NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Insider: Doubling Down On Daytona Fantasy Picks

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The time has come and that time is now. Another NASCAR Sprint Cup season is upon us, which means more fun and frustration in equal amounts. Yes, that’s how it goes when you play any type of fantasy sports game and it may be even more so in NASCAR. As usual, there will be many factors to consider when making picks, such as how a driver or team fares at each track, how a driver is doing in the current season, and if he (or Danica) can keep the momentum going.

This year, too, with the changes in how drivers can make the Chase, could lead to some crushed hopes and dashed dreams as well in your league. It’s likely to happen that a driver or team will decide to go for a win by staying out longer than normal on a fuel run, or maybe taking no tires to gain track position when four may really be needed. It’s just possible you could have a driver who might have been OK with a solid top-10 finish, in past years blow it all up and run 30th all in the name of “going for the win.”

If you want to know how you might finish against other NASCAR fans, Frontstretch.com is once again organizing a fantasy Sprint Cup league on Yahoo! The league ID number is 10532 and the password is “stenica.” Hop on board quick because we’re capping it at the first 100 participants!

(Admit it — you might have to join the league just because of the password.)

How does our league work? Selections are broken up into the A, B and C groups, with the A drivers being the favorites and so on. You are required to pick four drivers per week, with two from the B group, and you get to use a driver nine times during the season. So, not every pick is a slam dunk, or maybe checkered flag in this case. In this column, the Aces will be from the A group, the Middle of the Roadsters will be from the B group, and the Dark Horses will be from the C group.

Trying to figure out who will take the checkered flag in this first week will be difficult. As always, we start out with one of the most unpredictable races of the season with Sunday afternoon’s Daytona 500 on FOX. That’s because it’s one of the four restrictor plate races and with a large majority of the field running in a big pack, it’s too hard to say with any certainty. But nonetheless, with the usual help from and just sometimes going with that strong gut feeling, it’s time to give winning fantasy a try again.

LOOKING FOR SOME ACES

Among the top drivers listed on Yahoo!, the easy pick here is Jimmie Johnson. Yes, Johnson has won two of the last four races at Daytona. But remember, you only get him nine times all season, so you have to decide if you want to use him for this race or not.

Another recent winner at Daytona is Matt Kenseth, who has one win and led 226 laps in his last four trips to the famed 2.5-mile tri-oval. But again, you only get him nine times this season, so be careful if about using him early.

One sort of sleeper pick in this category could be Kurt Busch. Yes, he’s with a new team, new crew chief, the whole new deal, but shown in the past that he knows how to race on restrictor plate tracks. He does have an average finish of 17.92 in his 26 career races at Daytona, and that’s not that bad when you consider Jimmie Johnson’s average finish is 17.5. Busch also has 10 top five finishes and three other top 10s at Daytona.

Matt Kenseth had them covered in last year’s Daytona 500, until a transmission vibration sent the whole drivetrain up in smoke. If he wishes to notch a third Daytona 500 win in the last six years, he will need to check his mirrors a bit better than he did last Saturday.
Matt Kenseth had them covered in last year’s Daytona 500, until a transmission vibration sent the whole drivetrain up in smoke. If he wishes to notch a third Daytona 500 win in the last six years, he will need to check his mirrors a bit better than he did last Saturday.

Matt Kenseth had them covered in last year’s Daytona 500, until a transmission vibration sent the whole drivetrain up in smoke. If he wishes to notch a third Daytona 500 win in the last six years, he will need to check his mirrors a bit better than he did last Saturday.

There is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. here. Sure, he’s only won once in his last 198 races, but he’s still capable of winning anywhere and that’s especially so at a restrictor plate track. Junior does have two wins at Daytona and the best average finish among active drivers there at 13.82.

And finally, we can’t leave out Kevin Harvick. He’s got two career wins at Daytona and an average finish of 15.96 in 25 races there. Plus, he always seems to hang around and be a factor at the end of these plate races.

MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS

This group may be the most difficult one to pick out of this season. That’s because there are a lot of good drivers on good teams here. Among these are Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart.

When it comes to Daytona, Stewart has proven he knows how to win there, with four career victories, but none of them have been in the Daytona 500. Stewart also leads all active drivers with 665 laps led at Daytona. It’s just a matter of him being at the right place at the right time, or in the right line, when it comes to the final lap or two.

Newman is another driver who has won at Daytona, his being in the 500, and the Richard Childress Racing cars have looked strong in practice and qualifying over the last week. However, Newman has just six top-10 finishes in 24 career starts there, so for whatever reason, he has often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The 2013 Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has moved up to the B level this year and you know, he might not be a bad pick. No, Stenhouse doesn’t have a top-10 finish in his three starts at Daytona, but he also has been in the top 20 each time and has an average finish of 14.33. So, if you’re thinking of going with a pick that won’t kill your team, then maybe Stenhouse is someone to look at.

Greg Biffle does have a win at Daytona, but only six career top-10 finishes in 22 races there. However, two of those top 10s have come in the last four races, where he’s also led 79 laps, so maybe he’s got this whole restrictor plate thing figured out just a bit.

And finally, this one comes straight from the “playing a hunch” category. That’s because my pick to win Sunday is Martin Truex, Jr. and there are really no numbers to support it, other than he ran has run well early on in practice and qualified second at Daytona. Truex has just one top-10 finish in 17 races at Daytona, but he’s with a new team now (by no fault of his own). Even though it is a single-car team, Furniture Row Racing proved last year they have the infrastructure to compete with the big boys. You know he would love nothing more than to prove to many he’s a top level driver.

9183Trevor Bayne faces long odds at repeating his 2011 Daytona 500 triumph, after sustaining heavy damage to the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford during practice on Wednesday.

DARK HORSES

There’s a pretty good list to choose from here this week, too. You’ve got pole sitter and Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Dillon, then another top rookie candidate in Kyle Larson, along with 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne and also veteran and restrictor plate expert driver Michael Waltrip. And yes, there’s Danica Patrick too. No matter what Richard Petty says, she is capable of winning on a plate track and shouldn’t be ignored.

One thing to keep in mind here as that Bayne and Waltrip are running on limited schedules this year, so when there is a chance to use them, it’s probably a good idea. That’s because Dillon and Larson (and yes, Patrick) will be available every week.

Waltrip has three wins at Daytona and in 51 career races there, he has 15 top 10 finishes. He also has led 355 career laps at Daytona, too, so he understands how to use his rear-view mirror at a plate track.

Bayne has raced just six times at Daytona and his only top-10 finish was that 2011 victory. His average finish at Daytona is 25.17, but if he’s won it once, he could certainly do it again. That’s despite his primary car being collected in Wednesday’s crash in the opening minutes of practice (the Wood Brothers team will be forced to use a backup for the race).

Patrick ran at or near the front of last year’s 500 before settling for an eighth-place finish. She certainly has the car to run up there again and you know she has learned from that experience. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up there contending again, even though she has just three starts at Daytona and that one top-10 effort.

If you want to get all emotional about the No. 3 being up front (hey, that’s OK) and use an early pick on Dillon (that might not be OK) it will be a bit of a gamble. Not because Dillon is not capable of running up front, but because if you do use him in a race where there are options, like Waltrip and Bayne, then he had better finish ahead of them. Dillon finished 31st in his only other career start at Daytona, but he wasn’t driving the No. 3 then.

Read into that what you will.

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