The 55th running of the Daytona 500 will mark the beginning of the 2013 fantasy NASCAR season.
While one race will not determine who wins your fantasy NASCAR league, it would be nice to get off to a good start.
Picking the drivers for the Daytona 500 is harder than any other race on the schedule. There is no data from this season to use for this race, and one wreck could take out half of the field.
The strategy for picking a fantasy NASCAR team for the Daytona 500 depends on what the rules are for your league. If you are playing in the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game, it would be best to save the top drivers for other racetracks.
If you play in a salary cap game (Fantasy Live on nascar.com or Stockcar Challenge on espn.com) the best strategy is to pick a combination of the best drivers and drivers who are sleepers that will save you money.
Here is my fantasy NASCAR picks for the 2013 Daytona 500:
There is one rule that must be followed when picking your Group A drivers: Do not pick Jimmie Johnson!
Johnson has a history of finishing poorly at Daytona. He will be one of the best drivers throughout the season, and the last thing you want is to waste one of your nine starts with Johnson at a racetrack where he has a history of wrecking. Save Johnson for Week 2 at Phoenix.
There is plenty of talent in Group A to get you through the season. Any of the choices in the group could win the race this week, but I like two drivers better than the rest.
Since many of the drivers have been talking about how the Generation-6 car drives like the cars from the early 2000s, I decided to take two old school drivers.
Here are the two drivers I selected for Group A, and the stats from the NASCAR Media Center based upon the races from 2005-2012 at Daytona:
Matt Kenseth has been the best driver at Daytona 500 in the last three races. Kenseth won one race and finished second and third in the other two.
Kenseth has two wins, six top five finishes, 13 top 10 finishes and one pole in his 26 career races at Daytona. He has ran 62.9 percent of his laps in the top 15, which is third most of any driver in the field. Kenseth also has the third-best driver rating of 92.5.
Kenseth is one of the safest drivers to have on your team in a race that can be very unpredictable.
If any driver can figure a way to get the new car around the racetrack at Daytona, it is Tony Stewart. Stewart has raced just about every style of vehicle, and he should be the first driver to adapt to the Generation-6 car.
Stewart has the second-best average running position of 13.9, second-best driver rating of 96.5 and has run 63.5 percent of his laps in the top 15, which is also second-best.
Stewart had a fast car in qualifying, and this could be the year he finally goes to victory lane in the Daytona 500.
Other good choices: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
Some of the best drivers in the Daytona 500 are in Yahoo Group B. Fantasy NASCAR players will have to decide if they want to use one of their nine starts with these drivers at a racetrack where anything can happen, or save them for more predictable racetracks?
I hate to save drivers in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing. Last year, I saved starts with Dale Earnhardt Jr. only to have him miss races in the Chase. My strategy is to use the best drivers and figure out the rest of the season later.
Here are the four drivers I selected for Group B, and the stats from the NASCAR Media Center based upon the races from 2005-2012 at Daytona:
Many fantasy NASCAR players will be saving Kyle Busch for other racetracks. I will not be one of them! Busch has the best stats of any driver in the field at Daytona.
Busch has a series-best average running position of 12.1, series-best driver rating of 97.6, series-best quality passes with 2,300 and a series-best 72.4 percent of his laps ran in the top 15. These stats are too good to pass up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is an old school type of driver, and the new car will give him an advantage at the competition this week.
Earnhardt’s stats at Daytona are solid. He has two wins, nine top five finishes, 14 top 10 finishes and has won one pole. Earnhardt’s driver rating of 88.3 is fifth-best, and he has the fourth-best average running position at 14.7.
This is one of Earnhardt’s best racetracks. It would be smart to have him on your team this week.
Jeff Burton is a sleeper pick this week. Most people do not realize how good Burton is on the restrictor plate racetracks.
Burton has one win, nine top five finishes, 11 top 10 finishes and has won one pole at Daytona. He has a series-best average green flag speed of 188.312 and the seventh-best driver rating of 85.5.
If you want to save one of the drivers listed above, Burton would be a good choice.
Joey Logano is my other sleeper pick for Group B. Logano has been good in the past four races at Daytona.
In the last four races at Daytona, Logano has the second-best average finish at 9.75 and the second-best driver rating at 94.6.
Logano would be a great choice for the Daytona 500.
Other good choices: Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Paul Menard.
Yahoo Group C will be tough again in 2013. There are very few drivers in the group who will finish inside the top 15 each week. Fantasy NASCAR players will have to save starts with the top picks in the group in order to spread the wealth throughout the season.
Since Valentine’s Day just passed, I decided to take NASCAR’s happy couple with my Group C choices.
You cannot expect much from your Group C driver and I do not expect Danica to compete for the win on Sunday.
Danica will start from the pole and if she can lead one lap, she will earn 10 bonus points for your fantasy NASCAR team. Even if she finishes last in the race and leads one lap, she will earn point’s equivalent to the driver who finished No. 38 and did not lead any laps.
I predict Danica will finish somewhere near No. 25 and lead at least one lap. This would earn her 52 points which would be equal to the points of the driver who finishes No. 20 and does not lead a lap. Not too bad for a C driver.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
If Danica crashes in the Budweiser Duel race on Thursday, I will have to go to plan B.
Selecting Ricky Stenhouse as your backup driver is not a bad strategy. Stenhouse has competed in only one race in the Sprint Cup series at Daytona, but he was able to finish No. 20.
Stenhouse will take over for Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford. He will have a car that will be capable of running up front, but does Stenhouse have the talent to compete with the top competition in the sport? I think the two-time Nationwide Series Champion can finish in the top 10 if he does not try to overdrive the car.
Other good choices: Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, Michael Waltrip, Casey Mears and Austin Dillon.
The Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing may be the most popular fantasy NASCAR game, but the nascar.com Fantasy Live may be the most fun to play.
Fantasy Live is the only game to offer live scoring, uses pit crews, requires players to pick the winning manufacturer and does not restrict the amount of times a driver can be used throughout the season.
The key to winning the Fantasy Live game is to understand the rules. Your team is awarded points for leading laps, having the fastest lap, quality passes, the difference between starting position and finishing position and where your driver finishes the race.
The strategy that won me many leagues last year was to pick drivers who started in the back that I thought would finish up front on the larger racetracks, since your driver would accumulate many points for quality passes and finishing differential.
On the smaller racetracks, I would use drivers who started up front and would lead many laps. Since there were often 400 laps or more in the race, your driver would accumulate many points for leading laps and for the fastest lap.
Here are my picks for the Daytona 500 in the Fantasy Live game:
$26.75 Matt Kenseth
How can you pick against Matt Kenseth? His recent stats at Daytona are the best of any driver in the field.
Kenseth has a streak of three races at Daytona finishing in the top three. Kenseth is the defending Daytona 500 champion, and his car was the fastest in the field last Saturday night in the Sprint unlimited. In the last four races at Daytona, Kenseth has the top driver rating and has led 20.68 percent of the laps.
Daytona is the most unpredictable race of the season, and Kenseth is one of the safest pick in the field.
$26.00 Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart has 18 career wins at Daytona, but never in the Daytona 500. Sooner or later, he is finally going to go to victory lane in the Daytona 500. Sunday could be the day.
The last time the cars were at Daytona for the Coke Zero 400, Stewart started the race No. 42, and drove his car to the checkered flag. Stewart has the fourth best average finish in the last four races at Daytona. He will finish up front in the 2013 Daytona 500.
$25.50 Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick must be on every team this week. He is almost a lock for a top five finish.
Harvick has the second-best career average finish at Daytona of any driver in the field on Sunday. Harvick has won two races at the racetrack and has 10 top 10 finishes.
The scoring setup in Fantasy Live is perfect for Harvick. He may hang out in the back of the pack and score many quality passes on his way to victory lane. He won the race last Saturday night and may do it again on Sunday.
$16.00 Aric Almirola
In order to get the three best drivers in the field on your team, you must save money elsewhere. Aric Almirola is a bargain at $16.
Almirola will be a good sleeper pick this season. This could be the year he wins his first race. Since anything can happen in a restrictor plate race, there is a possibility that Almirola could end up in victory lane on Sunday.
Alimorla’s stats at Daytona are not the best, but he has been improving. He finished the 2012 season with top 20 finishes in eight of the last 10 races. For only $16, those are not bad stats.
$5.00 Austin Dillon
I am taking a huge gamble with my last selection. Austin Dillon will drive the fourth car for Richard Childress Racing. Although he has never competed in a Daytona 500, he has been fast in practice. Dillon will start No. 8 for the Gatorade Duel 125 race on Thursday.
Dillon may not have the experience to compete for a win on Sunday, but he does have the pedigree to be successful. Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress and his father (Mike) is the general manager of Richard Childress Racing.
This pick is not based upon his pedigree only. Dillon can drive as well. He was the Camping World Truck series Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the series champion in 2011.
For $5, I will take what I can get out of the young driver.
Pit Crew: Denny Hamlin
The pit crew has been incorporated into the Fantasy Live game this year. I chose Denny Hamlin’s pit crew based upon his crew chief, Darian Grubb. I have the feeling Grubb will have his crew ready to steal some spots on pit road during the race.
The Chevy cars have dominated so far in Speed Weeks. Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Ultimate and the Chevy’s swept the front row for the Daytona 500.
If you choose Chevy as your manufacturer, you will get 10 bonus points if Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Regan Smith or Dave Blaney wins the race.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @HuskerMagic.
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