The twin qualifying races for the Daytona 500 take place Thursday night, and with the fields set for each race, DraftKings is set to have two DFS slates, one for each Duel race. In this article I’ll discuss past Duel stats and facts, and driver groupings, which will inform our Duel strategy.
Past Duel Facts and Stats
There have been 12 Duel races since 2013, with 268 participants total. Each duel race is 60 laps, although a few past races have gone into overtime. With only 60 laps, that means only 15 points are available for laps led, and at most 30 points available for fastest laps (if the whole race were to be run under green flag conditions). Since fastest laps will largely be random and spread throughout the field, there’s only 15 true dominator points up for grabs. That makes picking a dominator largely a futile effort.
Only four drivers in 12 races have led at least 40 laps, and only 11 have led at least 30 laps (half of the scheduled 60 laps). The four drivers who led at least 40 laps started in the first three rows. Additionally, all 11 drivers who led 30 laps or more started within the top nine. However, in true-to-restrictor-plate form, only six of these 11 drivers scored at least 50 DraftKings points.
In sum, we’re not really interested in a dominator as much as we’re interested in a driver that can win the race. It’s okay to pick the favorites here, even if they start near the front.
Unlike this past weekend’s Clash, the Duels are a much more tame affair. Only 62 of the 268 participants failed to finish, for a DNF rate of 23.1 percent…or about half of the Clash’s DNF rate of 45 percent (which is now even higher thanks to a huge wreck in this year’s clash). That means place differential becomes somewhat less important even compared to The Clash, especially when you add in that the slower cars are starting at the back, whereas in the Clash it was a random draw for starting position.
The highest DNF rate was in 2016’s second Duel, when 10 of the 22 cars failed to finish (45 percent), which is equal to The Clash’s average DNF rate! The lowest is the first Duel in 2017 when two of the 21 cars did not finish for a rate of only 9.5 percent.1
With such a low DNF rate possible, it’s certainly feasible this race could play out more like a non-plate race in terms of what the winning lineup looks like. A mix of place differential and finishing position, with a possible dominator (instead of a near-guaranteed dominator as in most races).
Starting Position vs. Optimal Lineup
Here’s a table of starting position (as done by starting row, so Row 3 is the cars starting 5th and 6th).
First, you’ll notice there’s 75 total count instead of 72 (six multiplied by 12 races), because there’s occasionally a tie for the sixth place spot in DK points. Anyway, if we plot Row vs. Count, we get a plot that looks like this:
It’s a funky looking graph, but I think I can explain what’s going on. The first two rows tend to make up the fastest and strongest cars, so these are your prime dominators/winning candidates. Rows three through six have less dominator and/or winning potential, and because most plate cars in the pack are relatively equal, they tend to score fewer high point counts simply because they don’t have as much place differential potential. Rows six and seven have cars that similar in quality to the first five rows, other than winning or dominating potential, but they have much more place differential potential than, say, row four. When we get to Row 8, it’s a mixed bag of good cars who can finish high, or back markers. The good ones we should treat as if they are row seven cars. The bad ones we should treat as back markers. Finally, Row 9 and beyond are all back marker cars so they tend to hang out in the back because they’re slower and the DNF rate is much lower than in other plate races.
If we look at the Pct column, that describes the percentage of cars from that row that end up in the optimal lineup, and DKPct is just multiplying that by six, since there is 600 total percent ownership. In other words, “optimal” roster construction for a multi-entry strategy assuming this Duel was an average Duel race would dictate your total exposure to drivers starting on the front row equate to 63.2 percent of your total exposure. You’ll see, the bulk of your exposure, on average, should be to drivers on Row 7 and 8. Now, of course, that will change depending on exactly who qualified where for a specific race, this is just long term averages, but this all goes to show you can roster a driver from anywhere in the Duel, with an emphasis on place differential from good cars starting further back.
Translating to the 2019 Duels
So let’s identify a group of drivers most capable of dominating/winning — the favorites, back marker drivers, and everyone else falls in between (note, drivers in the everyone else category can win, the just aren’t the most likely to). Here they are, with starting position in parenthesis.
Duel 1: Brad Keselowski (5), Paul Menard (6), Kevin Harvick (8), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (10)
Also in consideration: William Byron (1), Jimmie Johnson (2), Martin Truex Jr. (4), Kyle Busch (7)
Duel 2: Chase Elliott (2), Joey Logano (3), Denny Hamlin (6), Ryan Blaney (8), Aric Almirola (9)
Also in consideration: Alex Bowman (1), Clint Bowyer (4), Kurt Busch (10)
In Duel 1, I debated putting Martin Truex Jr. in the top favorites given his strong showing in The Clash where he advanced through the field multiple times before being taken out in the big wreck. I also debated moving Johnson into the favorites based off his Clash performance. It’s impressive to get to second place on merit, before taking the win by wrecking the guy in first. In Duel 2, I chose to leave Elliott in the favorites because of his win in 2017’s Duel from the pole, and left Bowman in the consideration category because pole-sitters can lose their starting spot for the Daytona 500 if they wreck in The Duel and have to go to a backup car. I suspect if he feels any heat, he’ll take it conservative, as he did last year, finishing 14th in his Duel despite starting on the pole.
Duel 1: Parker Kligerman (19), Landon Cassill (20), Cody Ware (21)
Duel 2: Ross Chastain (18), Corey LaJoie (19), BJ McLeod (20), Joey Gase (21)
Everyone else I consider to be cars that can finish inside the top six on merit, but there are some drivers to key on, and some drivers to maybe avoid from this group. I’ll break every driver down for both races in my Duel 1 and Duel 2 driver-by-driver articles.
- although two cars that finished all 60 laps were later disqualified for being illegal (back)