Daytona marks the beginning of the second half of the season. This is often the time of year when people reevaluate their fantasy teams and decide if they are in a strong position or if it is time to make wholesale changes and revamp their rosters. Daytona also scares a lot of owners because there is always the looming danger of the Big One that can destroy a fantasy team’s hopes in a single wreck. The danger of a big wreck is even more present in the summer race because the handling on the cars is more important than it is in the spring race. The good thing is that the handling can cause the field to spread out a little more in July than it does in February. Read on to see which drivers our experts chose to serve up a big plate of points for your fantasy team in this week’s Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Bryan’s Race Rewind
The summer race at Daytona last year marked the swan song for the restrictor-plate car of old, and boy did it go out with a bang. By the second closest margin of victory ever recorded since electronic scoring began, Jamie McMurray edged Kyle Busch to score his first win of 2007 and first with Roush Racing. McMurray won thanks to a late push down the frontstretch by teammate Carl Edwards, who finished fourth. Roush Racing enjoyed a banner day, with all five of its teams finishing in the top 12. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin were stout and battled for the lead at the beginning of the race, but a crash between the two teammates early in the going marred the evening for JGR. The wreck also ended Stewart’s streak of wins in this race at two, as well as taking out Dale Earnhardt Jr. at a track where he’s known to run well. DEI’s former dominance of plate races was absent, with no finishers in the top 10.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Racing at Daytona in the summer is like going to a completely different racetrack than the one they race on in February. In February, the best way around is to hold the throttle wide open, running as fast as you can. In the summertime, it is all about handling. With fresh tires, drivers can stay wide open for a few laps, but eventually they will have to start lifting slightly in the corners to make their car work. Two organizations that have done that better than the rest over the last few years, Hendrick and Gibbs, have shown they are able to make their cars handle the best when the track is the hottest and slickest. The other organization to keep an eye on this weekend is Penske. They were first and second in the Daytona 500 and they had good finishes in the July race the last two years as well.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Earnhardt Jr.: It’s Daytona. Nothing else to say.
Busch was about six inches from winning this race last year. That was the second year in a row he finished second in the July race. Busch was fourth in the Daytona 500 and won the race at Talladega in April. Busch has an average finish at Daytona of 17.7, but three of his last four races have been top-five finishes. With the strength he has been showing all year, this will probably be a perfect weekend to score big points with the Shrub.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Edwards has been very good on intermediate tracks this year. Unfortunately for Carl, Daytona is not an intermediate track. He has one top-10 finish at the track, in this race last July. The rest of his career at Daytona has yielded an average finish of 24.7. Plate racing has never been a forte for Edwards, with four total top-10 finishes at the two superspeedways on the schedule. Edwards should be turning up the wick as the schedule heads toward the onslaught of intermediate tracks this summer, but this weekend will not be a good one for Cousin Carl.
Juan Pablo Montoya was second at Talladega this spring, his only top-five finish of the season. The problem is that Daytona in the summer is all about handling. Montoya has only run at Daytona once in the summer, and it yielded a 32nd-place finish. That is the same spot where he finished the 500 this spring. With an average finish of 27.7 on the big track in Florida, this is definitely not the weekend to take a chance with Montoya.
Roll the Dice:
Kurt Busch has seven top-five finishes at Daytona. Last year he was one of the two strongest cars in the 500 before a wreck with Stewart took him out of the race for a 41st-place finish. This year he was probably the stronger of the two Penske cars, but timing left him behind his teammate who he ultimately pushed to the victory. He has finished third in this race the last two years and is coming off of a victory this past weekend at New Hampshire. This weekend is definitely lining up to be a strong run for the blue deuce.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Early in his career, it was a no-brainer for fantasy gamers to keep Ryan Newman on the bench for plate races. The times have changed. Penske Racing has gone from field-filler to front-runner with its restrictor-plate package, and Newman has capitalized. In the three plate races run with the CoT, Newman has yet to finish outside the top 10, and in February he scored the biggest win of his career with a thrilling last-lap pass to win the Daytona 500. Newman early in his career was dogged on plate tracks with poor equipment and an uncooperative teammate in Rusty Wallace. Now, with Kurt Busch as a drafting partner and top-notch cars, Newman’s intelligence behind the wheel has made him a force to be reckoned with at Daytona. Two consecutive wins at Daytona for the No. 12? It’s not far-fetched.
Though the Daytona 500 has eluded him, success at Daytona has not eluded Stewart. Since 2004, Stewart has scored top 10s in seven of nine Cup races at Daytona, as well as scoring three Nationwide Series wins at the track. Stewart also won the summer 400-milers at Daytona in 2005 and 2006. Stewart is among the best in the business in getting hot as NASCAR’s summer stretch hits, and though the finishes may not show it, Stewart has run extremely well over the last few weeks. The No. 20 team is putting fast Camrys on the track, and there are few drivers as vocal about cherishing Daytona as Stewart. Stewart finished third in the Daytona 500 earlier this season. With momentum on his side and a winless streak looming, look for Stewart to take care of some unfinished business this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Throughout his storied career, Daytona International Speedway has not been kind to Bobby Labonte, and that has held true for Labonte in his No. 43 ride. In his time with Petty Enterprises, Labonte has scored an average finish of 28.8 at Daytona, with only one top-15 finish. The No. 43 has also proven incident-prone in plate races, with three finishes outside the top 30, including two DNFs due to crashes. The Petty Enterprises machines have often struggled in single-car plate qualifying runs, meaning Labonte will likely start in the back. And, given his track record with his current team, he’ll likely stay there this weekend.
Five years ago, the words DEI at restrictor-plate tracks struck fear into the hearts of the field. Those days are no more, and that’s why fantasy gamers should leave Martin Truex Jr. on the sidelines this weekend, recent improvement notwithstanding. Truex has yet in his career to finish a Cup race at Daytona inside the top 10, and was an also-ran 20th in the Daytona 500 earlier this season. Perhaps more importantly, his drafting teammates fared no better in the 500, all finishing outside the top 20. Whatever magic DEI had with plates isn’t there anymore. Fantasy gamers looking to the bowtie brigade for starters this weekend ought to look elsewhere.
Roll the Dice:
When it comes to restrictor-plate racing, Elliott Sadler may be better known for flipping his racecars than for contending for wins, but Sadler has quietly built himself an impressive resume at Daytona. Dating back to 2006, Sadler has finished outside the top 10 at Daytona only once, and was a competitive sixth in the Daytona 500 in February. Sadler has been running considerably better in recent weeks as has all of Gillett Evernham Motorsports, and there’s no reason to think that the No. 19 team won’t unload a decent piece for Sadler this weekend. Sadler won’t enter the weekend on the radar screen of many, but he may well be the savior of gamers’ rosters after this weekend.
Mike: Congratulations Bryan, you are batting an impressive 60% in picking the winners for our Picks ‘N’ Pans readers. Unfortunately, two of those picks were actually made to sit the eventual race winner. You did it again last week with Kurt Busch.
Bryan: I’d like to give credit to mother nature for making me look foolish this past weekend… no expert can contend with forces that leave Michael Waltrip with a second-place finish. But, Loudon’s behind us, its on to Daytona. And you’re right, there’s nothing more that needs to be said about Dale Jr., but Kyle Busch? He’s been fast on plate tracks, but sans Infineon, he hasn’t set the world on fire the last month or so. Why this weekend?
Mike: His recent record on plate tracks has been pretty good. He won the last race at Talladega and should have won this race last year. He’s looking like he might be better at plate racing than his brother and that is actually saying something. Your Stewart pick is like my Junior pick, but Newman? I know he won the 500 but he’s only got three top 10s at Daytona in his career. You really think fantasy owners can bank on the No. 12 again this year?
Bryan: Newman is among the smartest drivers in the garage, and with top-notch cars he’s proven consistently that he can put himself in position to win these things. He’s got the 500 win and he was right there at Talladega in the spring before he got literally rammed out of the draft that eventually won the race. Another guy that’s not necessarily a plate star is Edwards, but the No. 99 has been all but bank this year. Why should Carl ride the bench after Roush Fenway ran so well at Daytona last July?
Mike: Plate racing has never been Carl’s gig. Roush ran well in February, and yet Edwards finished 19th. He has one top 10 and two top 12s in seven career races at the track. I know Edwards will be outstanding when we get back to the intermediates, but plate tracks are not his thing. I see you’re down on the Bass Pro Chevy this weekend. Are you thinking that DEI is that far out to lunch on their plate programs?
Bryan: Four cars in the Daytona 500 and all of them finished 20th or worse, not to mention Truex, Paul Menard and Regan Smith have a combined zero top 10s on plate tracks between them. When fantasy gamers that need Chevrolets to start have Hendrick and Childress at their disposal, DEI just doesn’t stack up. Same can’t be said for Kurt Busch, an excellent gamble for the weekend.
Mike: Well, he was a good gamble until practice. He blew a right front and that second-place car from the 500 is on the hauler. Hopefully that setback won’t kill them for the whole weekend. Similar to your pick with Sadler this weekend. Have to think he’s a decent bet with four top-10 finishes in five races. It will be interesting to see if ESad can continue to turn his season around. Who do you think we haven’t mentioned that could surprise both of us?
Bryan: Something tells me the entire NASCAR community may be overlooking Yates racing this weekend. They ran like junk at Daytona in February but both of their cars have come a long way, and they’ve got some plate heritage behind them.
Mike: That is true, and I am sure that we’ll probably lament the fact that neither of us picked a single RCR car for this weekend. We should know that one of them is going to be in the mix at the end. I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.
Crank – 13.2
Sit – 19.8
Roll – 20.0
Crank – 10.9
Sit – 24.0
Roll – 22.4