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NASCAR DFS Daytona 500 Projections and 40-Driver Breakdown

We’re in the home stretch for the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500. The big NASCAR DFS Daytona 500 slate DraftKings has includes a $750,000 tournament with a $10 buy-in, where you could win a $100,000 first-place prize for only a $10 entry (or redeem some free $10 tickets with your DraftKings crowns if you have them, like I did). Already tody I’ve published a facts, stats, strategy, and GTO driver exposures NASCAR DFS Daytona 500 article. Here I’ll give you my machine learning model points and ownership projections for each driver, as well as a deep dive on each driver in the 40-driver field.
For those of you checking this out on Saturday morning, there will be a slight tweak to the projection model based off final practice on Saturday, but don’t expect things to change much in the model output, so the advice I’m giving now will still be in tact, but you may see a small tweak to the numbers.

Let’s dive into the model results, then a full field breakdown!

NASCAR DFS Daytona 500 Model Projections

My machine learning model gives an R^2 of about 0.22 on finishing position. You’ll see that in this model drivers range from about 9th to 24th in projected finishing position, thanks to the fact that the major incident rate is around 35 percent. That means, on average, about 14 drivers will have a major problem, whereas 26 drivers on average avoid serious calamity. Since this model only projects finishing position for drivers that do not have a problem, a 24th place finishing projection means the driver really stinks.

Anyway, here are the model results.

DriverStartFinishLLFLPtsSalOwn
William Byron119.0115.493.6212.6668004.9%
Alex Bowman215.9212.84.4219.5780007.2%
Kevin Harvick38.9820.283.6435.941020013.4%
Joey Logano48.8115.593.6736.111040014.5%
Ricky Stenhouse Jr515.086.193.6722.2298008.4%
Clint Bowyer612.787.595.1728.9199009.0%
Paul Menard715.213.964.4223.7974006.3%
Aric Almirola89.486.414.2336.75920012.0%
Matt DiBenedetto919.871.185.4316.2857004.2%
Denny Hamlin109.1816.353.6141.531000013.3%
Martin Truex Jr1111.0612.183.9537.91880010.5%
Kurt Busch1214.1511.913.1232.2387009.1%
Bubba Wallace1317.410.25.4324.9572006.1%
Ryan Blaney1413.079.513.4135.94900021.9%
Chris Buescher1515.320.223.4230.1463006.6%
Jamie McMurray1613.170.414.1135.8275006.9%
Jimmie Johnson1712.374.963.7639.38850012.0%
Chase Elliott189.8313.633.6847.58940020.1%
Ryan Newman1911.410.255.7543.12700013.8%
Austin Dillon2013.320.544.6839.8476009.8%
Ryan Preece2119.070.214.5829.2165005.4%
Ty Dillon2213.860.495.6241.256009.9%
Daniel Suarez2315.730.64.137.74840023.4%
David Ragan2416.840.235.3337.04620012.7%
Parker Kligerman2521.760.143.4927.2645003.2%
Kyle Larson2610.785.583.7351.71780033.2%
Landon Cassill2722.610.233.8627.7752002.9%
Erik Jones2810.323.573.6854.08820038.8%
Daniel Hemric2919.290.225.0136.99660018.3%
Brendan Gaughan3013.580.765.1149.58600023.9%
Kyle Busch319.3611.663.7261.04960045.2%
Corey Lajoie32230.163.4831.7849007.5%
Matt Tifft3319.990.213.1938.66500019.6%
Michael McDowell3418.310.564.7943.91590032.7%
Brad Keselowski3510.0214.533.4464.311060056.3%
Ross Chastain3623.070.223.4735.6548004.3%
Cody Ware3723.750.242.5934.8645001.9%
BJ McLeod3823.110.243.1937.4446003.7%
Tyler Reddick3918.440.265.3748.87510025.7%
Casey Mears4019.520.244.0547.04540020.9%

NASCAR DFS Daytona 500 Driver-by-Driver Breakdown

Here’s the color scheme for the drivers

RED – very underweight or total fade

ORANGE – underweight

GRAY – contrarian play

GREEN – good play

PURPLE – contrarian dominator or outside shot to win

BLUE – likely dominator if starting near the front, race favorite if starting midpack or further.

Some drivers can fall into more than one color. For example, I like Joey Logano as a top dominator candidate, but I also think he could go over-owned, so I’ll be underweight on him.

1. William Byron

As I talked about in the strategy article, only once has a driver starting in the front row finished in the optimal DraftKings lineup since 2005. Byron is not going to be that guy. He’s in a Chevy, which has not been dominant, and is also still relatively inexperienced. He is a full fade, zero percent play for me.

2. Alex Bowman

I also like a full fade on Bowman. Yes, once in 28 tries has a front row starter ended up in the optimal lineup, but that’s a 3.6 percent proposition. I’d consider 3.6 percent of a potentially dominant Ford, but not of a Chevy by a driver that has never won a plate race.

3. Kevin Harvick

The issue here for me with Harvick is his inside starting position. He could get shuffled back early on. It’s possible teammate Clint Bowyer starting sixth allows Harvick to slide in, which would put Harvick fourth when the top line shakes out as the preferred line (after Byron, Bowman, and Joey Logano), but it’s also possible he drops further. As such, I seriously doubt he dominates the early going. He still has potential to lead later in the race and win the race, so that’s what you’re banking on if you roster him. Harvick is +800 to win, which implies he’s less than 11 percent to win when removing the house edge. I think you can take some shots at Harvick, but if total exposure to drivers starting inside the top five is optimally at 27-43 percent (depending which assumptions you use), and he’s not likely to dominate, that means I like his optimal exposure in the 5-10 percent range, but I don’t mind if you want to go up to 15 percent, given we’re not using the front two.

4. Joey Logano

Logano starts on the outside, so he’ll probably be third when things shake out after the start, with two Fords directly behind him. He’s probably the favorite to lead in the early going if he can get by the Chevys of Byron and Bowman. However, there’s no guarantee he dominates, and maybe Harvick and Bowyer team up as Stewart-Haas cars to pass Logano, instead of as Fords working with Logano’s Penske. Still, he’s a co-favorite with Harvick and teammate Brad Keselowski at +800 and is more likely to dominate than Harvick early on. Up to 20 percent exposure on Logano isn’t crazy, but I’d probably pare that back to around 8-13 percent myself. Stacking Logano with teammates Ryan Blaney and/or Brad Keselowski (or all three!) is definitely on the table, and I’d probably stack him with one or both in most of my Logano lineups.

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse has the ability to win this race, but I don’t think he’s likely to be dominant, especially starting on that inside line, which forces me to reduce his optimal exposure drastically. Stenhouse doesn’t have Ryan Newman nearby to let him in line, so I can see him falling back early on. Still, he has the ability to win this race, so if you’re mass multi-entering, five percent isn’t crazy. That’s right around his his implied odds to win at +1800. In single-entry and 3-max formats, just fade him completely.

6. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer’s unlikely to dominate, especially early on, because he’ll be behind Logano, and possibly let his teammate Harvick up in front of him. To reach the minimum 50-point threshold I talked about on the podcast, he’ll have to win the race, or at least finish top three, with a significant period of laps led in the middle or latter portion of the race. To reach 56 points, which would probably but not guaranteed get him in the winning lineup, that would definitely take a win, plus at least 5.0 dominator points (20 laps led, or 12 laps led with four fastest laps). I just don’t see it happening. My Bowyer exposure will be minimal.

7. Paul Menard

Menard finished behind Harvick and Stenhouse in his Duel, but draws the dreaded inside lane. He’s been really strong all Speedweeks, so he shouldn’t be counted out for a top three finish, and possibly even a win. However, like Bowyer it’ll take a win and some dominator points to get in that optimal lineup. He’s around 3-4 percent to win per betting odds. He’s gone under-owned all week, and will certainly be low owned again on Sundady, so I don’t hate a 5-10 percent play here. But that’s absolutely the maximum you should go.

8. Aric Almirola

Almirola nearly won last year’s Daytona 500, and quietly ran up front in his Duel race, coming home third. Compared to his fourth-row mate Menard, Almirola starts on the outside, and has more teammates to work with up front at the start. However, relative to Menard I think he goes much higher owned, when in reality I consider the two pretty equal. Neither are likely to dominate, and both have the ability to win, but not as a favorite and not as a super long shot. I’ll probably have minimal Almirola exposure, and get some leverage on the field by flipping him for more Menard in the lineups I do want to get a fourth-row driver.

9. Matt DiBenedetto

DiBenedetto had an amazing debut in his Leavine Family Racing Toyota, and could post a strong finish here. But he’s extremely unlikely to win this race, and certainly won’t dominate. Even if he finishes 2nd, that’s only 49 DraftKings points, and he’s unlikely to have enough dominator points to reach much above the 50 point mark. That means I’ll have zero DiBenedetto come Sunday.

10. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin can definitely win this race, but I far prefer the Fords to the Toyota of Hamlin. What I will do, though, is roster Hamlin in some of my lineups where the Penske and/or Stewart-Haas drivers up front aren’t in my lineup, playing the game that they somehow get involved in a wreck or shuffled back, allowing a few Toyotas to work with Hamlin for the win. Stacking Erik Jones and/or Kyle Busch will be my top priority in my Hamlin lineups that I do have, while minimizing any Stewart-Hass/Penske+Menard/Stenhouse Fords starting in the top 14. If we look at GTO exposure for the 10th position, all four models show around eight percent. I’ll be in that neighborhood with Hamlin come Sunday.

11. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is in a similar boat for me with Hamlin. I’ll use him in stacks with Kyle Busch and/or Jones. I’m not sold on either of Truex or Hamlin dominating unless the Fords wrecked, so I likely won’t pair Hamlin and Truex much, if any.

12. Kurt Busch

Kurt is unlikely to dominate given the Ganassi team’s lack of dominance at plate races recently. At 4-5 percent to win, plus maybe a small shot at being in the winning lineup if he finishes second through fourth, depending how things shake out, he’s no more than a six or seven percent play. If you do play him, stack him with Kyle Larson in most of those lines.

13. Darrell Wallace Jr.

Bubba had a strong Daytona 500 last year, finishing second after starting seventh. He hasn’t shown quite as much speed this year like his Duel race last year. He’s not in the strongest equipment, and doesn’t ride around in the strongest manufacturer, and is near that awkward starting range where we nearly enter no-mans land as far as ending up in the optimal lineup. He’s a super low owned play at best, or even a total fade.

14. Ryan Blaney

Blaney is the final driver before we hit true no-man’s land as far as DFS optimal roster construction goes. That 16-25 starting range can probably be expanded to 15-25 given Chris Buescher is in 15th. That makes Blaney a really solid play for rounding out your top 15 exposure. Optimally, we want somewere between 90 and 115 percent total exposure to the front 14 drivers. Given Keselowski isn’t in the top 14, I rather like being on the lower end of this 90-115 percent range, which would put Blaney at about 20-30 percent total exposure, depending how you’re playing the rest of the drivers above. It’s fine to stack him with Logano and/or Keselowski. Blaney starts on the outside lane, and could certainly dominate a portion of this race.

15. Chris Buescher

Buescher is a near-total fade for me. He’s in the beginning of no-man’s land, and the sim scores and model are not very high on him. He’s a solid plate racer, but I just really dislike his starting position as one of the first cars among a bunch of similar cars in no-man’s land, and worse than a large handful behind him as well.

16. Jamie McMurray

McMurray has shown the ability to get forward, at times running in the top six to eight in both of his races this weekend. But he’s stalled out there. Now there are more cars as well. I don’t love his ability to get a top finish this weekend. He’s not a total fade, but I won’t have more than 5-7 percent McMurray.

17. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson has had some troubles avoiding contact this weekend, but has pulled off a win and an eight place finish in his two races. I certainly like him more than McMurray or Buescher, but again, he’s toward the front of no-man’s land. An average driver starting 17th is around 5-8 percent owned optimally. I might have him in the middle or higher end of that range, but he’s not too much better than an average plate driver, these days, if that.

18. Chase Elliott

Elliott showed some aggression and a proclivity for making moves in his Duel, even if it caught him out at the wrong time with no teammate help. I actually liked seeing that aggression, because now he’ll have teammates, and will try to make moves. Of all the drivers in no-man’s land, Elliott is probably the strongest, so I’ll give him the most exposure to my lineups of all the no-man’s land drivers. Optimally, the 15-25 starting positions will total around 90-100 percent exposure, which means around 8-9 percent per driver in that range. I have no problem doubling that, or even going a bit higher if you want some leverage.

19. Ryan Newman

Once again, I like Newman’s car and ability to get forward, but he’s simply stuck in a crappy starting position. He’s an interesting candidate for single entry, or one lineup in a 3-max, given people will probably gravitate toward chalkier plays, not wanting to “throw away” their one or few bullets and push his ownership percentage too low. Outside of that, he’s just an 8-10 percent GPP play.

20. Austin Dillon

Dillon is your defending Daytona 500 champ, and showed he has no problem using the bumper to win a race. I don’t expect he’ll be in position to repeat, however, given he hasn’t shown the ability to get forward in either race he’s run in Speedweeks. That makes him a rather meh play. He starts 20th, so he’s not a horrible play, but I won’t have too much Austin Dillon.

21. Ryan Preece

Preece will be low-owned given a lot of no-names start farther back, and he’s also a relative no-name to the casual DFS player. I don’t love Preece’s restrictor plate record, and in the Duel Matt Tifft went lower owned than Preece despite Tifft starting three spots farther back. Preece is an underweight play, given his lack of plate success. I wouldn’t go more than five or six percent.

22. Ty Dillon

You can definitely sprinkle in Ty Dillon, especially with teammate Casey Mears in the race as well. He does have a sixth place Daytona finish to his name, and that’s about what he’d need to get into the winning lineup. He’s in the no-man’s land range, so don’t get carried away. Playing him around 8-10 percent is a smart bet.

23. Daniel Suarez

I think a lot of people will like Suarez given he’s in a Ford and starts 23rd. But I think he’ll go too highly owned. I wouldn’t play him more than 20 percent, which is double the GTO exposure for an average 23rd place driver. If you want some leverage on the field, play him 15 percent. He’ll probably be well over 20 percent owned. Fun story, the model and Sim Scores like Austin Dillon more than Suarez, as well as both liking the next guy equal to or better than Suarez…

24. David Ragan

Ragan is a solid plate racer, and does start at the back portion of no-man’s land, so if you want to employ a strategy where you consider Suarez an average plate driver and Ragan the better plate driver, you could even use Suarez 10 percent, and Ragan at 20 percent to get some leverage. The safer bet is more Suarez than Ragan, but strategically I like flipping the two, to get massive leverage on Suarez when he’ll probably be 25 percent owned. That also gets you leverage on Ragan, who should be in the 10-15 percent owned range.

25. Parker Kligerman

I think people will look at Kligerman making it into the field, plus his past plate wins and he’ll go over-owned relative to what he should be. Remember, he was nowhere near the lead pack in his Duel race. He can hang with the lead pack for sure, and avoid wrecks. But other guys farther back, without as much of a plate reputation can as well. I’ll probably be underweight on Kligerman. GTO for a 25th place starter is only 11-14 percent. Halving that for a meh car works.

26. Kyle Larson

Larson hasn’t run well all weekend, in The Clash or in his Duel race. He’ll be heavily owned because of his name and starting position, and he’s certainly better than your average 26th place starter. Only three drivers project for more DK points than him according to the model. However, Larson will need a seventh-place finish or better to hit 56 DK points which is the threshold where more drivers make it into the optimal lineup than not. I like 20-25 percent Larson for sure. You can definitely go even higher, but he’s an interesing underweight play since he hasn’t shown the ability to win a plate race since he nearly won the Daytona 500 in 2017.

27. Landon Cassill

Cassill is a low-owned play or even total fade. He’s in a back-marker car, and hasn’t posted a plate finish of better than 11th since a fourth-place finish back in 2014.

28. Erik Jones

Jones will definitely be popular as one of the stronger cars starting in the back third of the field. Jones is projected to score the third-most DK points per my model, after Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Feel free to use 30-40 percent Jones, or even more if your heart desires. The Sim Scores App gives him fantastic upside.

29. Daniel Hemric

People will look at Hemric’s lack of a plate record and dismiss him. That’s fine by me. He’s still in the same equipment that won the Daytona 500 last year so I don’t mind going overweight on him. He’ll probably be in the mid-teens as far as exposure. But given his average equipment, and GTO exposure for an average driver starting 28th is 17-22 percent, I like getting a bit of leverage on him here by playing him on the top end of that range. He’ll have plenty of teammates to pair up with, as well as pseudo-teammates in Ty Dillon and Casey Mears. I definitely like throwing Hemric into one of three lineups in a 3-max.

30. Brendan Gaughan

Gaughan is a savvy plate racer, and has posted some solid plate finishes. His top-12 rate is 50 percent over the past eight plate races. From starting 30th, a 12th place finish is borderline on getting him in the winning lineup, but solid enough for a cash. His upside per the Sim Scores is around an 11th-12th place finish, which means 15 percent of the time he should finish above that. GTO for 30th place is around 15-20 percent. While Gaughan might be on the lower end of that range, there is value to playing a bit safer and going up to 20 percent on him.

31. Kyle Busch

Now we come to one of the big guns starting in the bottom quarter of the field. Busch certainly has the capability to post a top finish, but I think his race-winning potential is limited, given how little muscle he’s shown in Speedweeks. But he’ll easily draw north of 40 percent ownership, probably in the 50-60 percent range. Or possibly even more. Let’s take a step back here for a moment. GTO for an average 31st place driver is around 20-26 percent. If we doubled that, that puts Kyle at 40-52 percent. There’s also a 30 percent chance he has a major incident. The Sim Scores only give him a median finish of 14.5 if we include DNFs, which would only net him a minimum of 46 DK points. I like having less than 50 percent Kyle Busch, given he could very well end up in the middle of the field for much of the race and get collected in a possible Big One. I like being underweight on both him and Keselowski, but even more so on Busch.

32. Corey LaJoie

LaJoie makes a step up in equipment to Go Fas Racing, which was Matt DiBenedetto’s home the past couple years. When LaJoie was at BK Racing, he did post an 11th place finish at Daytona. The Sim Scores give him a 13th place upside if he finishes the race. However, finishing the race for LaJoie about a 60 percent proposition at best. I don’t like LaJoie more than 10 percent, or so.

33. Matt Tifft

Tifft is a driver I strangely want to hammer in GPPs relative to what he’s going to be owned. Tifft has brought his car across the finish line in all six of his Xfinity plate races, two of his three Truck plate races, and his ARCA plate race. That’s 10 of 11 if you’re scoring at home. Granted, he hasn’t had amazing finishes, but he has had a sixth and 11th in the Xfinity series, and a ninth in Trucks. Anything better than a 14th gets him near the winning lineup, and certainly helps him secure a top eight DK scoring day. That could happen with Tifft avoiding the carnage. GTO for his range is 25-30 percent for an average driver. Maybe he’s a bit less than average, but maybe not? We don’t really know. I’ll take my chances with overweight Tifft.

34. Michael McDowell

Tifft’s teammate Michael McDowell slots alongside him in the starting lineup, and you have to like McDowell this weekend. McDowell projects for the ninth-most DK points per the model, and has an upside of eighth per the Sim Scores. McDowell has a 50 percent top 10 rate at Daytona over his last 10 races at the track. He’s a strong play in all formats, including cash.

35. Brad Keselowski

Undoubtedly Keselowski will be the highest owned driver of the slate. The question is how high? If we just use the Sim Scores, it shows Keselowski’s median finish projects to about 15th. That would only gain him 49 DK points, plus whatever he earns for fastest laps. GTO for an average 35th place driver is around 30-32 percent, so if you want to double that with Keselowski I have no problem with that. But I wouldn’t go higher than that. I like looking at the range of outcome, and realize his median gives him less than a 50/50 shot at being in the winning lineup. Add in some extra percentage for safety, and it probably pushes him over 50 percent in terms of optimal, since cashing at all helps. So I’ll definitely be underweight on him. Just not by as much as I’ll be underweight on Kyle Busch. I do like getting leverage, so there’s a chance I go like 40 percent on Keselowksi depending on how my build goes, but that would be my absolute minimum exposure.

36. Ross Chastain

Chastain got a lot of love in DFS circles at times last year, but didn’t post a finish better than 21st in any of his plate races last year (ironically, he got a DNF in that race). He continues on this year with Premium Motorsports, so don’t expect much from Chastain. I’ll have very little Chastain.

37. Cody Ware

Ware has finished one of his nine career races, and he’s slow. Don’t play Cody Ware.

38. BJ McLeod

McLeod has never finished better than 28th in any Cup race. I’ll commend him on at least finishing 21 of his 23 career Cup starts. It would take massive carnage for McLeod to end up in a cashable lineup. Don’t play BJ McLeod…much. If at all.

39. Tyler Reddick

I expect Reddick to garner a lot of ownership given his starting spot and his Xfinity and Truck record at plate races (a win at Daytona in each series). I think you can definitely play him in that 30-45 percent GTO range and probably higher given he’s in RCR equipment better than any other driver starting 39th in the 40-car era. Honestly, if he doesn’t DNF, which is about 30 percent on average, he has a strong shot of being in the winning lineup. I might play him near as much as I play Keselowski.

40. Casey Mears

Whew, we made it! Mears is also an interesting play, who may go lower owned than Reddick. In Mears’ final four years at Germain Racing as a full-time cup driver, he posted eight top-14 plate finishes in 16 tries. A full 50 percent hit rate! That is significant, because if he finishes 14th, he’s guaranteed at least 56 DK points, which has a better shot than not of getting him in the winning lineup. I don’t mind, as a theory play, flipping Mears and Reddick exposure. In fact, as I write this, Mears may actually become my second highest-owned driver, with Reddick probably in third, because I like leverage.

Quick Hitters — Cash/GPP/Fade

Favorite Cash Plays (also fine in GPPs)

  • Brad Keselowski
  • Kyle Busch
  • Tyler Reddick
  • Michael McDowell

Favorite GPP Plays

  • Erik Jones
  • Matt Tifft
  • Casey Mears

Favorite Top-14 Starting Position Plays

  • Ryan Blaney
  • Joey Logano
  • Martin Truex Jr.

Fades

  • William Byron
  • Alex Bowman
  • Matt DiBenedetto
  • Cody Ware

 

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