It is, most likely, the first (and possibly only) NASCAR race that non-fans can name, and it comes with a long, storied history of iconic moments and great finishes.
Something big and/or weird always happens in Daytona. There will absolutely be a crash that changes the trajectory of the whole thing. There will be teammates helping teammates and enemies chasing enemies. The Daytona 500 is less a barometer of the overall season and more of an exploding fireworks show that launches NASCAR’s takeover of Sunday afternoons for six full months. It is “The Great American Race” for a reason.
For the fantasy world, it is also time to dust off/develop your fantasy NASCAR skills for season-long and DFS formats. So grab your notebooks and a drink, and let’s chat about how to approach the 2023 Daytona 500.
Fantasy NASCAR: 2023 Daytona 500
In our Fantasy NASCAR Primer, we talked about how races have different strengths and driver approaches. Daytona International Speedway is a 2.5-mile tri-oval Superspeedway with wide lanes which create opportunities for bunching, three-wide racing, and drafting. Lead changes are often, and stage wins are hard to come by. And 475 miles into the race, all hell will break loose for the final 25.
Even though NASCAR teams had their warmup Clash at the Coliseum two weeks ago, this is the first chance for all of drivers and crews to execute their plans. Often, the teams who ended well the year before are the ones you want to look at for a strong start; with the Next Gen car difficulties of 2022, this seems even more prudent for the 2023 Daytona 500.
When putting together your fantasy NASCAR lineups, you must take many elements into consideration (and then, finally, throw starting position in the mix). It is not simply picking who you think might win; it’s putting together drivers who can tally the type of points we’re looking for. Today’s preview will look more generally at the race itself, and then our DFS picks published on Sunday morning will add that final element to the equation.
The Top Picks
Here is a look at the drivers with better odds to cross the finish line first. These are the ones you might want to focus on first in season-long formats.
**Reminder that a perfect driver rating is 150.**
Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota) – Driver Rating 95.1
Hamlin has won Daytona three times in his storied career, and he has 11 finishes in the Top 5 in 34 races. Though he had a rough start in 2022, he had an obvious shift in the season where he began to command the Next Gen car in the way he was used to driving. Joe Gibbs Racing is well-known for being strong performers at tracks where teammate racing is more prominent. Will Hamlin miss the recently-departed Kyle Busch? Perhaps. But he’s still my top pick to win the 2023 Daytona 500.
Joey Logano (#22 Ford) – Driver Rating 93.4
The reigning champ has one previous win at Daytona and nine Top 10 finishes in 28 races there. While Logano’s 2022 stats on Superspeedways are nothing to drive home about, he is traditionally excellent on these tracks. Considering Austin Cindric won this race last season and the sportsbooks are expecting a great showing from Ryan Blaney, Team Penske comes in with a powerful resume regarding team-based tracks.
Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet) – Driver Rating 93.1
Elliott is good on whatever track you want to put him on, and a Daytona trophy is missing from his crowded shelf. He finished second in last year’s race and has four Top 10 finishes in 14 races. No matter where he starts in the field, the No. 9 car seems to always be on your screen when we come to the end. He also benefits from having the strongest team – Hendrick Motorsports – in the field. He has a great chance of doing the burnouts at the 2023 Daytona 500.
Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Kyle Busch (#8 Chevrolet) – Driver Rating 94.4
It is one of the biggest fantasy NASCAR questions this year: Will the move to Richard Childress Racing have any effect on the co-leader in active wins? Busch’s veteran status and decorated career make me think he’ll make the adjustment just fine. He is too good at Superspeedways (one previous win at this track) to leave out of the conversation for top picks this weekend.
Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford) – Driver Rating 80.6
By the end of last year, I was basically just writing, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a win around here?” every week regarding Blaney. In 15 career races, he has four Top 5 finishes and one win at this track but has yet to win a Daytona 500. He led a number of laps here in 2022 and finished fourth. As the second power driver in Team Penske, there is no reason to fade him on Sunday.
Austin Cindric (#2 Ford) – Driver Rating 93.4
Albeit a small sample size, Cindric has two Top 5 finishes and one win in three races with an average finish of 6th. His stats in Daytona and Talladega are encouraging for adding him to your rosters at Superspeedways throughout the season. Only three drivers have ever won back-to-back Daytona 500s, so I wouldn’t lay money on him repeating the victory, but I also wouldn’t put down anything against him either.
The 2023 Daytona 500 Sleepers
Two drivers jump out at me as solid, lower-rostered fantasy options for this weekend.
Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota) – Driver Rating 85
Wallace has four Top 5 finishes in 11 career races at Daytona, including finishing second in last year’s 500. This is his top track, and Superspeedways are his jam. You can go wrong with a lot of drivers, but Wallace should be affordable and really not that much of a longshot to finish near the top.
Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet) – Driver Rating 80.5
While I assume not a ton of “Which of the active drivers have two wins at Daytona International Speedway?” trivia questions appear, the answers are Kevin Harvick and… Austin Dillon. In 19 races, Dillon has four Top 5 finishes and wins in each of the last two years. As with Wallace, he should be affordable and should provide plenty of return on investment, depending on his qualifying position. I will have no concerns deploying him in season-long formats either.
I’ll be back Sunday morning with my DFS picks and other thoughts regarding the 2023 Daytona 500. Between now and then, don’t hesitate to hit me up on Twitter at @thewonkypenguin with any questions, thoughts, or funny GIFs.
[Editor’s note: To test my theory, I asked my parents how many NASCAR races they could name. My dad said, “Daytona 500. Milwaukee? I know there’s one in Michigan, but I can’t name it.” And my mom said, “Daytona 500? Indianapolis 500? Somewhere Down South 500?” So, so close.]