Daytona 500 Duels Preview: Qualifying for the Daytona 500

Daytona 500 Duels Preview: Qualifying for the Daytona 500

This article is part of our NASCAR DFS series.

Speedweeks 2022 get underway this week with practice and qualifying.  However, as a part of the qualifications and events, NASCAR uses twin qualifying races to determine most of the starting grid for the Daytona 500. These two 150-mile qualifying races (60 laps each) set the odds and evens on the starting grid and give the fans a good taste of the action coming their way the following Sunday. 

Most fantasy racing leagues don't recognize this heat race doubleheader in the fantasy racing season, but some do along with many daily fantasy racing games and racing pools that form specifically for the Duels. The competition is open to all NASCAR Cup Series teams who are entered for the Daytona 500. The Duels are how NASCAR determines which teams make the field for the Great American Race, and which teams have to pack up and head home because they didn't make the cut for the 40-car field.

NASCAR determines the pole position and outside pole position based on lap-time qualifying runs on the previous Sunday. Once the front row is locked in after timed qualifying runs, the odds from timed qualifying make up the field of Duel 1 and the evens make the field of Duel 2. In last season's twin qualifying races, we had a field of 22 drivers in each of the two Duels. We should see similar, if not greater numbers this season. 

These twin qualifiers are unlike our normal NASCAR events due to the split field and 150-mile sprint for a starting grid spot. It typically creates conservative racing among the favorites since you need to preserve that car for the Daytona 500, and it creates frantic racing among the teams not locked into the Daytona 500. Those drivers and teams are scrambling and taking risks for every spot they can grab in order to make the field for the Great American Race. For our statistical analysis, we've looked back at the past two seasons of superspeedway racing to get a feel for our top contenders this week. Below are the statistics for the last eight Cup Series events on superspeedway ovals. These include Daytona and Talladega. 

DriverWins Top 5sTop 10sLaps LedAvg Finish
Denny Hamlin2562868.3
Ryan Blaney2359611.1
Bubba Wallace1334112.1
Chase Elliott03410914.3
Kevin Harvick0355910.8
Brad Keselowski1235116.5
Joey Logano01120221.6
Chris Buescher0143417.3
Austin Dillon0121015.9
Michael McDowell122517.8
William Byron1336019.6
Tyler Reddick0132420.3
Erik Jones0233518.3
Corey Lajoie002217.8
Christopher Bell0116021.5
Alex Bowman0031821.3
Martin Truex Jr.0113922.4
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.0113922.6
Kurt Busch0121022.6
Aric Almirola0113221.1

These twin qualifiers are unlike the typical Cup Series events, so we'll handle the prognostications a bit different as well. We'll give you our picks for who'll contend for the win in either of the Duels. The fields will be set after lap-time qualifying (Wednesday, February 16) which is the day before the Duels, so you'll have to match up which driver competes in which race. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin has been the 500-pound gorilla of superspeedway racing in recent years. He's a three-time Daytona 500 winner and has flexed his muscles in more than one Daytona Duel qualifier. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has three career victories in the Duels and he has led more than 75 laps in these races in recent seasons. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has been a bit underwhelming in his last two Duels, but never count out Hamlin. He's always a major threat to win at Daytona, and no better way to christen the new Next-Gen car than to take it to victory lane this Thursday evening.

Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing youngster has elevated his game in this style of racing to the point where Blaney is now among the elite performers on the huge ovals. He has one Daytona victory and two Talladega wins in his brief Cup Series resume. The Daytona win came in last season's Coke Zero Sugar 400 and marks Blaney's final mastery of this historic Florida oval. In addition, Blaney is a one-time winner of the Duels (2018) and he's finished within the Top 6 in five of his seven starts in the Daytona Duels. That works out to a stellar 7.9 average finish for Blaney in these races since 2015. He's a top contender to win his Duel this week. 

Chase Elliott – For what Elliott lacks in victories in the statistical table above, he has shown incredible speed in this style of racing the last two seasons. The Hendrick Motorsports star's 109 laps led ranks third among drivers in the Cup Series the last two seasons between Daytona and Talladega. Elliott is a one-time Talladega winner, but he's never won a points race at Daytona. Don't let that deter your fantasy racing expectations. Elliott is a two-time winner of the Duels. It's more than likely that this abbreviated form of Daytona racing, just 60 laps, is more in his wheelhouse than the actual Daytona 500. The shortened distance takes pit stops and the team component mostly out of the picture, and puts the outcome more in the driver's hands.         

Joey Logano – Logano's luck in this style of racing has been poor the last couple seasons, but the speed in the No. 22 Ford has still been undeniable. The Penske Racing star's 202 laps led over the last two campaigns of superspeedway racing is an incredible contrast to his 21.6 average finish. Everyone has a slump at some point it seems, and in this style of racing luck is a huge component. Logano is not to be overlooked in the Duels. He's won two of the last three and finished runner-up or better in four of his last six. In recent seasons, Logano really has been the terror of the Cup Series in the qualifying races. Assuming he can stay out of trouble and stay out front, a third-career Duel victory could easily be in his future.

William Byron – The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has come on in the last couple seasons to become a factor in these superspeedway races. Byron grabbed a win in the Summer of 2020 at Daytona for his first-career victory at the track, and he finished runner-up at Talladega last Spring in a strong effort. The young driver has displayed good moves and seems to have picked up what it takes to succeed in this high stakes form of racing. Byron has also shown a flare for success in these Duel races as well. The Hendrick Motorsports driver claimed the victory in his 2020 Duel, and he led 34 laps and was poised to potentially win his Duel last season before being rolled up in a late-race multi-car crash. Byron is a driver to consider carefully for this qualifying heat race. 

Brad Keselowski – One of the more successful drivers of recent years on superspeedway ovals is Keselowski. Admittedly, he's had more success in Alabama than Florida, but he always brings great cars to both tracks. Keselowski grabbed a win and runner-up finish in his two Talladega starts last year, and signaled he's ready to be back in the conversation in these races. Surprisingly, the new Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing star has never won a Duel race. Keselowski has led a good number of laps and finished in the Top-5 or Top-10 several times, but never collected a victory. Moving to Roush may be the nudge that breaks this dry spell. This team has recently shown a knack for racing on the big ovals. It would surprise us to see Keselowski make a major impression in his first start with his new No. 6 Ford team.    

Bubba Wallace – The 23XI Racing driver has turned into a superspeedway specialist the last couple seasons. Toyota power and his improving skills in this form of racing has been the chief reasons for his improvement. Wallace has grabbed second- and fifth-place finishes in two of his last three Daytona starts, with the runner-up effort coming last Summer. The driver of the No. 23 Toyota finally broke through for career win number one last October at Talladega. While the race was shortened due to rain, Wallace earned his way into the top spot with good racing before the rains finished off the day. We expect him to carry that success well into 2022. In addition, Wallace has always been a good performer in these Duel races. His four-career starts have netted finishes of third-place, sixth-place, fifth-place and second-place which came last season. Impressive considering those results came from two different teams.   

Kevin Harvick – The two-time Daytona winner and one-time Talladega winner muddled through a winless 2021 campaign, but Harvick showed good speed on the big ovals last year. The driver of the SHR No. 4 Ford grabbed two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in his four starts between Daytona and Talladega. Harvick wasn't just riding in circles either, as he led 49-combined laps in those events. That sets the veteran driver up well for a good Speedweeks this season. Harvick has also enjoyed a fair amount of success in the Duel races. He's a two-time Duel victor and has finished inside the Top 5 of his Duels in the last six-straight seasons. Harvick has led a combined 89 laps in just his last three Duels alone. Harvick is the driver who had a down season in 2021 that could surprise coming out of the gates this season. 

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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