The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels back to Florida for the 18th race of the 2012 season, the Coke Zero 400. NASCAR Fantasy Cheat Sheet took a long look at past performances, trends, and spoke to a few NASCAR contacts to shed a light on how the field will finish Saturday.
When: Saturday, July 7; 7:49 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 races at Daytona turned into a herd of strange two-car drafts with deals being negotiated between drivers on their in-car radios throughout the day. NASCAR made efforts to prevent this style of racing from breaking out and a combination of the two-pack draft and the traditional freight-train like packs were seen during this year’s Daytona 500. 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.
44 cars will attempt to qualify for 43 spots. If the first practice is run, but qualifying is unable to take place, the starting lineup will be based on speeds from the car's fastest lap from the first practice, with top-35 cars in owner points no longer segregated from the non-top 35 cars. Previously, the top 35 cars lined up in front of all other eligible car owners.
Fantasy Cheat Sheet:
No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior regained his speed at Daytona with a second place finish this February. Get him active on your roster this weekend.
No. 99 Carl Edwards: Edwards is a solid restrictor plate driver and was great at Daytona in four of the last five Daytona races. He started from the pole this February and is one of our top choices.
No. 17 Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is consistently strong at Daytona. He won this year’s Daytona 500 as well as the 2009 edition of the race. He could take the checkers again on Saturday.
No. 18 Kyle Busch: Kyle put on a fireworks display worthy of the Fourth of July on his way to winning the Bud Shootout this February. He wasn’t nearly as fast in the 500, but he is always a threat to win restrictor plate races.
No. 16 Greg Biffle: Biffle and most of the other Roush-Fenway Fords were very fast at Daytona this winter. He has a great chance to take the checkers.
6 to 10
No. 14 Tony Stewart: Smoke has brought the fire at Daytona lately. He has won three of the last 12 races at the track and looked fast during this year’s Speedweeks. He is a great pick.
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 21 career starts) at Daytona during his career.
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. 2 Brad Keselowski: Keselowski’s aggressive style of driving will either make or break him this weekend. We expect it will make him.
11 to 20
No. 5 Kasey Kahne: Kahne was taken out in a crash in the Daytona 500, but he should bounce back with a top 15 finish on Saturday.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin: Hamlin led the most laps of any driver during the Daytona 500 this winter. He will be fast again.
No. 20 Joey Logano: Logano has cracked the top 15 the past two races at Daytona. “Sliced Bread” is fighting for his seat at Gibbs and may finally be starting to live-up to his immense potential.
No. 15 Clint Bowyer: Bowyer finished 11th in February at Daytona and is usually a good-shoe at the track.
No. 31 Jeff Burton: Burton was awful at Daytona in 2011, but he notched a fifth place finish earlier this year. He has had past success at the track and is worth using in deep leagues.
No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. Truex has been great in three of the past four Daytona 500’s. He is a good pick.
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. 27 Paul Menard: Menard finished sixth during the 500. He is a solid sleeper pick.
No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya cruised to top 10 finishes in both races at Daytona last season, but he crashed in the 500 this year. The man from Bogota is a solid third driver in most fantasy 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.
21 to 30
No. 9 Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has proved he isn't afraid of anything. He is always a decent choice on super speedways.
No. 22 A.J. Allmendinger: “Dinger” disappointed during the 500 this year. Look for a bounce-back race this weekend.
No. 21 Trevor Bayne: Last year’s 500 winner was flying during Speedweeks this winter and could surprise again this year.
No. 51 Kurt Busch: Busch is usually very fast at Daytona, but we wouldn’t roll the dice on him this season.
No. 43 Aric Almirola: Almirola has surprised with his quality driving this season. Look for him to crack the top 25 this weekend.
No. 38 David Gilliland: Gilliland is always a fine choice in restrictor plate races.
No. 13 Casey Mears: Mears has been driving well lately. He is a worthy choice as a fifth driver.
No. 78 Regan Smith: Smith has averaged a 25th place finish at Daytona during his career. He should finish right around his average.
No. 55 Michael Waltrip: Waltrip is always a threat to do something at Daytona. His threat is getting less and less each year, however.
No. 10 David Reutimann: “Rudy” is a two-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series so he has plenty of talent, but he has struggled this season. There are less risky choices this weekend.
No. 93 Travis Kvapil
No. 83 Landon Cassill
No. 32 Terry Labonte
No. 47 Bobby Labonte
No. 50 Bill Elliott
No. 36 Dave Blaney
No. 34 David Ragan
No. 33 Stephen Leicht
No. 49 J.J. Yeley
No. 30 David Stremme
No. 87 Joe Nemechek
No. 98 Mike Bliss
No. 26 Josh Wise
No. 23 Robert Richardson
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Carl Edwards
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Kyle Busch
1. Jeff Burton
2. Trevor Bayne
Bust of the Week: