DraftKings is running a free-entry $10,000 total payout contest for the Daytona 500, so it’s a good time to jump into the daily fantasy world if you’ve been considering it.
The field of NASCAR players in DraftKings has been growing dramatically over the last year, with the company citing data that shows contest entries up 126% since last year’s 500.
I’ve played DraftKings a few times over the last couple years, and I’m absolutely terrible. I always see tweets from my Twitter followers about them winning money, but I never do.
So I asked Pearce Dietrich, DraftKings’ NASCAR expert, to give me a few pointers on Daytona strategy. As it turns out, I’ve been looking at Daytona all wrong.
“Going into this race, don’t pick it like a normal race,” he said. “You’re trying to get guys who are in the back and move them up.”
Why? Because in addition to points for the finishing position, DraftKings scoring is +/- one point for every position gained or lost from the starting grid. Martin Truex Jr. starts 35th after failing inspection, which gives him an opportunity to gain way more points than a driver who starts in the top 10.
“Clint Bowyer is starting sixth, so even if he wins the race, he could max out at 48 points,” Dietrich said. “In last year’s Daytona 500, 48 points would only be the ninth-best driver. And that’s the best he can do. So guys like Bowyer can have a good race day in real life, but in fantasy, you’re looking for those home run guys.”
Last year, five of the six top point-scorers in the 500 started outside the top 25, led by Truex (70 points) and Ryan Newman (62) and Regan Smith (58).
So even though it’s tempting to pick the Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin types, it might not be worth it because they have a low ceiling for success.
Though there are also awards for fastest driver on a given lap (0.5 points) and a lap led (0.25), that’s hard to predict at Daytona.
“You might have a guy that leads a lot of laps, but that’s mostly one guy,” Dietrich said. “And you can’t really count on fastest lap because of the draft. So the guys who stand to score the most are guys who started toward the back and ended up in the top 15.”
Based on that, here’s the lineup I’m going with for Sunday. (Note: I wouldn’t trust these picks because I’m generally terrible at this, but I’m writing them anyway.)
— I’m going to pick Elliott Sadler ($6,600) for my first slot. He’s starting last, but he’s worth a shot considering what a good plate racer he’s been over the years (even though he hasn’t made many appearances in Cup races lately). And doesn’t it seem like Tommy Baldwin Racing’s Top 10 Kids Eat Free at Golden Corral car is often in contention here?
— Since he failed inspection after the Duel and now starts 35th, Truex ($9,000) seems like an expensive but worthy pick. He could have a repeat of last year’s DraftKings points bonanza. I’ll take the risk.
— On a similar note, AJ Allmendinger ($6,700) starts 38th after failing Duels inspection. He only has four DNFs due to crashes in 29 career restrictor-plate starts, so that’s not bad.
— Landon Cassill ($5,500) has a good combination here: He’s a solid plate racer, comes at a cheap price and starts 27th — seven spots further back than his equally tempting Front Row Motorsports teammate, David Ragan.
— At this point, I have a LOT of money to spend on just two more drivers — a whopping $22,200! So although he’s had a shaky Speedweeks, why not go with Jimmie Johnson ($10,000)? He’s starting 24th, so those are some decent points for a guy who could finish in the top five (or win).
— Now I’ve run out of drivers I really trust to make big comebacks from the mid-20s and lower, so I’m going to do something I probably should avoid and pick Brad Keselowski ($10,300). I am totally sold on Keselowski’s ability to lead a ton of laps, which could make up for his low points potential (he starts seventh).
So that’s my lineup and I have $1,900 left. Did I make the right calls? We’ll see.
Side note: If you decide to play, please use this link because I just signed up for DraftKings’ affiliate program, which means you can actually help support this website through your future entry fees if you’re a new player.