The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Daytona, Florida, this week for the Coke Zero 400.
The summer race at Daytona will be different from the Daytona 500 in February. The race track was cooler and had more grip in February. On Saturday, though, the track will be hot and slick. The speeds may not be as fast as they were in February, but it will nonetheless be an action-packed race under the lights Saturday night.
Kyle Busch won the pole for the 2013 Coke Zero 400. The Joe Gibbs cars led the most laps early in the race (Busch 29 laps, Denny Hamlin 20 laps and Matt Kenseth one lap. Kenseth spent most of the day pushing his teammates instead of leading laps). Jimmie Johnson took over the race from Busch and led a race-high 94 laps on his way to Victory Lane. It was Johnson’s 64th career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Picking the right group of drivers at Daytona is more difficult than any other race track on the circuit. Any driver entered into the race has a realistic chance of winning. If you play a fantasy game that restricts the number of times you can use a driver throughout the season, this will be the race to take some chances with your fantasy team. There are many good choices in the field Saturday night.
Racing for the Win
1. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin should be a huge favorite to win this week. He has dominated on the superspeedways this season. In February at Daytona, Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited and the Budweiser Duel and finished second in the Daytona 500. He also won the race at Talladega. Hamlin is my pick to win this week.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt should be the driver chasing Hamlin to the checkered flag Saturday night. He is the best driver in the field on the superspeedways. His win at the Daytona 500 in February was his third trip to Victory Lane at the track. Earnhardt has a series-best driver rating at Daytona, and he is the safest pick for your team Saturday night.
3. Kevin Harvick: The No. 4 team has brought a fast car to each race track this season. There is no reason to believe that Harvick will not be fast Saturday night as well. The idea of Harvick in a fast car at Daytona is a scary thought. He usually hangs out in the back before making his way to the front at the end of the race. That may not be the case Saturday night, however. Expect Harvick to qualify up front and race up front in the Coke Zero 400.
4. Tony Stewart: Stewart has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going at Daytona. He has never won the Daytona 500, but he has four wins in the summer race. Stewart loves a hot, slick race track, and that is what he will get Saturday night in Daytona. This will be one of Stewart’s best chances to get to Victory Lane before the Chase begins.
5. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has become one of the best drivers at Daytona. He has three wins and finished 12 of his 25 starts at Daytona in the top 10. The problem with Johnson is that he is so good at other race tracks that it's hard to justify using a start with him in leagues that restrict the number of times you can use a driver. If your league does not play by these rules, though, feel free to reap the rewards of Johnson’s skills at Daytona.
6. Greg Biffle: Yes, you read this right—Biffle is my pick to finish sixth this week. He has not been very good at many race tracks this season, but he's been able to find his way to the front at the superspeedways. Biffle finished eighth in the Daytona 500 and second at Talladega. If you were ever going to use Biffle on your team, this is the week to use him.
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon ran well in the Daytona 500, and he should run up front Saturday night. He started sixth and finished fourth in the last race at Daytona. He is one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in the series,and he is having a great season. Gordon should easily finish in the top 10 this week.
8. Matt Kenseth: Usually when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Daytona, Kenseth is a good pick to finish in the top five. He is still a great value for your team, but the No. 20 team has not been as good this season as it has been in the past. Kenseth has an average finishing position of 21.5 this year on the superspeedways. He needs a win to get into the Chase, so look for his team to provide him with a good car Saturday night.
9. Brad Keselowski: Last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Daytona, the field was set in the Budweiser Duel races. This week, the field will be set using knockout group qualifying. The Penske Racing cars have dominated qualifying this season, so Keselowski is my pick to start on the pole Saturday night. He should lead many laps and finish in the top 10.
10. Kyle Busch: Busch always runs up front at Daytona, but he has a hard time bringing his car home in one piece. The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have had speed on the superspeedways this season. Busch will have a fast car, and he has the ability to win the race (he won this race in 2008), but does he have the patience to make his way to the front? He is a high-risk, high-reward driver for your team this week.
11. Austin Dillon: Dillon performed well at the Daytona 500. He won the pole for the race and finished ninth. He has always been a good restrictor-plate driver, so a repeat of his February performance may be realistic. Dillon would be a great value pick for your fantasy team this week.
12. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has never won a race at Daytona, but he has finished seven of his 17 starts in the top 10. Bowyer is another driver who needs a win to secure his spot in the Chase. He finished third at Talladega, so there is a chance that he could finish up front. It is more realistic to predict him to finish in the top 15, however.
13. Kasey Kahne: Kahne is one of the best restrictor-plate drivers, but most fans don't know that because of his horrible luck. Kahne always runs up front at Daytona and Talladega, but when there is a big wreck, he has a habit of finding it. If Kahne can stay out of trouble this week, he will easily finish in the top 15.
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse is having a horrible sophomore season in the Sprint Cup Series. The only bright spot for him this year has been at the superspeedways. He finished seventh in the Daytona 500 and ninth at Talladega. If you plan to use Stenhouse on your team this season, this is the week to do so.
15. Joey Logano: Logano is having a great 2014 season. He has been so good at the intermediate race tracks that it is hard to justify using him this week in leagues that restrict the number of times you can use a driver during the season. Logano has an average finishing position of 21.5 this year at the superspeedways. Save him for next week at New Hampshire.
16. Paul Menard: Menard did not have a good race in the Daytona 500, but he ran up front at Talladega. He usually followed Kevin Harvick through the field at the superspeedways when they were teammates at Richard Childress Racing. It seems as though Menard learned something from Harvick. He should finish in the top 20 Saturday night.
17. Carl Edwards: Edwards has not shown much speed this season on the superspeedways. He finished No. 17 in the Daytona 500 and No. 30 at Talladega. He has the ability to get his car to the front at Daytona, so he is worth taking a chance on this week. Edwards should finish in the top 20 in the Coke Zero 400.
18. Brian Vickers: Vickers had a bad race at the Daytona 500, but he bounced back with a top-five finish at Talladega. So which version of the driver will show up this week? He will probably finish somewhere in the middle. His average starting position at Daytona is 18.3, and his average finishing position is 17.7. Expect Vickers to finish near his average Saturday night.
19. Jamie McMurray: McMurray is one of the surprises of the 2014 season. He has finished five races in the top 10 and two in the top five. He needs a win to make the Chase, and anything could happen at Daytona. McMurray has an average finishing position of 23.3 at Daytona. He will be better than that this week.
20. Kyle Larson: Larson struggled in his first Daytona 500, qualifying 16th and finishing 38th. But he bounced back at Talladega with a top-10 finish. Larson will likely not run up front this week, but he should be able to finish in the top 20.
Trying to Stay on Lead Lap
21. Ryan Newman: Newman won the 2008 Daytona 500, but he has not been very good at the race track overall. He has only finished six of his 25 races at Daytona in the top 10. Newman is a risky pick for your fantasy team Saturday night.
22. Kurt Busch: Busch has only finished one of the last six races at Daytona inside the top 10. He has not had much luck this season at the superspeedways. He finished 21st in the Daytona 500 and 33rd at Talladega. There are better options for your fantasy team this week.
22. AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger should be higher on this list, but it will be hard to trust him. He finished 26th in the Daytona 500 and fifth at Talladega. Do not expect another top-five finish from him Saturday night.
23. Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose will not finish in the top 10 this week, but he probably won't finish outside the top 25, either. Ambrose has a history of running in the top 20 at Daytona. Expect him to finish in the middle of the pack this week.
24. Casey Mears: Mears is a good sleeper pick this week. He has not had much success on many race tracks this season, but he's finished both races on the superspeedways inside the top 20. It may be hard for him to add a third top-20 finish Saturday night, but he should easily finish in the top 25.
25. Danica Patrick: Patrick proved last year that she can perform well at Daytona. She started on the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500 and finished eighth. The results were not the same this season, as she was involved in an early crash in the 2014 Daytona 500. Patrick is a good value pick for your team this week.
Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks
Group A: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick
Group B: Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard
Group C: Austin Dillon, Danica Patrick
Fantasy Live Picks
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick, Reed Sorenson
Fox Fantasy NASCAR Picks
Captain: Denny Hamlin
Driver 2: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Driver 3: Matt Kenseth
Driver 4: Tony Stewart
Driver 5: Greg Biffle