I’ll spare you all of the hype and hoopla surrounding the “Super Bowl of Racing”, and quickly deliver the strategies and numbers that will help your 2009 Fantasy NASCAR season get off to a successful start.
Before I do though, make sure you comb through our Fantasy NASCAR Draft Kit at www.rotoexperts.com, if you haven’t done so yet. May of the pieces are still valuable after the season starts, and you shouldn’t start setting that first lineup of the new campaign without them, especially if you play in a tiered or salary cap style league.
The articles on "Driver Rating", "Loop Data" and "How to Win in Any Format" are must-reads for any serious fantasy player.
Daytona is one of two restrictor plate tracks on the Sprint Cup Circuit. Kevin Harvick won a calamity-filled Bud Shootout at the site last weekend, but that event doesn’t serve as a true precursor of the upcoming 500. There won’t be nearly as much aggressive racing throughout the real season opener, and strategy will take heavy precedence over downright aggressive driving, which is mostly reserved for the latter parts of races.
When many NASCAR followers think of plate tracks, they immediately think of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Gordon is looking like a strong pick for the season opener, based on perception he wants to rebound strong after a disappointing 2008. His ability to skillfully snake through an early wreck in the Shootout is an indicator he has become more comfortable in the “new car” as well.
His driver rating of 93.7, since the stat was introduced to NASCAR, is only fifth-best among all current drivers since 2005. Driver Rating should be your ultimate guide to setting a fantasy lineup each week. A complete explanation of why the formula is so useful can be found right here.
You get the full report on DR if you are a RotoExperts member (registration is free, no strings attached). If you feel like I am forcing Driver Rating on you, I am. I want you to win your league, and it’s well worth your time.
In 32 Daytona starts, Gordon has six wins, 11 top-5 finishes and 17 top-10 finishes in the 500 and the night race combined. In the past eight races, his average running position of 11.9 is second-best among all drivers.
So even if he doesn’t win, expect him to lead some laps and finish right near the front.
Despite two wins and 11 top-10s in 18 starts at Daytona, Earnhardt has a DR of 92.4 since ’05, which is seventh-best among all drivers. He does have 43 of the fastest laps run in the past eight Daytona races, so he should lead some laps, too.
Earnhardt should finish in the top-10, and that should satisfy those who had to grab him as their first pick in snake drafts.
Tony Stewart leads all drivers in DR since 2005 with a 105.4 rating, but that number was built under the Joe Gibbs banner. So, Stewart can’t be considered a major contender to win, but he will finish well. He’ll be out to prove he hasn’t lost much as the kingpin of his own team.
Kyle Busch, with a 98.3 driver rating, is second-best behind Stewart, and should be the strong favorite to win this week. In the past eight Daytona races, he ranks second in laps in the top-15 (1,080, or 74.5 percent) and quality passes (1,062). NASCAR defines QPs as passes of cars in the top-15 while under green-flag conditions.
Ryan Newman actually ranks third in DR (94.9), and in some leagues he may be a bargain considering he has not fully performed up to expectations over the past three seasons. Newman leads all drivers in QPs over the past eight races (1,077) and ranks second in average green-flag speed (185.081 mph).
Newman won last year’s Daytona 500, and he also finished third in 2006.
Of course, we can’t overlook Jimmie Johnson, who has the fourth-best DR (94.7), and leads all drivers at Daytona in the past eight races with in average running position (10.0) and laps in the top-15 (1,094 or 75.4 percent).
Yet, Johnson has won only once at Daytona, and has five top 5s in 14 starts at the site. He did win the 500 in 2006, but has one top-10 finish in his past five starts at Daytona. Johnson can finish up front any week, as any casual fan knows, but he won’t be my ultimate winning pick for this week.
As much as I like Carl Edwards overall, he won’t be my pick to win, either. He has never won in eight tries at Daytona, with two top-10s and two DNFs. His DR of 77.8 is 17th-best among all drivers.
Mark Martin has become the emotional favorite, and he has a 84.8 DR, which puts him 10th in the field. Martin finished second in the 2007 season opener, but has never won at the site. It was his first top-5 finish at Daytona since the 2003 Daytona 500, so expecting a win this week may be a bit much, despite his leap to Hendrick Motorsports.
Here are some more drver's to considering when deciding who has a shot at winning this year's season opener.
Other Drivers to watch in the 2009 Daytona 500
Pole-sitter Martin Truex, Jr. ranks 19th in DR (74.5) and has never finished in the top-10 at Daytona.
Brian Vickers, meanwhile, has a DR of 82.3, and ranks 12th. He finished 12th and 11th at Daytona in 2008, so he leads the list of lower-echelon drivers to watch for this week.
Jamie McMurray (DR of 79.1, 15th) won the night race at Daytona in 2007.
Sam Hornish, Jr. (78.1, 16th) finished 15th and 29th at Daytona last year.
David Stremme (72.7, 24th) has finished 16th, 11th and 22nd in his past three Daytona events.
David Gilliland (72.5, 25th) finished eighth and 11th at the site in 2007.
For my FULL Daytona 500 Driver ranks and more analysis and tips for Sunday's race, visit the rest of my preview at RotoExperts.com.