Even though it seems like just yesterday that NASCAR crowned Tony Stewart as the champion in Homestead, it's already time for the 54th annual Daytona 500, which means it's time to sign up for fantasy teams and get your first rosters locked in. If you're interested in a fantasy racing cash game, I urge you to check out Fantasy-Racing-Online.com. This is a game that I am running that has a competitive field of players and gives you a chance to make some money at the same time, and who doesn't like money?
Like my fantasy previews for On Pit Row last season, this one will have a different layout than most of my other ones will for the rest of this 2012 season. Restrictor plate tracks are so unpredictable that anybody--and I mean anybody--could end up with a shot to win with one lap to go. These races are all about being at the right place at the right time.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers...Watch the Twin 150 races on Thursday and see which drivers look good drafting and which cars look strong while pushing others. Remember last season when such a big fuss was made about Trevor Baynebeing able to push anybody? Worked out pretty well putting him on your rosters. I also use races at Daytona and Talladega to think outside the box with my picks and select drivers that maybe aren't the most popular pick. Enjoy the race on Sunday and leave the brain busting for your fantasy rosters until we get to Phoenix. Good luck, everyone.
Notes: Roush-Fenway flexed their muscles in qualifying. Carl Edwards won the pole for this year's Great American Race while Greg Bifflewill help him bring the field to the green on Sunday. The full starting lineup will be set after the conclusion of the Twin 150 races on Thursday. To me, it looks like Ford race cars have the most power, so I will probably be leaning heavily on them with my rosters this week.
My Favorites Entering The Daytona 500:
Carl Edwards - You'll be hard-pressed to find many people without Cousin Carl near the top of their rankings entering Sunday's Daytona 500. In the last five points-paying races here, Edwards has notched four top 10s, although he hasn't led very many (just one). However, like I said before, the Ford's have looked the strongest to me and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if last year's runner-up ends this year's first race right where he started on Sunday: 1st.
Kevin Harvick - "Happy" Harvick is, in my opinion, the best driver on the restrictor plate tracks. His 42nd-place finish in last year's Daytona 500 was a complete fluke (how often do Childress cars blow engines?) and he still has the second-best average driver rating of anyone in the series over the last four races here. The only thing that would worry me about picking Harvick was that it seems like the Chevrolets are running hotter than other cars, but tandem racing isn't here this season so I don't see that as a huge deal.
Kurt Busch - This is the week to pick Mr. Busch because, honestly, I don't know if we'll have too many other chance (I don't see him sitting in mediocre equipment all year). Everyone keeps pointing back to Brad Keselowski's win with Phoenix Racing at Talladega back in 2009, but if you're still clinging to that, good luck to you. The facts are this: Phoenix brings it's A game to the restrictor plate tracks and Kurt Busch is one of the best plate racers in the series. In 22 career starts here, Kurt has just one DNF and ten top 5s. Not too bad, right? Landon Cassillfinished 16th driving this car at Talladega last fall.
Kyle Busch - I still don't see how Rowdy won the Budweiser Shootout last weekend, but with that being said, did you know that the average finish of the Shootout winner in the Daytona 500 over the last three seasons is 7th? Me neither. Kyle notched top 10s in both Daytona events last season and has led at least one lap in each of the last ten points-paying races here. He didn't sound very confident last weekend in the power of the Joe Gibbs Toyotas, which is concerning, but turned around and won the Shootout, so they look good to me.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - If you read my Daytona 500 Preview last season (click here if you didn't) you may know about Junior's little streak going on at Daytona before I even explain it. Basically, what it comes down to is that Earnhardt will be a great pick at this track in 2012. Last season (odd year), Junior finished 24th and 19th in points-paying races at Daytona; in 2010, he finished 2nd and 4th; in 2009, 27th and 39th; in 2008, 9th and 8th; in 2007, 32nd and 36th. Weird, huh? Take that for what it's worth, we all know about Junior's history at Daytona.
Out Of The Box Picks For The Daytona 500:
Robby Gordon - Hear me out here, because I'm not that crazy. Assuming he makes the race, don't be afraid to pick Robby. He's generally a start and park, but that's not the case when it comes to the restrictor plate races. In this race last season, Robby ended up 16th when it was all said and done, and that followed up a 12th-place effort in the 2010 July race at Daytona. He can avoid the wrecks and is generally there at the end.
Danica Patrick - Why not? She's in some great equipment, has a decent crew chief (Greg Zippadeli), and has a pair of teammates that are pretty good on these super speedways. If she works with "Smoke," look for those two to hang out in the back and avoid the wrecks, and they could very well be charging to the front in the last couple laps.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. - This #6 Ford almost won the 2011 Daytona 500 and David Raganwas pushed to victory in it last July here. I don't know much about Stenhouse (only one start in the Sprint Cup series) so I will definitely be paying attention to him during the Duels on Thursday. The Fords are fast and if Ricky can hook up with one of his Roush teammates, we just may see another non-regular winner at Daytona to start off the season.
Drivers I Have My Eyes On This Week:
A.J. Allmendinger - The Dinger actually wasn't that bad at Daytona last season: A.J. followed up his 7th-place run in his Gatorade Duel race with an 11th-place effort in 2011's Great American Race and a 10th in the July race. He's in Kurt Busch's old ride, and we all know what kind of success he had at the plate tracks. If you are thinking about taking Allmendinger, I wouldn't look at his stats at Talladega if you base your decisions on past performance.
Clint Bowyer - I'd be more comfortable picking Clint at Talladega with a new team opposed to Daytona. His stats here aren't bad at all (15.1 average finish in twelve starts) but in the last three points-paying races here, Bowyer hasn't finished better than 16th. I still think he's taking a major step back in equipment with his move to Michael Waltrip Racing, and it looks like many others agree with me (his percentage picked on Yahoo! is 19% as of this writing). If he looks good in the Duel races, I may give Clint a shot, but right now I think there are much better options.
Greg Biffle - There are two drivers that I think are going to have a major bounce-back from bad 2011 runs, and The Biff is one of those people. His #16 Ford has shown great speed in every practice thus far, and like I said before, the Fords seem more powerful than others. His recent history at Daytona isn't much (one top 10 in the last seven points-paying races), but Biffle does have one victory here and just two DNFs in 18 career starts.
Jamie McMurray - Here's the second driver that I think is poised for a good season, and Daytona is the perfect place for Jamie Mac to start. He has recorded two wins on this 2-mile race track and looked like one of the best cars in the Bud Shootout last Sunday before getting caught up in a wreck. Don't let Jamie's recent finishes at Daytona scare you off, he's one of the best plate track racers in the series, and I don't think his teammate (Juan Montoya) would be too shabby of a pick either.
Marcos Ambrose - He's my official sleeper to make the Chase this season, and although it was just one exhibition race, Marcos' performance in the Bud Shootout could be a form of foreshadowing for the upcoming Daytona 500. His last four points-paying races at Daytona have been less-than-decent (to say the least), but Ambrose did finish 6th in the 2009 July race, plus he's in a Ford. Watch him in the Duels to see if his 3rd-place finish last Sunday was a fluke or if we're looking at a gold mine sleeper pick.
Keep Your Distance:
Ryan Newman - Ever since his Daytona 500 win in 2008, many people consider "The Rocketman" a good plate racer. The fact of the matter is, though, in 20 career starts at Daytona, he has just three top 10s and has recorded five DNFs. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman has an average finish of 26.8 at Daytona.
Denny Hamlin - Denny generally has a good speedweeks leading up the The Great American Race, but I'm just looking at his points-paying races from a statistical view, and I just don't see much value in the #11 Toyota. Hamlin has recorded one top 10 in twelve starts at Daytona, and although he has finished every race, an average finish of 22.1 is nothing to get excited about.
Martin Truex, Jr. - Similar to Hamlin, Truex has just one top 10 in the points-paying races he's participated in at Daytona, but that is with one additional start as well. He finishes in the top 20 more often than not at this track, though, so I wouldn't avoid him like the plague. However, I think there are better picks than the #56 Toyota this Sunday.