The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicks off the 2013 season with the 55th running of the Daytona 500. NASCAR Fantasy Cheat Sheet is back by popular demand for the 11th 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 24; 1:20 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: GEN-6 vs. THE BIG WRECK
Last year drivers used the knowledge they gleamed from the 2011 races on Daytona’s new surface to drive quality events at the track, but as is the case with all restrictor plate races the “Big One” is always one miscue away. This year NASCAR gives the drivers a new challenge by introducing the Gen-6 car. Drivers have given the new ride mostly positive reviews during early test sessions or maybe they are just excited to be done with the C.o.T.
Okay bear with me, I will do my best to explain this confusing qualifying style, even though only two cars won’t make the race. 45 cars will attempt to qualify for starting spots. Positions No. 1 and No. 2 were set during qualifying on Feb. 17. Positions No. 3 through No.32 are set by the results of the Budweiser Duel 150 on Thursday. Drivers who finish in the top 15 in their respective Budweiser 150 races earn spots in the Daytona 500 and the 16th-place driver gets in as long as one of the top-15 drivers already occupies one of the two front row spots. Positions No.33 through No. 36 are made up of the fastest four drivers from qualifying not in already in from the Budweiser 150. Positions No. 37 through No. 42 are made of the highest drivers in the previous season's owners points standing not already in the race. Starting spot No. 43 is designated to a former Sprint Cup Champion not already in, if there isn’t a former Sprint Cup Champion. The final slot goes to the next driver highest placing driver in the highest in the final 2012 owners points standings
Fantasy Cheat Sheet:
No. 14 Tony Stewart: Smoke has brought the fire at Daytona lately. He won four of the last 13 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 and Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited. He will be great again this weekend.
No. 20 Matt Kenseth: Kenseth is consistently strong at Daytona. He won last year’s Daytona 500 as well as the 2009 edition of the race. He could take the checkers again on Sunday in his first race for Coach Gibbs Racing.
No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior regained his speed at Daytona with a second place finish last February. He is always worth a spot on a roster during the Daytona 500.
No. 16 Greg Biffle: Biffle was very fast at Daytona during the Spring Unlimited race on Saturday. He has a great chance to take the checkers.
6 to 10
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. 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 22 career starts) at Daytona during his career.
No. 24 Jeff Gordon: Gordon has five career wins at Daytona and is starting from the front row this weekend. He should be in the lead-group when the checkers fly.
No. 99 Carl Edwards: Edwards is a solid restrictor plate driver and was great in five of the last six Daytona races. He is a top 10 choice.
No. 18 Kyle Busch: Kyle won the Bud Shootout last February, but struggled during the full-length races at Daytona. He is always a threat to win restrictor plate races.
11 to 20
No. 5 Kasey Kahne: Kahne was taken out in a crash in last year’s Daytona 500, but he should bounce back with a top 15 finish on Sunday.
No. 11 Denny Hamlin: Hamlin led the most laps of any driver during the Daytona 500 last winter. He will be fast again.
No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The super-talented Stenhouse takes over the No. 17 ride from Matt Kenseth. He is worth using in all leagues.
No. 15 Clint Bowyer: Bowyer finished 11th in both races at Daytona last year. He is usually a good-shoe at the track.
No. 31 Jeff Burton: Burton was awful at Daytona in 2011, but he notched top five finishes in both races last year. He has had past success at the track and is worth using in deep leagues.
No. 22 Joey Logano: Logano has cracked the top 15 the past three races at Daytona. “Sliced Bread” finished third during the Spring Unlimited and is worth using in most leagues.
No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. Truex has been very fast 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 last year’s Daytona 500. He is a solid sleeper pick.
No. 39 Ryan Newman: Newman won the 2008 edition of the Daytona 500, but he has had just one top 15 finish since 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. 21 Trevor Bayne: The 2011 Daytona 500 winner was flying during Speedweeks this winter and could surprise again this year.
No. 78 Kurt Busch: Busch is usually very fast at Daytona, but we wouldn’t roll the dice on him too often this season.
No. 43 Aric Almirola: Almirola surprised many with how well he drove the No. 43 car last season. He is a great choice to round-out your roster.
No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya: Montoya cruised to top 10 finishes in both races at Daytona in 2011, but he crashed in both races last year. The man from Bogota is not much more than a fourth driver in most fantasy leagues.
No. 33 Austin Dillon: Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, has been trained his entire life for this moment. He will make the typical rookie mistakes on Sunday, but there is no question he is talented and will be driving top-equipment.
No. 10 Danica Patrick: Patrick shocked much of the racing world when she captured the Pole for Sunday’s race. We don’t trust her enough in race-trim to help your fantasy team as anything other than a fourth driver.
No. 9 Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose has proved he isn't afraid of anything. He is always a decent choice on super speedways.
No. 38 David Gilliland: Gilliland is always a fine choice in restrictor plate races.
No. 13 Casey Mears: Mears drove well during Speedweeks. He is a worthy choice as a fifth driver.
No. 51 Regan Smith: Smith has averaged a 26th place finish at Daytona during his career. He should finish a little worse than his average.
No. 55 Mark Martin
No. 26 Michael Waltrip
No. 83 David Reutimann
No. 32 Terry Labonte
No. 47 Bobby Labonte
No. 7 Dave Blaney
No. 19 Mike Bliss
No. 34 David Ragan
No. 95 Scott Speed
No. 87 Joe Nemechek
No. 36 J.J. Yeley
No. 93 Travis Kvapil
No. 98 Michael McDowell
No. 35 Josh Wise
No. 52 Brian Keselowski
My Yahoo! Fantasy NASCAR Team for this Week:
A. Tony Stewart
B. Greg Biffle
B. Kyle Busch
C. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.