Now that we’ve talked strategy for the Duel races, let’s dive right into a driver-by-driver breakdown of the 21-car field for the first of the two Gander RV Duel races, which will set the odd-numbered starting positions for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Here’s a color schematic of the drivers listed
RED – use sparingly, if at all
ORANGE – underweight front runner or low owned back-marker
GREEN – good play … with an asterisk * means cash game viable
BLUE – race winning contender
GRAY – contrarian play/pivot play in GPPs
If a driver falls into multiple categories, I’ll color code him with multiple colors.
1. William Byron
Byron qualified on the pole for the first time in his career, and no better time to do so than the Daytona 500. I doubt Byron wins the race, which means he likely plays it safe if he ever gets shuffled out (which he likely will) to bring his car home in one piece. Remember, if he crashes and has to go to a backup car, he’ll have to drop to the rear of the field for the start of the Daytona 500, and he certainly doesn’t want that to happen. I’d use him sparingly
2. Jimmie Johnson
The winner of this past Sunday’s Clash, Johnson got to second place all on his own merit, which shows he has a car that can contend for a win in this Duel race. However, I don’t consider him as much a favorite as a few drivers starting a bit further back. Certainly you can have exposure to Johnson if you think he has a chance of winning, but I wouldn’t go much past a one-in-three shot of a top-two finish for Johnson.
3. Daniel Hemric
Hemric has never made a plate start at the Cup level, but his Xfinity and Truck series record at plate tracks is suspect, at best. He’s finished 23rd or worse in five of his six plate races in the Xfinity series, with a best finish of eighth in his only good finish. At the truck level, he has finishes of 8th, 11th, 26th, and 28th. In his only ARCA start at a plate race, he finished 11th. Hemric has zero wins in any of those series, plate or no plate. This will just be a learning experience for him, making him a hard fade candidate.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex showed well in The Clash, making up several spots multiple times throughout the race, but got caught up in the big wreck at the end. However, with half of the top cars in the other half of the field, he’ll have an easier time in this 21-car field than this past Sunday’s 20 car field. Look for him to be in contention for the win if he avoids any trouble. One caveat — his brother, Ryan Truex, is a go-or-go-home driver, meaning if he finishes last out of the three go-or-go-homers, he won’t qualify for the Daytona 500. If his brother is in trouble late in the race, and Truex is only mid-pack come the last few laps, I could see him pushing his brother into the Daytona 500, as Keselowski did with his brother back in 2011. However, I consider this a low probability event, but I do need to mention it.
5. Brad Keselowski*
Keselowski is the hands-down favorite for Duel 1, this time starting alongside of his pseudo-teammate Paul Menard, instead of behind him. Keselowski will be popular in all formats. The Westgate has Keselowski at +300 to win at the time of this writing, which means if he wins this race 25 percent of the time, a bettor would break even. Thus, his probability for a top-three finish, which would give him a minimum of 43 DK points, is certainly well higher than that. He’s probably better than even money to finish top three. I don’t mind up to 65 percent exposure to Keselowski.
6. Paul Menard
Menard has to be among the favorites after his dominance in The Clash, but this time he doesn’t have the benefit of clean air, or three other teammates to help him. I actually like going underweight on Menard given how people will be all over him, and he starts in the third row. Based off the strategy article, his third-row starting spot plus his potentially inflated ownership from The Clash lead me to conclude he’s a nice underweight play.
7. Kyle Busch
Busch starts in the dreaded fourth row, and hasn’t shown the capability to win at a plate race in recent years. Maybe he’s better than your average fourth-row car, or maybe not. But if he’s an average fourth-row car, past races dictate he should be about 25 percent owned optimally. Considering he was 28 percent in the Clash, and there are far more worse cars here, I could see him going over-owned as well.
8. Kevin Harvick
Also starting in the dreaded fourth row is Westgate’s second-favorite, Harvick, at +450 to win. I don’t love rostering Harvick for DFS given his starting spot, but I certainly don’t mind rostering him. I’d consider him well above average for a Row 4 starter, and he does start eighth instead of seventh. That means I like Harvick up to around 40-50 percent exposure.
9. Tyler Reddick
Reddick is in a third Childress entry for Daytona, and has two plate wins in his NASCAR national series career — one each at the Xfinity and Truck level. However, he’s new to the Cup Series and doesn’t have a reliable teammate in this race (Hemric is not reliable in this race, to me). Add in a fifth-row starting spot, and I like having no more than 20 percent Reddick. I’ll take my chances with drivers starting further back.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*
Stenhouse is another race favorite and starts 10th, making him a strong play for Thursday night’s race. Stenhouse has two plate wins at the Cup level, and other strong showings in plate races where he crashed out. He’s a contender for me. I like plenty of Stenhouse, but I don’t mind a pivot off him onto the next guy in line.
11. Daniel Suarez
Suarez showed well in The Clash, coming back from a mid-race penalty to push his way inside the top six or seven before the late wreck took him out along with a slew of other cars. I suspect he’ll be far lower owned than Stenhouse, but has an equal or better car. The question, does he have the aggressiveness and ability that Stenhouse has at plate tracks. Here’s your Stenhouse pivot.
12. Chris Buescher
Buescher finished fifth in both Daytona races last year and 10th in his Duel race after starting 15th. That wasn’t quite enough to get him in the winning Duel lineup, but he was in both optimal lineups for the full-field Daytona races. He’s a sneaky play, because I expect other drivers to be higher owned. I don’t think he ends up in the optimal lineup, but as a theory play, I don’t mind 40-45 percent Buescher. Remember, 35 percent is approximately optimal for an average row six driver, and if we think he’ll be low owned, getting some leverage on the field is not a bad theory play.
13. Ryan Newman*
I really really really like Newman in this one. Did I mention really? Newman has his Roush teammate Stenhouse in the race, and also made the switch to Ford this year, which of course is the top manufacturer for plate races. Newman held his own near the front most of The Clash, but now starts in that beautiful Row 7. Feel free to hammer away at Newman.
14. Ryan Truex
Truex is in a Tommy Baldwin Racing car, which has shown the capability to finish well at plate races. Given he’ll be trying to race his way into the field, I expect caution from Truex until late in the race, where he’ll likely be racing Parker Kligerman for the transfer spot to the Daytona 500. I certainly wouldn’t put him on the Newman or Buescher tier, despite a Row 7 start. I don’t expect a top finish from Ryan Truex.
15. Ryan Preece
Preece is Buescher’s teammate at JTG Daugherty Racing, so we know he has the equipment to finish as well as Buescher. He also starts three spots farther back than his teammate. Having Buescher in the race is also a benefit to Preece. However, he’s only made four plate starts in his NASCAR career, all in the Xfinity series. He had three DNFs of 34th or worse, and a 15th at Talladega. I don’t have strong feeling about Preece one way or the other.
16. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto has pulled off a few nice plate results in his career, and now moves into the best equipment of his career, albeit in a lower mid-tier car. However, he certainly could push his way forward and is a nice pivot off Bubba Wallace, given Bubba will be incredibly highly owned.
17. Bubba Wallace*
As mentioned, I think Bubba will be incredibly highly owned, as he should. He’s a solid plate racer, and is definitely not a back marker at plate races. That means, despite his Row 9 start, we should treat him as a driver who could start in Row 6 or 7, but with even more place differential potential. Wallace finished inside the top 19 out of a 40 car field at all four plate races last year, including a second-place finish at last year’s Daytona 500. He also led laps at the first Talladega race. Along with Keselowski, Wallace is the chalk play of the slate.
18. Matt Tifft
Tifft is in a third Front Row Motorsports entry this year, but doesn’t have the benefit of having either of his teammates in this Duel with him. Like DiBenedtto, he’s a pivot off Wallace, should Wallace have a bad race or get caught up in an incident, but I wouldn’t put much stock in Tifft bringing home a finish that puts him in the top-six of DraftKings scoring without a big crash taking out some front runners. He has a sixth and an eighth place finish at Talladega in his Xfinity career, but also six finishes of 11th or worse.
19. Parker Kligerman
Kligerman is actually a solid plate racer, with two wins in the Truck series, and a fifth at Daytona in the Xfinity series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give Ryan Truex a run for his money for the last transfer spot to the Daytona 500 from Duel 1. I actually prefer Kligerman to Ryan Truex, given starting position alone. However, based off equipment, I think it’s less likely Kligerman pushes far enough forward to get inside that optimal lineup. So while I’d use him more than Ryan Truex, I’d still use him somewhat sparingly.
20 Landon Cassill
I don’t expect a solid finish from Cassill in the StarCom Racing entry, but if there was a large crash taking out many contenders, he could sneak his way into the optimal lineup past a few other lower-mid to back marker cars.
21. Cody Ware
I wouldn’t roster Cody Ware.