The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2012 season with the 54th running of the Daytona 500. NASCAR Fantasy Cheat Sheet is back by popular demand for the 10th year of providing you with the internet’s longest-running and most accurate NASCAR fantasy prognostication column. 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 26; 1:29 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. As a result of the incredible speeds NASCAR has made all Sprint Cup Series races at the track restrictor plate races. The plate on the engine limits air-intake thus reducing horsepower and slowing top-end speeds.
Key to Race: AVOID THE BIG WRECK
Last year drivers gave the grip of the new surface at Daytona mostly positive reviews, but as is the case with all restrictor plate races the “Big One” is always one miscue away. Last year’s 500 turned into a herd of strange two-car drafts with deals being negotiated between drivers throughout the day. NASCAR has made efforts to prevent this style of racing from breaking out. We expect it will still occur to an extent, but it won’t be nearly as prevalent as last February. A combination of the two-pack draft and the traditional freight-train like packs will likely rule a majority of the race. With the freight-train like packs there is always the imminent risk of “The Big One”. With the cars whipping around the track just inches away from each other it takes just one car to have a flat tire or get loose to cause a massive accident. It isn't IF the big crash will happen it is WHEN. If a driver can get lucky and stay away from the inevitable carnage they have a great chance to finish inside the top 20.
49 cars will attempt to qualify for starting spots 3-39 during Thursday's Gatorade Duel races. The top two spots were locked in when Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle had the top speeds during qualifying for the Gatorade Duels. Starting positions 3-39 will be determined by order of finish during the Gatorade Duel races and the final four spots will go to Sprint Cup Series past champions or cars that had fast speeds on Pole Day, but didn't fare well during the Gatorade Duel races.
Fantasy Cheat Sheet:
No. 18 Kyle Busch: Love him or hate him Kyle can do some amazing things with a racecar. The fireworks display he put-on last weekend on his way to winning the Bud Shootout shows just how talented he is. We love his chances this weekend.
No. 14 Tony Stewart: Smoke has brought the fire at Daytona lately. He has won three of the last 11 races at the track and has looked fast during Speedweeks. He is a great pick.
No. 99 Carl Edwards: Edwards is a solid restrictor plate driver and was great at Daytona in three of the last four Daytona races. He will start from the pole on Sunday and is one of our top choices.
No. 29 Kevin Harvick: Harvick won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2010. He will be great again this weekend.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson: It is tough not to pick Mr. Five-Time. He won the 2006 Daytona 500 and has been pretty dominant (nine top 10 finishes in 20 career starts) at Daytona during his career.
6 to 10
No. 24 Jeff Gordon: Gordon has five career wins at Daytona and brought a great car to last July’s Coke Zero 400. He should be in the lead-group when the checkers fly.
No. 17 Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is consistently strong at Daytona. He won the 2009 Daytona 500 and could take the checkers again on Sunday.
No. 16 Greg Biffle: Biffle and most of the other Roush-Fenway Fords have been very fast so far at Daytona in 2012. He is sitting on the outside of the front row and has a great chance to take the checkers.
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. 5 Kasey Kahne: Kahne finally has the ride of his dreams this season. Look for him to be a contender for the Chase by the end of the season, but he may struggle a bit initially as he adjusts to his new team.
11 to 20
No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior was terrible at Daytona last season, but there is no race in the circuit that he wants to win more than this one. If there is any race to use him it is the 500.
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. 20 Joey Logano: Logano finally cracked the top 15 at Daytona during the Coke Zero 400 last July. We expect big things from “Sliced Bread” this season.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has just one top 10 finish at Daytona during his career and he has struggled a little during Speedweeks. Wait until next week to use the No. 11.
No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya cruised to top 10 finishes in both races at Daytona last season. He appears to have finally figured out restrictor plate racing. The man from Bogota is a solid third driver in most fantasy leagues.
No. 22 A.J. Allmendinger: “Dinger” moves to the No. 22 car of Penske Racing for the first HUGE break of his NASCAR career. He has proven to be a very talented driver and with first-rate equipment he should be a contender for the Chase. Grab him in all leagues.
No. 39 Ryan Newman: Newman won the 2008 edition of the Daytona 500, but that was his last top 15 finish at the famous speedway. He isn’t much more than a weak third or fourth driver in most fantasy leagues this weekend.
No. 51 Kurt Busch: Busch’s attitude brought him to the No. 51 team for the 2012 season. He is racing on a mostly incentive-based contract this year and will need to finish strong to pay the bills. He is usually very fast at Daytona, but we wouldn’t roll the dice on him early in this season.
No. 15 Clint Bowyer: Bowyer moves from RCR to the No. 15 car this season. The move will definitely hurt his value in fantasy leagues. He is usually a good shoe at Daytona, but his new ride bumps him outside the top 10.
No. 31 Jeff Burton: Burton was awful at Daytona in 2011. He has had past success at the track, but we think his days of being a restrictor plate track fantasy option are in the rearview mirror.
21 to 30
No. 55 Mark Martin: Daytona isn’t a style of race that Martin likes. We advise saving him for another weekend.
No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. Truex has been great in two of the past three Daytona 500’s. He is a good sleeper pick.
No. 9 Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has proved he isn't afraid of anything. He is a great sleeper driver this season.
No. 34 David Ragan: Ragan moves from Roush-Fenway to the Scorpion Truck Bed Liners No. 34 car. Talk about going from penthouse to outhouse. He won the July race at Daytona, but he will struggle to stay on the lead-lap this visit to the track.
No. 6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr., the defending Nationwide Series champion, takes over the No. 6 car for his Daytona 500 debut. There is no question he has the talent to pull a Trevor Bayne and win this weekend.
No. 21 Trevor Bayne: It is great to see last year’s 500 winner Bayne back behind the wheel of the No. 21 car after he battled illness for a majority of the 2011 season. He was flying during Speedweeks and could surprise again this year.
No. 27 Paul Menard: Menard should make a nice run this weekend. We like him as a solid sleeper pick.
No. 93 David Reutimann: Reutimann takes over the BK Racing No. 93 car for the 2012 campaign. “Rudy” is a two-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series so he has plenty of talent ,but we have to wonder how long it will take his new team to get organized enough to compete.
No. 43 Aric Almirola: Almirola takes the wheel of the famous No. 43 car for the 2012 season. He has proved himself in the Nationwide Series and the Florida native has made 35 starts in the Sprint Cup Series. He isn’t much of an option.
No. 10 Danica Patrick: Patrick makes her widely anticipated debut in the Sprint Cup Series. Even with veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli on her pit box and Tony Stewart helping provide advice we expect the 500 to be a struggle for her. Use at your own risk.
No. 78 Regan Smith
No. 13 Casey Mears
No. 40 Michael Waltrip
No. 33 Elliott Sadler
No. 7 Robby Gordon
No. 30 David Stremme
No. 83 Landon Cassill
No. 47 Bobby Labonte
No. 97 Bill Elliott
No. 32 Terry Labonte
No. 38 David Gilliland
No. 36 Dave Blaney
No. 87 Joe Nemechek
No. 37 Mike Wallace
No. 49 J.J. Yeley
No. 98 Michael McDowell
No. 23 Robert Richardson Jr.
No. 26 Tony Raines
No. 09 Kenny Wallace
1. Kyle Busch
2. Tony Stewart
3. Carl Edwards
4. Kevin Harvick
1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Paul Menard
Bust of the Week: