The Daytona 500 is not always a strong indicator of who will run well on other tracks, but last week the majority of top-10 finishers also ranked among the top 10 in regard to the Fantasy Power Rankings. As it turned out, four of the top-five finishers in the Great American Race doubled down in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 to keep that trend alive—and that significantly impacted the salary caps of those drivers.
Daytona International Speedway’s winner Joey Logano dominated the early stage of the Atlanta Motor Speedway event and finished fourth last week. Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Atlanta came on the heels of a fifth at Daytona, while Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished exactly in second in third respectively in both events. It was enough to give all four drivers a bump in their NASCAR.com salary cap, but per the rules for that game any of those drivers who were on a player’s roster before Atlanta get locked in and retain their value.
Players also need to be aware of the unique rules in the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game. That contest rewards place differential points and when Johnson was relegated to the back of the pack because he did not clear the inspection line in time to qualify he earned points for his owners both in terms of his finishing position and advancement.
Logano, Harvick, Johnson, and Earnhardt are all near the top of the salary cap range, however, so it will be difficult to raise them much more in the coming weeks even if they continue to score top-fives.
The only top-five finisher from Daytona who failed to back up his strong run with another such finish was Denny Hamlin and his accident at Atlanta dropped him slightly to allow for balance at the top of the order.
Another driver who is showing an early tendency toward bad luck is Jeff Gordon. He was involved in late-race accidents at both Daytona and Atlanta to finish 33rd and 41st respectively. Luck is an intangible that often gets overlooked by the architects that set salary caps and two misfortunes would not be enough to drop Gordon significantly if they were the only factors in play. Gordon was not running particularly strong before getting swept into last week’s Quik Trip 500 accident, however, even though he said he was beginning to make the right changes to his car. Gordon dropped from $27.75 to $27.25 this week, but could rebound if he runs well at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
Kyle Larson has also failed to live up to early expectations. His 34th at Daytona and 26th at Atlanta might be attributed to bad luck, but like Gordon he did not make enough noise in either race to validate his $26.25 price tag. Players are still waiting to see if last year’s surge at Chip Ganassi Racing was a momentary bounce or if it was sustainable growth, so it is time to play a little conservatively.
Last week, caps were locked in before it was announced that David Ragan would be the substitute driver for Kyle Busch. Changing caps in the middle of a week is not possible because of the ripple effect it has on the game, so any player who had the foresight to put him on their roster locked him in at the low price tag of $9.00. He did not quite perform to the level of Busch, but his value still rocketed with a huge improvement of $1.50. As he gets more comfortable in the ride and begins to challenge for top-10s instead of top-15s, fantasy players can expect his value to continue to improve. If a player did not lock him in at $9.00, they should give some serious consideration to getting him at $10.50 because it is almost certain that he will continue to increase in value.
Regan Smith also took a $1.50 bounce this week and should continue to rise so long as he retains his ride in the No. 41.
Winning a salary cap game is not only about picking this week’s top-10 finishers, but determining who is going to be a good value over the long term, so pay close attention to Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and AJ Allmendinger who earned top-10s in one of the first two races of 2015. They will increase as they begin scoring more such finishes with regularity.