Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona

The NASCAR Cup Series is sticking in Daytona, primed to run the road course for the second time in two weeks and the third time overall. What can the first two races teach us about the optimal strategy for NASCAR DFS?

For the second time in two weeks, the NASCAR Cup Series is turning right. This time, though, it's with a full field and points on the line.

The Cup Series is sticking around in Daytona, preparing for another race on the road course. The first was the Busch Clash last Tuesday, which Kyle Busch won after Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney wrecked in the final couple corners. Elliott and Blaney were able to largely shrug it off because it wasn't a regular-season race; things might be different this time around.

The other key difference between the two races is that this one is a full field. Whereas the Clash had just 21 cars, this one has 40. That gives us additional places to turn for place-differential, which is always key in a shorter race.

That doesn't mean it's as big of an emphasis as it was Sunday for the Daytona 500. Let's dig back into last year's race at the Daytona road course and see what we can learn and what it means for NASCAR DFS strategy this weekend.

An Exciting Opener

We don't have a lot of data yet on the Daytona road course due to the small sample. But both last year's regular season race and the Clash told us the same thing: you can make passes if you're fast enough.

In both races, drivers went from the front of the field to the back and then returned to the front again. In 2020, Elliott stayed out to gain stage points in the first stage, fell to 19th during the stage break, and was back up to 7th just a handful of laps later. He regained the lead on lap 32 and won.

In the Clash, Martin Truex Jr. started in 18th but was leading on lap 14. He then had to go to the back again due to a black flag. Once again, Truex picked his way through the field and took the lead on lap 28. He promptly wrecked by himself that same lap, but seeing him tear through the field twice in 28 laps was impressive.

Elliott and Truex are the two best road racers in the sport, so we shouldn't go crazy with takeaways from that, but they showed you can pass here if you've got the speed. That's nice for us with DFS.

There are just 70 laps in Sunday's race, the second-shortest points-paying race of the year. That leaves just 7.0 FanDuel points available for laps led. When that's the case, we have less incentive to use drivers starting at the front, pushing us toward drivers who can generate upside via place-differential.

Thankfully, we'll have options in that department. Truex will start in the middle of the pack after running into issues early in Sunday's 500. The same is true for Ryan Blaney and William Byron, both of whom have run out front at road courses. You'll be able to find some place-differential options. We just need to make sure we're not going too far there and disregarding finishing potential.

The other ripple effect of a short race is that a larger chunk of the total scoring pie will come from finishing position. In last year's Daytona roval, only two drivers topped 50 FanDuel points, and only six topped 45. With 43 points going to the winner and 40 going to second, that should make it obvious how important it is to get those top-end finishers in our lineups.

We can see this dynamic by looking at the perfect lineup from that race. You did get some place-differential outlets, but you certainly weren't ignoring the front.

Perfect Lineup Salary Start Laps Led
Chase Elliott $13,500 7th 34
Denny Hamlin $12,000 2nd 16
Jimmie Johnson $8,800 11th 0
Chris Buescher $7,000 21st 0
Michael McDowell $6,500 30th 0

That race had Elliott and Truex both starting near the front, so the dynamic was different than it will be this year with Truex starting deeper in the pack. But finishing points need to be a priority.

This gives us a pretty clear outline on how to view drivers from a DFS perspective. Basically, it's a flow chart depending on where the driver is starting.

1. Is the driver starting deep in the field? If yes, can they get us a top-10 finish? If they check both boxes, consider using them.

2. Is the driver starting at the front but capable of winning? If yes, consider using them.

The reason we can be more lax on finishing positions with those starting deeper in the pack is that they get a bump via the place-differential. In last year's race, Michael McDowell finished 10th, giving him just 31 finishing points. But because he got 10 points from place-differential after starting 30th, he still was the fourth highest-scoring driver and was in the perfect lineup. But it's hard to justify a driver no matter how deep they're starting if they can't get a top-10. None of the 11 drivers who topped 37 FanDuel points finished lower than 12th.

For those at the front, we likely need a top-five finish and some laps led. Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Jimmie Johnson finished first, second, and fourth, respectively, to crack last year's perfect lineup. If a driver is starting up front but doesn't have race-winning or top-five upside, it'll be tough for them to generate enough points to move the needle.

Overall Strategies

Given the format of the race, we must start our prep by hunting for drivers starting further back who can generate place-differential points. There's no way around that in such a short event. We just have to be careful when navigating those waters.

With each place-differential candidate we check out, we have to ask ourselves whether that driver can get a top-10. You can lean on betting odds to answer that question or just your own evaluation of the drivers, but it's a question that has to be asked. If you don't see a top-10 within their realistic range of outcomes, you should pass them up. Finishing points matter too much to make those sacrifices.

With those starting at the front, you have to shift the question to be whether they can push for a win and finish in the top five. There may not be a ton of laps to lead here, but a dominant outing can still make a difference, especially if it comes with the 43 points for a win. We want to ensure we get those 43- and 40-point bumps in our lineups, even if it means targeting drivers starting near the front.

This does put a heavy burden on making sure we pick the right drivers versus picking the right starting range to target. That's tough, especially given that guys like Truex have had issues even while running out front at this track. But that's the path to filling out a tournament-winning lineup, so it's important to dig in, identify drivers who have the requisite upside for where they're starting, and make those drivers staples in our rosters.