For every slate throughout the daily fantasy NASCAR season, we’re focusing on just one race. We get one winner, one second-place finisher, and one crop of cars that can rack up place-differential points.
For the Gander RV Duels on Thursday night, we get our one shining exception.
Instead of running each duel as its own slate, FanDuel is offering them together as a single offering. This means double the winners and double the drivers with an opportunity to make up ground.
Clearly, this is going to impact our strategies for DFS. We need to know if we should continue to stack the back as we will for the Daytona 500 itself, how many drivers we should use from each race, and on and on.
Let’s try to answer some of those questions now by looking back at the past five duels at Daytona and applying FanDuel’s scoring rules to those races. What trends start to emerge when we do so? Here are some tips to keep in mind based on this data.
You Need to Target Winners
This would seem pretty obvious on its face, but it’s worth emphasizing: those 43 finishing points for first place are huge.
In these races, points will be scarce. There are only six FanDuel points available for laps led, and the most place-differential points anybody can get in the 2019 duels is 10. As such, finishing points are going to be the main catalysts for a solid fantasy outing.
Over the past five seasons, the top-scoring driver once you combine the two duel races has been one of the winners each time. The winner of the other race has been no worse than third in scoring, and the two winners have occupied both of the top spots three times. This isn’t earth-shattering news, but it is something we need to note.
Because of this, when you’re filling out a tournament lineup, you need to play the assumption game. In one lineup, assume that Brad Keselowski wins the first duel and Joey Logano nabs the second. Plug them in and build from there. Then, assume two different drivers get the wins and see where that leads you.
The assumption game is tougher for cash games because you do need to be a bit more conservative, and that should force you to focus on drivers starting a bit further back. But given that tournaments should be the more popular game type for this event, you will want to be picking your top guns and then figuring out the rest.
Spread Your Exposure Between Both Races
This one basically goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. If you’re picking a winner from each race, you’re naturally using drivers in both duels. But the lack of overall points available should further drive this point home.
In only one of the past five races have the two highest-scoring drivers come from the same race. In that one, the next five highest-scorers all came from the other duel.
If you’re looking at strictly the five highest-scoring drivers in each year, all of them have included two drivers from one race and three from another. There were three instances in which four of the top six all came from the same race, but if you’re just looking at purely the high-end options, they’ll probably be spread between the two races.
The one instance in which you may want to “stack” one race is if you believe one will feature more passing than another. Less passing could allow one driver to monopolize all the laps led, putting a cap on the upside of the other drivers in that race. Additional passing in the other would create more opportunities for drivers to earn place-differential points.
Even in this instance, though, you’ll still want to snag the winner from the other race. So the heaviest you should skew is four drivers from one race and one from another while generally favoring a three-two combination.
Be Wary of Pole-Sitters
This part is a bit more anecdotal, but the data aligns, too. Pole-sitters are high-risk plays Thursday night.
For almost every driver in the field, the duels will determine where they start in the Daytona 500. William Byron and Alex Bowman — the pole-sitters for the first and second duels, respectively — already know they’ll be on the front row thanks to their stout qualifying runs last Sunday. The only thing that could change that is if they were to wreck in the duel and go to a backup car.
There is still something on the line for these two as the top 10 drivers in each duel will receive points for the regular-season standings. But this rule was also in place last year, and Bowman still immediately dropped to the back once the race started. Given that Byron is Bowman’s teammate, it seems likely a similar thing could happen this year.
It’s worth noting that Chase Elliott — coincidentally, also a teammate to Bowman and Byron — did win his duel in 2017 after sitting on the pole. He led 25 laps and was the highest-scoring driver that year. It’s possible for a pole-sitter to crank out a good run in these races, but using them does come with a healthy amount of risk.
After Getting Your Winners, Dip Further Back
After all, it’s still Daytona. And in Daytona, we stack the back.
Let’s say you’ve picked your winner for each race. You then need to decide how to fill out the other three slots on your roster. You’d need to decide for those three whether you gun for the finishing points tied to a second-place finish or you dip further back to prioritize place differential.
To help with this conundrum, let’s take winners out of the equation and look at the other high-scoring duels drivers over the past five years. In order to cast a wider net, we’ll look at the five highest-scoring drivers who didn’t win their duel to see where they started. Here’s that list for each year with the “1st” column representing the highest-scoring driver from that year who didn’t win their duel.
You do still get some drivers who start at the front and score well without winning. But in general, once you snag your winners, then you’re hunting for place differential.
The starting positions in the table above are higher than what we’ll see for high-scoring drivers in the Daytona 500. You have to remember, though, that there are just 21 drivers in each field, meaning things will inherently skew more toward the front. Once you account for that, it’s still clear that drivers in the back carry good upside.
The range that pops up most often in the chart above is from 6th to 10th (seven appearances). In this range, you find drivers who weren’t total duds in single-car qualifying and have a quick path to the front but also have a bit of place-differential juice to squeeze. That tier has some really interesting names for each duel this year, and you’ll likely want to be there fairly often.
The second best range seems to be the drivers starting between 11th and 15th. They occupied a top-three scoring slot among non-winners six times, which was most of the group. You’ve got even more place-differential upside in this tier, and again, they at least showed some speed in single-car qualifying. Based on the way qualifying for the duels played out, this seems like a great area to snag your value plays.
Overall, once you pick your winners, it’s fair if you want to stick near the front. After all, there were six drivers who started in the top five who scored well without a win. But the safest range appears to be between 6th and 15th where you get the best of both worlds.
Drivers Starting in the Back Are Generally Underwhelming
In the previous section, you’ll note that we didn’t talk much about drivers starting all the way in the back. There was a reason for that.
Once you dip beyond the top 15 starters, you’re getting into drivers with really poor equipment who struggled in qualifying. Those drivers can do well at Daytona because it de-emphasizes equipment, but it is a bit of an uphill battle.
Combining the past five seasons of duel races, only 3 of the 16 drivers to score more than 50 FanDuel points started outside the top 15. One was Dale Earnhardt Jr., and another was Kevin Harvick. They were quality drivers who just happened to be starting toward the back.
Looking at this year’s field, there are some intriguing drivers coming from the rear. Bubba Wallace starts 17th in the first duel, and Kyle Larson is 16th in the second. You can definitely make an argument around using drivers like that in this format. But you don’t necessarily need to force yourself to use drivers that far back unless you truly like what they offer.
Overall, it seems like history has given us a pretty clear outline of what we should want from our rosters for the duels.
First, we want to pick drivers who we think will win in each race. These drivers score well no matter where they start, so you want to begin with an assumption around who comes out on top.
Then you want to heavily target the drivers starting between 6th and 15th. These drivers can work their way to the front and pick up place-differential points in the process. Historically, that has worked out well from a fantasy perspective.
While we’re going through this, we’ll want to make sure we’re getting drivers from each race. Generally, we’ll want to include three drivers from one and two from the other with only the occasional lineup that skews more heavily one way or the other.
The drivers you’ll want to be most cautious with are those on the pole and those all the way in the back. The risks there are pretty substantial, and at least with the drivers on the pole, the upside is a bit limited, as well.
You’ve got a lot of freedom for this format, which is the plus of having the two races being included on one slate. We’re not going to get an opportunity like this again until next year’s duels, so take advantage and see if you can peg both of the winners, setting your bank account up for a glorious night.