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NASCAR DFS Driver-By-Driver Breakdown for The Clash

Qualifying was set by a random draw, and Paul Menard will start on the pole for Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. I’ll give you a driver-by-driver breakdown here for the 20-driver field. Also, be sure to check out my stats, facts, and strategy article for this race as well, a race in which I won the main DFS slate in 2016 and 2017. Let’s dive right into the breakdown!

Color coding

RED – very underweight

ORANGE – underweight

BLUE – dominator/winning potential

PURPLE – contrarian dominator/winning potential

GREEN – good play

GRAY – contrarian play

Combinations of these colors can also show my feelings. For example, a blue-orange would be a driver who can dominate, but for other reasons I may like being underweight on.

1. Paul Menard

Unfortunately Menard starts on the pole, because he’s one of my favorite drivers to use at plate races. However, with the pole position comes the most potential for negative place differential in the field. Unless he wins the race, he’ll certainly score you a negative in the place differential category. Menard also isn’t a plate dominator, leading only 1.4 percent of plate laps last year despite being on the strongest manufacturer, Ford. He’s a driver I’ll be fading hard.

2. Kyle Busch

Only one driver since 2013 has started on the front row and ended up in the optimal lineup in The Clash. That was Denny Hamlin in 2014 when he led 27 laps and won the race. Kyle Busch hasn’t had the best track record for leading laps at The Clash — he’s led only 11 laps in the past six Clash races — and his plate dominance was nonexistent last year. He led even fewer laps than Menard in plate races last year, heading the field on only 0.5 percent of all plate laps run. I find it likely that Menard leads the early laps, especially with Ford pseudo-teammates Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney starting 3rd, 7th, and 8th respectively. I may splash Kyle in a few lineups, but I’ll have no more than 10 percent exposure to him.

3. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski has the best shot at dominance of any driver in this race. First, he’s led at least 8 laps in the clash four of the five years he’s raced in it since 2013. In last year’s edition, he led 43 laps despite starting 17th, and went on to win. However, he does start very far forward and there’s no guarantee things will go smooth in the pits or in the race. I will definitely have my share of Keselowski exposure, but I believe I’ll be underweight to the field, because I believe he’ll be too highly owned — in the 40 percent range, when he should be closer to 20 percent.

4. Ryan Newman

Newman moves to the Ford at Roush Fenway Racing this year, which makes him a sneaky contrarian play at the Daytona 500, depending on where he starts. However, starting fourth in The Clash means it’s a tall order for Newman to end up in the winning lineup. I was hoping he’d draw a position in mid-pack, like 8-13 range. Instead, he’s in a difficult spot — unlikely to lead and with more downside than upside. I might splash a bit with him, but I’m not gonna go crazy here.

5. Alex Bowman

Bowman starts fifth on Sunday and has shown a propensity for running at the front in plate races. He had the best average running position of any driver last year in the four plate races at 10.0. He also led an average of 5.2 percent of the plate laps per race last year. Bowman was in my winning lineup in 2017, and has a shot to be in the winning lineup this time. If you’re taking a shot at a top-five driver, I like Bowman as the pivot off Keselowski. Bowman will be lower owned than Keselowski for sure.

6. Kevin Harvick

Harvick is another driver that could lead this race, depending how things shake out. He’s in my list of eight drivers where I’ll want to have at least 1-2 of them in my lineup, but starting sixth makes me like him less simply because of place differential. Harvick led an average of 8.8 percent of the plate laps per race last year, and won this race in 2013 with a dominating 40 laps led despite starting 17th. So some exposure is warranted, but I prefer Keselowski and Bowman as my up-front drivers likely to lead.

7. Joey Logano

Logano isn’t quite the plate racer that Keselowski is, so I believe he’s the protector and not the dominator in this Penske group. Logano has led a total of 16 laps at The Clash since 2013. By comparison, Keselowski has led more than 16 laps three out of five times. I’ll probably be underweight to the field on Logano. He can definitely win this race, so I’m not going to have zero exposure, but I think Logano is a nice leverage spot relative to the field to go underweight on.

8. Ryan Blaney

Blaney is an interesting case. I think he’ll draw some exposure, but he’s also starting in that 8th place spot where place differential and finishing position can combine for a lot of points even with just a top-three finish. However, he’s not going to be crazy-high owned simply because of his starting position. Blaney led an average of 15 percent of the laps at plate races last year, and posted a fourth place finish in his only Clash appearance. I’ll definitely have a good chunk of Blaney exposure on Sunday.

9. Austin Dillon

Dillon is going to be one of the lowest owned drivers on the slate, despite his Daytona 500 win. Instead, people will opt for the big names further back, or even the drivers starting eighth (Blaney) and tenth (Daniel Suarez in a Ford, starting one spot further back) over Dillon. I’ll be overweight on Dillon, but this is purely a game theory play, where I hope for a bunch of wrecks and Dillon comes through unscathed. I doubt he’ll lead any of this race unless some wrecks really shake things up.

10. Daniel Suarez

If you listened to the On the Daily NASCAR DFS podcast for The Clash, you’ll hear me talk about Suarez as a favorite sneaky play of mine should he start mid-pack. Well, here we are. He’s starting 10th, as a medicore plate driver to this point in his career. And that’s exactly why I love him this weekend. He moves to the dominant manufacturer on plate races — Ford. He’s on the team whose drivers ran 1-4 for almost the entire Talladega plate race in last year’s playoffs. He’ll be low owned, and I’ll pounce.

11. Jamie McMurray

McMurray starts 11th in what is essentially a third Ganassi entry. This is likely McMurray’s last Daytona Speedweeks, so look for him to push hard because wrecking this car certainly doesn’t matter. McMurray hasn’t finished better than sixth at the Clash in the Gen 6 car, and has DNFs in three of his five appearances over that span. But he has led double-digit laps twice. All drivers have a wide range of outcomes here, but McMurray’s range might have the fattest tails. I don’t think he’ll be particularly high owned, so I may go overweight on him too. He might be the most puzzling driver in the field for me.

12. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is now in the No. 19 car at Joe Gibbs Racing but Truex has a bit of a bad rap in the community as far as restrictor plate racing goes. However, he did finish second in the 2016 Daytona 500, and second in The Clash in 2015 with 29 laps led. I actually think he could go under-owned with guys like Denny HamlinChase ElliottKurt BuschErik Jones, and Kyle Larson starting farther back, plus his perceived bad track record at plate races. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put up a top five finish and end up in the winning lineup, at all. He might be the driver I have the hardest time with as far as pinpointing his ownership, so I’m not sure how my exposure will shake out relative to the field for Truex.

13. Jimmie Johnson

Johnson led 1.6 percent of the plate laps last year while his teammates all led at least 5.1 percent of the laps so he’s unlikely to win the race. However, he’ll be criminally under-owned thanks to the big names at the back and his lack of a plate track record in recent years. I don’t like him as much as I like Truex, but if you think Truex will be higher owned than I’m guessing, he’s a nice pivot off Truex.

14. Kyle Larson

Larson is an interesting underweight candidate for me. He hasn’t shown dominance at plate tracks in his career, despite nearly winning the 2017 Daytona 500, and led exactly zero laps at plate races last year. He had an average finish only 21st best in plate races when we remove each driver’s DNFs in 2018. However, simply because of his name and starting position, he’ll draw quite a bit of exposure by DFS players on Sunday. If he’s over 40 percent owned, I like being underweight on him.

15. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer starts in the back six, which means you can hammer away at him. However, remember that 45 percent of cars, on average, don’t finish the clash, and he doesn’t start dead last. Clint didn’t finish either of the two Clash races he race in during the Gen 6 era. I doubt he leads, so he’s a candidate to be caught up in a wreck.

16. Chase Elliott

Elliott is a strong play on Sunday, and with a bottom-five starting position I’m sure we’ll see his ownership through the roof in DFS contests. I’ll have plenty of Elliott myself, but I’m not crossing the 60 percent exposure threshold with any driver in this race. Elliott led 6.1 percent of plate laps on average last year, but didn’t finish well, posting an average finish of 25.2 in the plate races, including only 17.0 in plate races where he was running at the end.

17. Denny Hamlin

Hamlin might contend for highest ownership in the field tomorrow. He’s led at least 8 laps in four of his six Clash races in the Gen 6 era, has two Clash victories over that time span, and has a Daytona 500 win. Last year was a bit of a down year for Hamlin at plate tracks, with 10 drivers leading more laps than him. I’ll be underweight on Hamlin if he’s over 60 percent owned.

18. Aric Almirola

Last year Almirola nearly took the Daytona 500 before being spun out on the last lap by Austin Dillon, then he punched his ticket to the final eight in the playoffs with a win at Talladega. Almirola has always been a good plate racer, but the DFS world is finally catching up to that fact. He’s a fine play on Sunday.

19. Kurt Busch

Busch led most of the last plate race at Talladega, but ran out of fuel at the end and finished 14th. Kurt has a Daytona 500 win to his name, and a multitude of top-three finishes at plate races. However, in the Clash he’s not been as fortunate. He has four DNFs in six races since 2013, with only two top-10 finishes (3rd last year and 7th in 2016). He’s a candidate to get caught up in a wreck for sure, but can also win this race.

20. Erik Jones

Jones won his first Cup race last year at a plate race, and led an avearge of 4.8 percent of laps at plate tracks last year. He starts dead last, so place differential is only positive for him. Feel free to him in 60 percent of your lineups if you want, but because of the nature of the race, I wouldn’t go much higher than that.

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