NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Daytona 500

Austin Swaim
Austin SwaimASwaim3
NASCAR Daily Fantasy Helper: Daytona 500

If you are looking for an action-packed way to consume sports on the weekend, NASCAR may be a great avenue to explore. Far from just driving in circles, some of the world's best compete nearly every weekend from February to November on tracks across America.

NASCAR drivers are scored ultimately based on how they finish in the race, how many spots they advance from their starting position, and how many laps they finish and lead. Avoiding drivers who crash out of the race is a must, though!

FanDuel Research is always your home for fantasy NASCAR advice. In addition to this helper, Jim Sannes takes a look at the best bets of the weekend in his betting guide.

With all of this in mind, let's preview this weekend's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway from the perspective of playing daily fantasy NASCAR on FanDuel.

Track Primer

The NASCAR season is officially back with cars on track in Daytona, and for those who have returned to NASCAR DFS for several seasons, there's an automatic switch in your brain of knowing what to do in the season's inaugural race.

For the newcomers, Daytona International Speedway is perhaps the most famous venue in stock car racing. This 2.5-mile superspeedway sees cars drafting in packs containing up to the entire 40-car field, and they're zooming through the laps around 190 miles per hours on average. The tight racing and speed can lead to some nasty, lengthy wrecks, as well.

The starting grid for the Daytona 500 is always largely set through a pair of 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday, and that was no exception in 2024. Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell make up the second row for winning those events, trailing only the locked-in front row from Wednesday's time trials.

As a note, weather in Daytona is a bit iffy this weekend. If you commit part of your bankroll to NASCAR DFS this weekend, there is a chance the race is delayed to Monday or Tuesday, and contests will remain live until its completion.

General Lineup Strategy

The veterans know how we approach Daytona races -- stack the back.

Because starting spots aren't correlated with finishing positions and laps led aren't often extremely concentrated, there isn't really an advantage to starting at the front here. The downside -- in DFS anyway -- is that a wreck can result in extreme negative place-differential points for the race's highest starters.

Upside also comes from the drivers at the rear for the exact same reason. The further they ascend up the grid, the more place-differential points they're awarded.

This randomness also means that my median lap time (MLT) weighted rankings are basically useless. As long as the speed to stay in the pack (which should be the case for all 40 cars that made the race) is present, lap-time speed doesn't particularly matter at drafting ovals.

I often leaves thousands of dollars of salary on the table to exclusively build lineups from those starting outside the top-15 positions. Other (viable) theories include a car or two that's listed among the favorites to win, per the NASCAR odds at FanDuel, to capture the win bonus in DFS. To me, due to mayhem in the qualifying races, there are enough quality cars and drivers at the back to believe one of them might win anyway.

After all, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race from the 31st starting spot last year. It truly doesn't matter in terms of win equity, so I prefer to control what I can control with cars toward the back of the field.

Driver Rankings

Below are my post-qualifying rankings for each driver based on equipment, starting order, recent form, track history, and overall talent level -- in that order.

Starting Spot is where the drivers will roll off the grid. For potential lap leaders (i.e. high-salaried drivers), closer access to the front is better. For value plays, a lower starting spot gives a higher floor and access to 0.5 points on FanDuel for each position advanced in the order.

Jim's Sims are the win simulations run by FanDuel Research's Jim Sannes. This week's sims were updated after practice and qualifying. Only drivers with a win probability above 0% in the sims or a top-15 finish this season were included in the rankings.

MLT Rank, the driver's weighted average median lap time ranking at the relevant sample of similar racetracks to this weekend, is a great indicator of overall speed. The prior races in the sample (with weight percentage) this week are:

  • Daytona (Fall 2023) - 65%
  • Talladega (Fall 2023) -35%

Swaim's Rank
Starting Spot
Jim's Sims
MLT Rank
1Ryan Blaney $13,500 325.26%2
2Kyle Busch $10,500 343.20%10
3Bubba Wallace $9,800 242.70%13
4Martin Truex, Jr. $9,000 274.88%19
5Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. $8,000 352.56%1
6Austin Dillon $7,000 331.38%12
7Corey LaJoie $5,500 291.10%20
View Full Table

Studs to Target

Kyle Busch ($10,500)

Kyle Busch was leading in overtime during last year's Daytona 500, but he was crashed late in the going to finish 19th.

There's no doubt Busch -- a three-time winner on drafting ovals -- has the talent to get it done and win his first Harley J. Earl Trophy. He nearly did a year ago from 36th on the starting grid, so don't be intimidated by a 34th-place start in this year's Great American Race.

It goes without saying defending Cup Series champ Ryan Blaney ($13,500) will be popular after crashing in the 150-miler on Thursday and starting 32nd. Personally, I've got Busch in the same tier as both look for their first Daytona 500 win, and starting outside the top 30 provides an extremely high floor.

Bubba Wallace ($9,800)

Speaking of drivers no stranger to winning on drafting ovals, Bubba Wallace certainly qualifies.

Wallace won the 2021 Talladega event in the fall, and he's got five top-five finishes on these layouts. Notably, Toyota dominated the 150-milers on Thursday, but Wallace and Martin Truex Jr. had individual issues that have left them far back in the starting grid. Bubba will start 24th, and Truex will start 27th.

Manufactures often work together in these events, so Wallace and Truex could ascend by virtue of finding their fast Toyota teammates.

With a starting spot closer to the middle than the back, Wallace will be one of the more "contrarian" targets at the back compared to the other three, and that sort of leverage could be crucial in tournaments if the 23XIII racer can come to the checkered flag first.

Mid-Range Threats

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,000)

I'd be remiss to not mention last year's winner when he also fits the mold we're looking for.

Ricky Stenhouse will start even deeper (35th) than he did last year, but the single-car underdog from JTG Daugherty Racing has continued to prove his excellence in this format. Stenhouse Jr. has eight top-five finishes in his career at either Daytona or the 2.66-mile venue in Talladega, AL.

Though not mentioned with Busch, Chevrolet (for now) does seem to be behind the eight-ball compared to Ford (who dominated time trials) and Toyota (who dominated Thursday's qualifying races). That was the case last year when Ricky won and may not end up mattering once again, but it is a path to failure for some of these bowties that should carry tremendous popularity.

Austin Dillon ($7,000)

Another former Daytona 500 winner, Austin Dillon circles these drafting ovals and continues to deliver.

Dillon won the 2018 Great American Race and came through in the clutch in 2022 by triumphing in the fall event, which was his only way to make that year's postseason. A teammate of Kyle Busch, Dillon was right behind K.B. in the order last year before a late accident that put Stenhouse Jr. in a position to win.

Of course, Richard Childress' grandson's best quality is his starting spot. Rolling off 33rd on the grid, his floor is extremely high, and he pairs well with either Busch or Stenhouse, whose small team runs RCR team engines.

Value Plays

Noah Gragson ($5,800)

Some Fords have shown speed this weekend, so Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Josh Berry ($6,500) and Noah Gragson can work as value plays assuming a Ford ascension to the front.

Starting 30th, Berry carries a bit more risk to me. The Cup Series rookie finished 17th or worse in all three Xfinity Series events last year, so there's a chance he's just not super comfortable in this environment. Meanwhile, Gragson has finished top five in two of his last three Xfinity Series starts at Daytona or Talladega -- including a win at the latter.

Plus, Noah does have Cup Series experience here. He finished 24th in last year's Great American Race after an accident, but even a repeat effort wouldn't be too shabby from 38th on the starting grid.

In his first race replacing former series vet Aric Almirola, Gragson will look to fill the shoes of the car's previous occupant, who always seemed to contend on drafting ovals.

David Ragan ($4,500)

Special events can lead to large teams fielding an additional car or two, and David Ragan is one of them.

He's in a third car for Roush Fenway Keselowski (RFK) Racing, and there's not a much better spot to be considering what we saw last time Cup Series cars hit the Daytona high banks. The two full-time drivers for RFK, Chris Buescher ($11,500) and Brad Keselowski ($11,000), finished first and second in the August 2023 race.

There's a reason Ragan, at 38, is out of retirement for this event -- and why RFK picked him. Ragan has one win each at Daytona and Talladega representing the only victories in his entire career. He's a specialist.

Ragan starts "tail-end Charlie" (40th) after some damage to his nose on Thursday that has since been fixed. In addition to his elite starting spot, Keselowski (16th) and Buescher (19th) come with a bit of place-differential juice themselves, and this trio is likely less popular than some of the deep, deep starters we've previously discussed.

Do you think you know who will win this year's Daytona 500? If so, FanDuel Sportsbook is offering a 25% profit boost on an outright winner wager for Monday's NASCAR race. See the promotions page for more information.

Looking to play daily fantasy NASCAR? Check out the FanDuel Daily Fantasy NASCAR contests on FanDuel.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.