As difficult as the Daytona 500 can be to predict (with Big One crashes, blown engines, and the capriciousness of the multi-car draft) there are certain drivers who still manage to post back-to-back top-10s on this track. Last year, four drivers doubled down. Two of these drivers (Chris Buescher and Ryan Newman) have three-race streaks to their credit.
Success predicts success in most cases, so even though drivers with strong records on this track are perfectly capable of crashing this weekend, one needs to consider them ahead of their competitors.
Last week's Advance Auto Parts Clash and last year's Daytona 500 prove that being the leader does not protect one from getting wrecked, but simple mathematics suggests the further forward one is in the field, the safer they are. For that reason, we also look to a driver's average running position to help make predictions on a restrictor-plate superspeedway.
1. Joey Logano
Logano had one of the better cars in last week's Clash. He was able to stay in the lead pack – which was mostly comprised of Team Penske – and avoided the Big One at the end. His win at Talladega was another strong indication of his plate racing skill.
2. Kurt Busch
Busch has long been one of the top drivers on plate tracks. For all of his fieriness on other courses, he holds a steady wheel in the draft and is often awarded with top-10s.
3. Denny Hamlin
Streaks are hard to maintain on plate tracks, so Hamlin's five consecutive Daytona top-10s from 2014 – 2016 stands out. He hit a three-race lull before finishing third last year in the 500.
4. Ryan Blaney
Team Penske has a great reputation on plate tracks. Teammates Logano and Keselowski have their share of wins, but Blaney is going to be rightly-priced. He finished second in the 2017 Daytona 500.
5. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski is better at Talladega than Daytona – and last year, he wasn't good anywhere on a plate track – but he tends to run with the leaders and will get a top-five if he is able to stay out of trouble.
6. Jamie McMurray
McMurray is aggressive in the draft and that often gets him into trouble. It occasionally puts him in a position ahead of the Big One crash, however, and he cannot be overlooked in his last scheduled Cup ride.
7. Aric Almirola
If he had not been crashed by Austin Dillon on the last lap of the 2018 Daytona 500, Almirola would have won the season-opening race. He showed a lot of strength before that incident.
8. Chase Elliott
It's difficult to know when to handicap a driver based on their potential or their record. Elliott has always been extremely strong on plate tracks, but he is also crash prone and suffered damage in all but one of his Daytona starts.
9. Kevin Harvick
Harvick's attractiveness in fantasy games is based partly on his popularity. He is on a majority of rosters in most types of contests so if he wrecks, he is just as likely to take your competition down with him.
10. Ryan Newman
As one of two drivers with three consecutive top-10s, it is difficult to overlook Newman. This year that is especially true given his move to Roush Fenway Racing.
11. Bubba Wallace
In three starts at Daytona, Wallace has never finished outside the top 15. Last year, that allowed him to be in a position to capitalize on late-race chaos in the 500 and finish second.
12. Austin Dillon
Dillon was in a position to put the bumper to Almirola last year because he kept his nose clean until the final lap. He came back to Daytona in the summer to score another top-10.
13. Kyle Busch
Busch is more than capable of earning a top-five at Daytona, but his luck on the plate track last year was abysmal and his best result was a 25th in the 500. By the time the Coke Zero 400 finished, he was frustrated with the track.
14. Paul Menard
Menard has been strong at Daytona throughout his career. Now that he has drafting teammates among the Penske Pals, he is able to stay in the lead draft. His strength last week in the Clash is offered as proof.
15. Chris Buescher
Dark horses abound on plate tracks and players want to avoid the temptation to overdue it. But with three straight Daytona top-10s to his credit, Buescher needs to be on your radar screen.
16. Michael McDowell
Front Row Motorsports has always been strong on plate tracks. Part of the reason for that is drivers like McDowell and Ragan know when to lay back and when to charge. McDowell has three top-10s to his credit in the last 10 plate races and two more results in the mid-teens.
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
One reason Stenhouse was embroiled in so much controversy last year in the Coke Zero 400 is because he was running with (and into) the leaders all day. Look for him in the front half of the pack again.
18. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer usually has one good plate run in his each season. In 2017, he finished second in the Coke Zero 400; last year, he was second in the fall Talladega race.
19. Alex Bowman
Bowman has the car to run with the leaders, but he needs slightly better instincts to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, that can be hard to develop in a field of 40 drivers with this level of skill.
20. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson's incident last week in the Clash could have lasting implications if it keeps the Ford drivers from wanting to draft with him.
21. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex's second-place finish in last year's Coke Zero 400 was an anomaly and the only time in the last 11 plate races that he scored a top-10.
22. Brendan Gaughan
Each year there is a Cinderella story in the Daytona 500 and often it is a driver like Gaughan who tackles the race as part of a limited schedule with a modestly-funded team. Using him also helps in allocation management contests.
23. Kyle Larson
There are multiple reasons to leave Larson off the roster. His plate record is one, but so is the fact that he will be much more useful on the unrestricted, intermediate speedways.
24. William Byron
Byron is part of the Hendrick juggernaut and will lead the field to green. The organization does not perform nearly as well in race trim as qualification, however, and the sophomore is virtually guaranteed to lose place-differential points.
25. David Ragan
If you are going to have multiple dark horses on your lineup, Ragan is a fitting choice to start alongside his teammate McDowell.
26. Ryan Preece
Often rookies do not run well on the plate tracks since they have some difficulty finding draft partners, but Preece is in the car formerly wheeled by AJ Allmendinger that swept the top 10 last year and has Buescher as a teammate.
27. Erik Jones
Yes, Jones won last year's Coke Zero 400, but he has crashed out of practically every other plate race he's entered.
28. Daniel Hemric
Hemric is our choice to the be top rookie at the end of the season and RCR has a solid plate record. That doesn't outweigh the fact that rookies are dangerous in the season opener.
29. Daniel Suarez
If Suarez inherits the setups from the former driver of the No. 41 he could be this week's most pleasant surprise. He'll need to outrun his luck, however.
30. Ty Dillon
With the affiliation with RCR and a second Germain car in the field this week, Dillon will have drafting partners to help him stay in the pack.
31. Casey Mears
Mears has ample experience to make him a good value, but it has been awhile since he was in a 40-car draft on a plate track and that makes him an unknown quantity this week.
32. Landon Cassill
Cassill was not part of last year's Daytona 500, but he finished just outside the front half of the field in July with a 24th.
33. Matt Tifft
A lot is not yet known about how Tifft will perform in what is essentially a new ride. Take the 500 to evaluate him and slowly start thinking about how to use him as a low-cost alternative to some of the other lightly-funded teams.
34. Tyler Reddick
It's difficult to recommend Reddick because of his lack of experience at the Cup level, but in games where you have multiple lineups it might be worthwhile to use him as an extender of one's salary cap.
35. Ross Chastain
Chastain's 21st-place finish last July at Daytona made him a great value, but lightening is not supposed to strike the same place twice.
36. Parker Kligerman
NBC analyst Kligerman is always a popular pick in any series because he generally has a well-thought out approach to the race.
37. Matt DiBenedetto
Before the season is over, we suspect that DiBenedetto will become a very popular pick, but for now there are just too many options for Daytona dark horses.
38. Joey Gase
There was so much attrition in last year's Coke Zero 400 that it is difficult to asses how Gase's 25th-place finish stacks up to the competition.
39. Cody Ware
In the family owned car, Ware is guaranteed to make the race, but he is unlikely to have enough speed to remain in the draft all day.
40. Ryan Truex
If Ryan inherits the skill of his brother he will be a good value. If he has the same bad luck, he will fail to finish.
41. Corey LaJoie
If nothing else, everyone will know what LaJoie looks like by the end of this week's race. His face adorns the hood of his car.
42. BJ McLeod
In a second Rick Ware entry, McLeod will do well to race his way out of the Duels and into the big show.