The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2014 season with the 56th running of the Daytona 500. NASCAR Fantasy Cheat Sheet is back by popular demand for our 12th year. We took a long look at past performances, trends, and Speedweek sessions to shed a light on how the field will finish Sunday.
When: Sunday, February 23; 1:20 p.m. /et.
The Track: Daytona InternationalSpeedway
Daytona International Raceway is a 2.5-mile tri-oval with extreme 31 degree banking on the corners. The intense banking allows drivers to run wide-open nearly the entire way around the track. In an effort to promote safety NASCAR has made all Sprint Cup Series races at Daytona restrictor-plate races. The plate on the engine limits air-intake thus reducing horsepower and slowing top-end speeds.
Key to Race: ANOTHER RESTRICTOR-PLATE CRAP SHOOT?
Last year drivers struggled with grip at Daytona and the result was timid driving. NASCAR has attempted to remedy the situation by adding a little height to the spoiler. This seemed to help during Saturday’s Spring Unlimited, but as is the case with all restrictor plate races the “Big One” is always one miscue away. One early concern that has to be noted is the issue Hendrick Motorsports engines have experienced so far this year. Three Hendrick’s motors purchased by other teams blew in qualifying. This likely is just a fluke, but it is something to keep in mind. We are writing this prior to Thursday’s Budweiser Duels so you might want to check the results of these features prior to finalizing your team. As always in restrictor-plate races there are 25 or 30 drivers that can take the checkers. If you are in a league that limits the amount of starts you can use per driver this isn’t the best weekend to use Jimmie Johnson. Save him for later in the year when his skill and quality equipment will have more of an impact on the final outcome of the race.
Okay bear with me I will do my best to explain this confusing qualifying style. 49 cars will attempt to qualify for starting spots. Positions No. 1 and No. 2 were set during qualifying on Feb. 16 (Austin Dillon pole and Martin Truex, Jr. outside pole). Positions No. 3 through No. 32 are set by the results of the Budweiser Duel 150 on Thursday. Drivers who finish in the top 15 in their respective Budweiser 150 races earn spots in the Daytona 500 and the 16th-place driver gets in as long as one of the top-15 drivers already occupies one of the two front row spots. Positions No.33 through No. 36 are made up of the fastest four drivers from qualifying not in already in from the Budweiser 150. Positions No. 37 through No. 42 are made of the highest drivers in the previous season's owners points standing not already in the race. Starting spot No. 43 is designated to a former Sprint Cup Champion not already in, if there isn’t a former Sprint Cup Champion. The final slot goes to the next driver highest placing driver in the highest in the final 2012 owners points standings.
Fantasy Cheat Sheet:
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson: It is tough not to pick Mr. Six-Time. He swept both races at Daytona last season and will obviously be tough to beat again this visit.
No. 20 Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is consistently strong at Daytona. He won the 2011 Daytona 500 as well as the 2009 edition of the race. He is one of our favorites to take the checkers on Sunday.
No. 4 Kevin Harvick: Harvick is a two-time winner at Daytona and is always a threat to win restrictor-plate races. He will be great again this weekend.
No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior hasn’t won a restrictor-plate race since 2004, but he is always worth a spot on a roster during the Daytona 500.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won this year’s Sprint Unlimited and he is eager to rebound from an injury-riddled 2013 season. He is a top option.
6 to 10
No. 14 Tony Stewart: Smoke has driven great at Daytona lately and is eager to show he is still a contender after last season’s injury-shortened campaign. He will get plenty of drafting help from new teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
No. 18 Kyle Busch: Kyle has never won the Daytona 500, but he has driven well in most restrictor-plate races. He should finish inside the top 10 this weekend.
No. 2 Brad Keselowski: Keselowski’s aggressive style of driving will either make or break him this weekend. We expect it will make him.
No. 24 Jeff Gordon: Gordon has five career wins at Daytona and was fast in qualifying this weekend. He should be in the lead-group when the checkers fly.
No. 41 Kurt Busch: Busch redeemed himself in 2013 and proved he has all the talent in the world when he took the No. 78 car to the Chase for the Sprint Cup. We love his chances this weekend in the new No. 41 car.
11 to 20
No. 16 Greg Biffle: Biffle was third-fastest during qualifying. He is worth using in most leagues this weekend.
No. 3 Austin Dillon: Say what you want about the No. 3 being back at Daytona, but Dillon has been trained his entire life for this moment. He is very talented and could have the famous No. 3 back in victory lane this weekend.
No. 99 Carl Edwards: Edwards is a solid restrictor-plate driver and was great at Daytona in five of the last seven Daytona races. He is a top 15 choice.
No. 15 Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is always a good-shoe at Daytona. Use him in most leagues.
No. 5 Kasey Kahne: Kahne has been very solid during in the early parts of Speedweeks. Look for a top 15 finish on Sunday.
No. 1 Jamie McMurray: McMurray won the 2010 Daytona 500. He isn’t usually one of our top picks, but his success at Daytona speaks for itself.
No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. Truex already qualified on the front-row for Sunday’s race. He is worth taking a gamble on in this restrictor-plate race format.
No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: If Stenhouse can avoid crashing into his girlfriend he will be worth using in all leagues.
No. 22 Joey Logano: Logano has been an above-average finisher at Daytona he past six races. He is worth using as a third driver in most leagues.
No. 31 Ryan Newman: Newman joins the No. 31 team at RCR for the 2014 season. He is a past Daytona 500 winner and will be eager to prove Stewart-Hass Racing was wrong in letting him go.
21 to 30
No. 21 Trevor Bayne: The 2011 Daytona 500 winner could surprise again this year.
No. 43 Aric Almirola: Almirola was great in 2013. He is a very solid choice to round-out your roster.
No. 34 David Ragan: Remember Talladega in 2013? Ragan can drive on restrictor-plate tracks as well as anyone.
No. 66 Michael Waltrip: We all have seen what Waltrip can do at Daytona. There are worse options.
No. 55 Brian Vickers: Vickers hopes his blood clot issue is a thing of the past as he takes over the No. 55 ride. He still has a little talent left.
No. 27 Paul Menard: Menard finished sixth during the 2012 Daytona 500, but struggled last year. He isn’t much of an option this weekend.
No. 10 Danica Patrick: Normally we don’t have much faith in Patrick’s driving ability and although we still don’t this is a restrictor-plate race and anything can and will happen.
No. 9 Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has proved he isn't afraid of anything. He is always a decent choice on super speedways.
No. 38 David Gilliland: Gilliland is always a fine choice in restrictor-plate races.
No. 13 Casey Mears: Mears has driven well during Speedweeks. He is a worthy choice as a fifth driver.
No. 42 Kyle Larson
No. 33 Brian Scott
No. 51 Justin Allgaier
No. 47 A.J. Allmendinger
No. 36 Reed Sorenson
No. 40 Landon Cassill
No. 30 Parker Kligerman
No. 7 Michael Annett
No. 35 Eric McClure
No. 26 Cole Whitt
No. 95 Michael McDowell
No. 32 Terry Labonte
No. 77 Dave Blaney
No. 98 Josh Wise
No. 52 Bobby Labonte
No. 87 Joe Nemechek
No. 83 Ryan Truex
No. 23 Alex Bowman
No. 93 Morgan Shepherd
My Yahoo! Fantasy NASCAR Team for this Week:
A. Kurt Busch