Who’s ready for some good, old Thursday night racing?

As the “official” start of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seasons inches closer, us fans get another little taste of what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500 with the two Gander RV Duel races tonight. And don’t worry about the weather: the forecast looks beautiful.

Approaching the Duel races from a Fantasy NASCAR perspective has always been challenging, simply because of the nature of these quick, 60-lap events. The thing is, the drivers and teams tonight will have a wide variety of strategies. The finishing order of these Duel races determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500, so that means that if a driver wants to start in the back, all he has to do is hang out in the back during his Duel, and his wish will come true.

Additionally, the teams are racing their Daytona 500 cars tonight, which means there’s an incentive to not be as aggressive as normal–as in a lower probability of forcing your team to pull out the backup car and get it ready for Sunday.

Last weekend in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, the drivers had one thing and one thing only on their mind: winning the race. Tonight, there’s more strategy involved in how they want to race in their respective Duel.

Speaking of strategy, the restrictor plate DFS rule of focusing on place differential is the golden ticket to success once again. However, we do have limited fields tonight (21 cars in each), so place differential isn’t going to be as big of a factor as it is in a full-field race. Just like in the Clash, it’s not a bad idea to mix in a few drivers that start in the top 10.

You can click here for the starting lineup for both Duel races tonight, and make sure you’re getting into DraftKings contests early (if you’re playing). The Duel contests are filling very early, although DraftKings seems to be adding more as the day goes by. Personally, I won’t be playing much tonight.

GPP Drivers I Love for Daytona Duel #1

Kevin Harvick Darlington Throwback 2018 Fantasy NASCAR
Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

There are some very good, top-tier racers in Duel #1 tonight, but one that I particularly like for DraftKings is Kevin Harvick ($9,800). The reason? Consistency. Over the last eight Daytona 500s, Harvick has an average starting spot of 11.5–and he’s done that without earning a single pole. That means his average finish in his Duel races over the last eight years is 5.8. Not too shabby. He starts 8th in tonight’s race and is the 2nd-highest-priced driver on the Duel #1 slate. Hopefully that keeps his ownership percentage relatively low, as I plan on having him on at least 40% of my lineups.

Another strategy play that I like in Duel #1 tonight is Chris Buescher ($6,700). He’s starting back in 12th, which is a little bit more toward the front than I would like, but look at the guys he has around him salary-wise: Bubba Wallace ($7,500) starting 17th, Ryan Preece ($7,200) starting 15th, and Matt DiBenedetto ($6,500) starting 16th. Without putting much thought into it, most DraftKings players are going to plug one of those guys in over Buescher, simply due to the place differential potential. That’s where the strategy mindset comes in.

Additionally, Buscher is a respectable restrictor plate racer, and actually finished 5th in both points-paying races at Daytona last season. He ended up 10th in the 2017 July race as well. With that being said, Buescher is one of those drivers that doesn’t mind hanging out in the back for much of the race. That means there’s a more than likely chance that he will not be going at 100% in his Duel race tonight. However, with aggressive drivers like Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, as well as a bunch of young guys in this race, I think the chances of wrecks are more likely in Duel #1 than Duel #2–thus Chris Buescher could end up being a great play by staying out of trouble.

GPP Drivers I Love for Daytona Duel #2

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Over the years, one thing has been pretty consistent when it comes to the Duel races at Daytona: if one is a little crazy and wreck-filled–which I think Duel #1 has the highest chance to be tonight–the other one is completely calm.

Joey Logano ($9,900) is the favorite to win Duel #2 tonight, and is also the highest-priced driver in DraftKings. With his 3rd-place starting spot, though, I could see Joey’s ownership percentage being relatively low (if that’s possible for a big-name driver in a 21-car field). Still, most DraftKings players are going to gravitate toward the other favorites that start further back–such as Logano’s teammate, Ryan Blaney, who starts 8th–due to more potential place differential. That makes me want to roll the dice with Logano. We have two Chevys starting up front, and it wouldn’t be surprising if one of them (Alex Bowman) hung out in the back of the pack in order to not tear up his race car. With Logano in a Ford, that’s a great opportunity for him to get up there and lead the most laps tonight. So, even though he starts 3rd, I like Joey as a GPP play in the Duel #2 race. In his last four Duel race starts, Logano has finished 2nd, 8th, 2nd, and 3rd, and even led 56 laps in last year’s event.

I think the low-dollar drivers are going to be key in tonight’s Duel #2 slate, and I really like Casey Mears ($5,900) as a GPP play. Yes, Mears hasn’t made a Cup Series start at Daytona since the 2016, but looking at his finishes in the last seven points-paying races here, Casey has finished 12th or better in six of them! Those are in full-field races, too. As far as tonight goes, Mears is locked into Sunday’s Daytona 500 based on his speed in qualifying, so all he’s racing for is a better starting spot. I’ll be heavy on him, especially with that 13th-place start–that in and of itself should keep Casey’s ownership percentage relatively low.

As someone who has always been obsessed with numbers, Fantasy NASCAR has been the perfect fit with me. I pride myself on the quality of my analysis for each race, and am glad that I have been able to help others along the way. I've been a serious Fantasy NASCAR player for over 10 years now, and I'm just getting started.