Fantasy NASCAR Preview: Daytona 500
by Jordan McAbee, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am a fantasy NASCAR junkie. In addition to my preview articles on OnPitRow, I also post weekly practice breakdown and race prediction articles at www.ifantasyrace.com . Follow me on Twitter: @FanNASCARPredicFebruary 16, 2011 8:35 am UTC 3 Comments
The start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season is just around the corner and that can mean only one thing: it’s time to go racing at Daytona! The 53rd “Great American Race” will take place Sunday afternoon on Fox after an entire week of racing–from the Budweiser Shootout last Saturday, to the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, to practice sessions before race day. The Daytona 500 has the most pre-race information (practice and short races), yet it is one of the most difficult to predict in terms of fantasy racing.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon grabbed the front row in qualifying on Sunday for the big race. Junior has never started from the pole for a points-paying race at Daytona, but started from the pole last Saturday in the Shootout (finishing 19th) as well as the Gatorade Duel #2 last year (finishing 21st). The rest of the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 will be determined on Thursday by the results of the Twin-125 Gatorade Duels.
My recommendation to fantasy racers: Watch the Twin-125 races and see how the cars race; practice speeds are pretty much useless at Daytona when determining how the race will end up. Once you pick your drivers, submit them and enjoy the race. Restrictor-plate races are so unpredictable that it is better to look forward to next week in terms of fantasy games.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Daytona 500:
1. Kevin Harvick – “Happy” is the favored driver to win the big race this year and for good reason: he’s the most recent winner here and has three top tens in the past four races at the track. Harvick finished 7th in the Bud Shootout, but don’t let that worry you: he kept hitting his rev limiter, a problem which he has stated is fixed. With one DNF in 19 Daytona starts, it’s hard to go against Kevin Harvick at the plate tracks, and he was one of the best in 2010.
2. Clint Bowyer – Richard Childress Racing has been favored all week (and it was a surprise to many when one of their four drivers didn’t get the pole). Bowyer has made ten starts at Daytona, and while his highest finish has been 4th, Clint has never finished lower than 29th–resulting in 0 DNFs. Over the past two years, Bowyer has recorded two 4th-place finishes in the Daytona 500.
3. Matt Kenseth – Kenseth might not be the first driver you think of at Daytona, but over the past two years he has been the best. Over those four races, he has an average finish of 8th has finished outside of the top ten only once (15th in last season’s July race). He won’t be fighting for the lead every lap, but Kenseth usually stays out of trouble and gets a good finish at Daytona.
4. Kurt Busch – New car, new year. Kurt started off 2011 right by winning the Budweiser Shootout, but don’t expect a win in the “Great American Race”: the last time the Bud Shootout winner went on to win the following Sunday was in 1997 (Jeff Gordon). Still, Busch should be expected to finish up front. He’s had the best average driver rating over the past four Daytona races and has finished outside of the top ten only once in the past seven.
5. Carl Edwards – Roush-Fenway Racing really started to perform as expected during the second half of the year in 2010, and Carl Edwards ended last season winning the final two races. Cousin Carl has been finished every lap (in points-paying races) at Daytona since 2007, which can be difficult to achieve over eight races here. He usually finishes better in the July Race here, but last season Edwards finally got his first top ten in the Daytona 500. This year, with the right timing, he could easily get his first top five.
6. Tony Stewart – “Smoke” had an off-year at Daytona in 2010, but don’t expect the disappointing finishes to continue. Going into 2010, Stewart had nine top tens in his last twelve starts at the track and in his twelve Daytona 500 starts, he has led at least one lap in eight of them–and those eight have come in his most recent nine starts.
7. Jeff Gordon – Gordon usually runs well at Daytona (6th best driver rating over the past four races), but his finishes have been lacking. He has just one top ten in the past three years here, but don’t let that turn you away from the 24 car: Gordon has won at Daytona six times. You know he will have the power to get to the front, but will he be in the right place at the right time? He starts 2nd, so he’s off to a good start already. Gordon has just 4 DNFs in 36 career starts.
8. Mark Martin - Mark “The Kid” Martin sat on the pole for last year’s “Great American Race” and ended up finishing 12th. He wound up finishing three of the four restrictor plate races in the top twelve in 2010. Since coming to Hendrick Motorsports, Martin has finished 16th and 12th in the Daytona 500. I expect a top ten finish on Sunday from him if he can stay out of trouble.
9. Kyle Busch – When you look at Rowdy’s average finish in Daytona races recently, this ranking may surprise you, but if he can stay out of trouble, the younger Busch brother should finish up front on Sunday. He has the second-best driver rating in the past two years at Daytona (behind his brother) but an average finish of 27.25 to back it up. When Kyle stays out of trouble, he does good at Daytona–all of his top tens are also top fives and he won here in the 2008 July race.
10. Jamie McMurray – This may be one of the lower rankings you see McMurray at for this race, but I’m still not sold on him. He followed up his Daytona 500 win last year with a 39th-place showing in July. Jamie Mac’s average finish was 26.5 between his July Daytona win in 2007 and his Daytona 500 win last year (four races). He has, however, been very good at Daytona with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, with finishes of 2nd and 3rd in the last two Budweiser Shootouts (respectfully) and he ended up in 6th in his Gatorade Duel race last year.
11. Jeff Burton - He’s not as strong as two of his teammates at Daytona, but you know that Burton has the horsepower to get a good finish. Will he, though? In 34 career starts, Burton has amassed 23 top twenties, but only 9 of them were top tens. He looked strong in qualifying, but we all know that qualifying is not a way to predict the race at restrictor plate tracks.
12. Juan Montoya – If JPM gets a good starting position for “The Great American Race”, expect a good finish to back it up. He has started in the top fourteen in three races at Daytona, and finished there as well in those races. Montoya has two top tens in his last three Daytona starts.
13. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - This ranking may surprise you as well, but winning the pole for the Daytona 500 doesn’t guarantee a good finish: the past three pole winners have gone on to finish 12th, 11th, and 27th. Earnhardt, Jr. also has a little streak going. In 2006, he was good at Daytona with finishes of 8th and 13th. The next year (2007) he finished 32nd and 36th. After that season, he went to Hendrick Motorsports and ended up with two top tens in Daytona for them. His second year (2009) there, though, he ended up 27th and 39th in the two Daytona races. Last year, Junior posted top five finishes in both Daytona races. Will this year be bad for the 88 at Daytona, or will he break his little streak that he is on?
14. Denny Hamlin – Like his teammate, Kyle Busch, Hamlin has ran well at Daytona in the past two seasons but didn’t get the finishes to back it up. Over those past four races, Hamlin has had the 6th best driver rating but recorded only one top ten (a 3rd in the July race in 2009). Despite having only one top ten in his career at Daytona, Denny has never had a DNF. He almost won the Budweiser Shootout this year.
15. Brian Vickers - The Red Bull Racing driver would be ranked higher if it wasn’t for his absence from racing last year because of medical reasons. However, if he wants to show everyone that the missed races aren’t a big deal, Daytona is a great place to start: Vickers has finished in the top fifteen in four of his last five starts here.
Underdogs Entering The Daytona 500:
David Ragan - He hasn’t been very good in the Sprint Cup series, but for some reason he has finished well at Daytona. Ragan has eight starts here and six of them have ended up in finishes in the top sixteen. His very first Daytona 500 start ended with a 5th-place finish.
Paul Menard - Menard is at RCR this year and nearly grabbed a spot on the front row in qualifying last Sunday. He has seven career starts at Daytona and all but one of them have given him a finish in the top 23. He ended up 13th in last year’s “Great American Race” driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.
David Reutimann – It may be a surprise to some, but the Michael Waltrip Racing star is pretty good at restrictor plate tracks. In 2010 he recorded two top fives in the four races and had a worst finish of 14th. Reutty has finished worse than 12th only once in his past four starts at Daytona.
Trevor Bayne - The rookie nearly took the pole for the Daytona 500 and looked pretty good in his Cup debut last year (finishing 17th at Texas). He’s driving the 21 car for Wood Brothers Racing, which was driven to a 27th place finish in last year’s Daytona 500 by Bill Elliott.
Those To Avoid Entering The Daytona 500:
Jimmie Johnson - “The Champ” isn’t very good at Daytona in February, believe it or not. Since his Daytona 500 win in 2006, Johnson hasn’t finished better than 27th in “The Great American Race”. Statistically, this is his fourth-worst track.
Ryan Newman – Like Johnson, “Flyin’ Ryan” hasn’t been the same since his win at this track (coming in the 2008 Daytona 500 with Penske Racing). His best finish since then has been 20th, and while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, that has been his best finish in four starts with them here.
Martin Truex, Jr. - He may be ranked high in some people’s minds after his 6th-place finish in the Daytona 500 last year, but don’t let that fool you: it has been his only top ten in eleven career starts here.
Brad Keselowski - He may be good at Talladega, but this is Daytona. In three career starts here, he hasn’t finished better than 24th and has only completed only 85.8% of the laps run here since joining Penske.