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NASCAR DFS: Daytona 500 Preview

It seems like not too long ago we were discussing the Cup Series Championship. Sure enough, the offseason is short as we get ready for the Daytona 500. Speedweeks at Daytona are always exciting. All three NASCAR series will be in action starting with qualifying on Wednesday and the Duels on Thursday. We’ll get to those shortly. The best way to build your NASCAR DFS lineups on DraftKings and FanDuel will be to wait until after we know the starting order and identify the top leverage plays and position differential options. This race is basically a lottery ticket. There’s a Milly Maker on DraftKings for this race. However, the payout structure is terrible, and again, all the research in the world can still lead to a day with losses. So play light for this race and let’s examine the NASCAR DFS drivers for the Daytona 500 preview!

As mentioned at the top, qualifying will be on Wednesday night. There are no practice sessions this week. Qualifying and Thursday’s duels will be all the track time the drivers need. Wednesday’s qualifying session only decides the front row for Sunday’s race. And those drivers will likely be taking it easy Thursday night during the Duels. The rest of the lineup is determined based on the results of the Duels. So realistically we’ll know the starting order Thursday night and we can start getting an idea for exposure.

There are some tips and things to keep in mind for lineup construction. First and foremost, you can certainly leave anywhere from $0 up to $30,000 worth of salary on the table. Most Cash game lineups will be stacking drivers starting deep in the field. Daytona breeds chaos and multiple drivers are destined to wreck out. That’s the nature of these races. The field will run in one large group in the draft and if one guy gets loose and wrecks, he’s taking others with him. You have to go back EIGHT Daytona 500s to find a race where more than 17 drivers finished on the lead lap. So the drivers starting in the rear stand out as “safer” DFS plays, hence why they’ll be so popular in Cash games.

For Tournaments, you really need to take some risks. You need to nail the winner, squeeze in some low-owned contrarian plays that finish in the top 10, and maybe collect some laps led along the way. Tournament lineups can’t rely solely on position differential. You’ll have to play one to three guys starting closer to the front. Team/Manufacturer stacks aren’t such a bad idea either. So there’s plenty to keep in mind as we inch closer to Sunday. For now, here are a handful of drivers to keep in mind for this Daytona 500 preview!

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Daytona 500 Preview: The Top Picks

Ryan Blaney (#12 Ford)

Conventional wisdom says to select Denny Hamlin, who has won this race three times in his career. But I’m partial to Blaney. He’s the defending Cup Series champion and he’s on a team (Team Penske) with a manufacturer that historically drafts incredibly well. Now there have been reports from the offseason that the Fords made some slight adjustments to be more aerodynamically competitive on intermediate and short tracks. But at the end of the day, we typically see Fords find their way to the front working in unison. Blaney finished eighth in this race a year ago and third in 2022. He was even the runner-up in the 2017 Daytona 500 with Wood Brothers Racing. He also has a summer win at Daytona in 2021 and he won Talladega last Fall. He’s a no-brainer and carries win equity.

Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford)

If you followed this series last year, you know I love Kez on a superspeedway. Keselowski, entering his third year with RFK Racing, is hungry for a win. His teammate, Chris Buescher, claimed three wins last year. Keselowski, now a part-owner of the team he drives for, wants to claim one. Keselowski does have a win under his belt at Daytona and was close to winning this race in 2021 until he and (former) teammate Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap and Michael McDowell scored the win. But Brad knows how to drive in the draft. Similar to Blaney and Team Penske, he’ll be in a Ford and there are plenty in the field to work with. He finished second at Daytona last summer to Chris Buescher, and he’s eager for his first win with RFK Racing.

Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota)

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge that Bubba is a strong superspeedway driver. He’s run the Daytona 500 six times in his career and finished second on two occasions. He also has a win at Talladega on his resume. Bubba had one of his best seasons last year with 23XI. He not only made the playoffs but advanced to the Round of 12. He has grown a bit over the years and while he does have a bad habit of placing the blame on his pit crew, his team likely won’t have too many opportunities for errors on Sunday. That’s what Bubba loves about this style of racing. It’s more in his hands than any other track. Additionally, he has a knack for getting to the front of the draft.

Daytona 500 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Erik Jones (#43 Toyota)

Jones is strong at superspeedways despite the final results. He won the Clash a few years ago when it was still held at Daytona and he won here during his time with Joe Gibbs Racing. Legacy Motor Club is making a unique change from Chevrolet to Toyota for the 2024 season. That aligns them with Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing. They’ll still be in the minority in the field. However, with Chevrolet, LMC struggled and may turn things around with the change to Toyota and with John Hunter Nemechek being brought up from the Xfinity Series. Most of Jones’ results at Daytona aren’t great. But within the race, he’s solid in the draft and tends to find ways to move up. He’s always a fun bet to win in this style of race.

Alex Bowman (#48 Chevrolet)

If there’s one driver that appears in this Daytona 500 preview that could be disastrous, it’s Bowman. He’s a driver that I could easily change my tune on come Sunday. If you can find a sportsbook that lets you bet on pole winners, Bowman is a great bet. He has started either first or second in six straight Daytona 500s. So again, if you can bet the pole winner, Bowman has shown he can qualify well. But for DFS, playing drivers on the front row at Daytona or Talladega is a massive risk. Bowman did finish fifth in this race last year after landing the pole. However, in the other five races where he started on the front row, he finished 24th, 35th, 24th, 11th, and 17th.

Ryan Preece (#41 Ford)

In the $7,000-$8,000 range on DraftKings we have previous Daytona 500 winners such as Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, and Jimmie Johnson. This range certainly draws intrigue. But just outside this group is Ryan Preece. Preece, and the rest of Stewart-Haas Racing, are in a weird situation currently. This used to be one of the “Big Four” teams in NASCAR and now this roster has four drivers with plenty of success in the Xfinity Series, but also a lot of question marks heading into this year. Preece had a frustrating 2023 campaign. A lot of disappointing results that weren’t always his fault. And he had a horrific wreck at Daytona last year. But in his last eight races at Daytona, he has three top-eight finishes. But in the other five, he’s finished outside the top 25. Boom-or-Bust play for sure so tread carefully.

The Sleepers and Values

David Ragan (#60 Ford)

Ragan didn’t race at all in 2023. He’s now a part-timer but he has wins from way back in the day at Daytona and Talladega. Moreover, he’s going to be driving in a third entry for RFK Racing. So the Ford alliance is helpful and we’ve already mentioned how his teammates, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher, are both drivers of interest in this field as well. In the first year of the NextGen car (2022), Ragan logged a pair of top 10s in both Daytona races that year after starting P34 in both competitions. It was just four years ago that Ragan grabbed a top five in the 2020 Daytona 500 for Rick Ware Racing. Ragan will have to qualify for this race, but if he makes the field, he could make some noise even if he doesn’t have much win equity.

Zane Smith (#71 Chevrolet)

Smith is a promising, young driver for Spire Motorsports. This will be his only season with Spire as he’s set to join Trackhouse Racing in 2025. Smith has an interesting story. He finished second in the 2021 Truck Series Championship and lost his ride due to sponsorships. But he landed on a one-truck team and won the series championship the next year with Front Row Motorsports. He won the opening race at Daytona in the Truck Series the last two years. Last year in his Daytona 500 debut, he started P17 and finished 13th. His teammate, Corey LaJoie, is also good on this type of track so it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Zane grabbed a top 10 in this race.

Riley Herbst (#15 Ford)

Let’s finish this Daytona 500 preview with one of my favorite values. Herbst will run select races for Rick Ware Racing this year. And that starts with the Daytona 500. Herbst came on strong last year in the Xfinity Series. That 98-car for Stewart-Haas Racing found speed late in the year and he scored his first career win while also contending in multiple races. In this style of racing, he’s always had success as a driver who starts deep in the field and moves up. In this race last year he started P38 and finished 10th. For the Spring race at Talladega, he started P36 and finished 20th. He did wreck in the summer race at Daytona, but he grabbed a top 10 in the Fall race at Talladega. Does he win this race? Probably not. However, he’s shown the ability to move up in these races.

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