NASCAR Picks for Daytona
Length: 2.500 miles
Location: Daytona Beach, Florida
While last weekend's race at Kentucky Speedway was a wild card because the track is such a new addition to the schedule, this weekend's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway is one of the biggest wild card races of the season. In fact, fantasy owners will be hard pressed to find a tougher race on the summer stretch of the schedule. After all, the main byproducts of the restrictor plates used at Daytona are pack racing and multi-car wrecks, so things can get ugly in a hurry for drivers and fantasy owners.
There is no bulletproof strategy for tackling Daytona; big-picture racing can help minimize the damage long term. In fact, I recommend a conservative strategy at the track (especially in Yahoo! leagues). For one, Daytona is one of the few tracks where just about any driver can end up with a decent finish, so you can put together a decent score with an unconventional lineup. Meanwhile, even the best drivers in the series can easily end up wrecked at Daytona, so there is a good chance you won't maximize their potential anyway. If you do use several sleepers and a couple of your picks end up getting caught up in a wreck, at least you didn't waste a start from one of the big guns.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Junior is going for the season sweep at Daytona after winning the Daytona 500 in February. More importantly, his 12.9 average finish in the last 20 races at the track is the best in the series; he also leads all drivers with a 10.2 average finish in the last 10 restrictor plate races. At an unpredictable track, Junior is the closest thing to a safe bet.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Johnson has been on a roll at Daytona lately. After sweeping both races at the track in 2013, he opened this season with a fifth-place run in the Daytona 500. Johnson has led 126 laps during the three-race hot streak, so he hasn't exactly been stealing his strong finishes either.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Kenseth has finished sixth or better in four of his last six starts at Daytona; during the stretch, he has three Top 3 finishes. He has also been a force at the restrictor plate tracks in general the past couple of seasons. Since 2012, he is tied for the series lead with two wins, four Top 5s and six Top 10s. Meanwhile, his 507 laps led are 300 more than any other driver.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
He has three finishes of eighth or better in his last four starts at Daytona, and he has finished fourth or better in two of his last three starts at the track. Meanwhile, he ranks fourth in the series in points scored at restrictor plate tracks since the start of the 2012 season.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Harvick has a knack for finding his way to the front of the field at Daytona. He is a former winner of the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400. In his last nine starts at the track, he has five Top 15s (including four finishes of seventh or better). Harvick is never a bad option to turn to at Daytona.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
The Daytona 500 has eluded Stewart throughout his career, but he has been dominant at times in the July event. In fact, he is a four-time winner of the summer race at Daytona, and he finished second in last year's Coke Zero 400. Meanwhile, his 14.9 average finish in the last 20 races at Daytona ranks second in the series, so he should be a strong option in any format.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
His overall numbers at Daytona aren't great, but it is tough to ignore the year Hamlin is having at the restrictor plate tracks. He won the Sprint Unlimited and his qualifying race at Daytona during Speedweeks and then finished second in the Daytona 500. Hamlin also won at Talladega earlier this year. It's safe to say he has a good setup to work with at the plate tracks.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He logged a top-10 finish at Daytona to open the year, and Biffle has quietly been one of the most reliable options at plate tracks the past couple of seasons. In fact, he ranks second in the series in points scored at the superspeedways over the past 10 races. During the stretch, Biffle has three finishes of eighth or better in five starts at Daytona.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Bowyer has been a pretty dependable option at the plate tracks throughout his career. Since 2012, he ranks fifth in the series in points scored at superspeedway races. At Daytona, Bowyer has three finishes of 11th or better in his last five starts, including a fourth-place finish last July.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
While he tends to run a little hot and cold at times, Busch has actually been a fairly reliable fantasy option at superspeedways recently. He has scored the sixth most points of any driver in the last 10 races at plate tracks, and he has been running at the finish in all but one race during the stretch. Meanwhile, he is a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega, so he also offers plenty of upside.
Ryan Newman, #31 Caterpillar, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He actually went through a slump at Daytona after winning the Daytona 500 in 2008, but Newman has bounced back nicely the last couple of years. In his last four starts at the track, he has three Top 10s and two Top 5s. He also ranks in the Top 10 in terms of points scored at the superspeedways since 2012.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon hasn't been enjoying his best stretch at Daytona the past couple of years, but he did finish fourth in the Daytona 500 in February. Meanwhile, he has been as consistent as any driver in the series throughout the 2014 season, so he is always worth taking a chance on. Still, I'd probably avoid him in Yahoo! leagues simply to save a start for a track that is a little more predictable.