Fantasy NASCAR Picks for 2015 Daytona 500
The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will begin this week with the 57th running of the Daytona 500.
The elimination of team testing this offseason has left fantasy NASCAR fans itching to see their favorite cars back on the track. With major changes made to the horsepower and the down-force of the cars, Sunday’s race could be even more unpredictable then a normal superspeedway race.
Since the 2015 rules package does not take effect until next week’s race at Atlanta, the setup of the cars should be similar to what we saw in 2014.
Rookie driver Austin Dillon won the pole for the 2014 Daytona 500, but Denny Hamlin had the fastest car throughout Speedweeks. Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, the Budweiser Duel Race and finished second in the Daytona 500. With a little help from the trash on his grill, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to hold off the competition and win his second Daytona 500.
Most races on the superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) are a total crapshoot. Any driver entered into the race has a realistic chance of going to Victory Lane. The Daytona 500 has been different. Yes, we have seen some surprises at Daytona (Trevor Bayne’s win in 2011 and Ward Burton’s win in 2002), but most of the time the cream rises to the top. The drivers from Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the favorites to win this week.
The goal for fantasy teams should be to simply survive this week. If your team is unlucky and has a poor start to the 2015 season, do not panic there is plenty of time to make up the points.
Here are my picks for the Daytona 500…
Yahoo Group A Picks
The Daytona 500 is the only race where Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing does not reward fantasy teams points for qualifying. Since the field will not be set until the Budweiser Duel 125 races Thursday evening, fantasy teams have until the green flag on Sunday to set their lineup. My advice is to watch the qualifying races and practices this weekend and see if any drivers stand out.
There are no bad picks in Group A for the Daytona 500, but using the correct strategy will be important this week.
Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have five Daytona 500 trophies. Both drivers are great picks for Group A, but it may be wise to save them for more predictable race tracks. Johnson and Gordon will be two of the best drivers this season and they are so good at the other race tracks that it would be hard to justify using them this week.
Kevin Harvick is a former Daytona 500 winner, but in the last five seasons his average finishing position in this race is 22.2. Harvick won the most pole positions last season. Saving Harvick for a race where qualifying points are included will be a smart move for fantasy teams this week.
The drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) have all had success at Daytona. Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited, the Budweiser Dual 125 and finished second in the Daytona 500 in 2014. He will be a good pick this week. Most of Kyle Busch’s success at Daytona came in the summer race. Busch is too much of a risk for fantasy teams this week.
If you decide to go with a driver from Team Penske it has to be Brad Keselowski and not Joey Logano. Keselowski has the second-best driver rating at Daytona while Logano has an average finishing position of 20.8.
There are better picks then Ryan Newman this week. His average finishing position in the last five Daytona 500s is 20.8.
Here are the two drivers I selected for Group A…
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt will be the most popular pick this week and he should be. His stats in the Daytona 500 this past five years have been incredible. Earnhardt is the defending race champion, finished second in 2013, second in 2012 and second in 2011. The only race he did not finish in the top two was in 2011 when the pack-style racing was replaced by the tandem-style racing. Earnhardt is the favorite to win on Sunday and it should not even be close.
It really does not matter who you pair with Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week because unless he oversleeps the race, he should be the starting driver for your Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Team.
If you do want to go against the grain, Kenseth is your driver. Kenseth will be coming off a win in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited race. That is not necessarily a good thing. No driver has won the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Other good choices: Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski
Yahoo Group B Picks
If you only pay attention to one piece of advice this week, remember to save your best drivers from Group B for other race tracks. The talent level in this group is not as good as it has been in the past. The last thing you want to do is to start Carl Edwards, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne or Kurt Busch and loose them on lap one to a wreck. Save these drivers for more predictable race tracks.
Here are the four drivers I selected for Group B.
There will not be many races where fantasy teams will want to select Mears as their starter for Group B, but he should be on your team this week. Daytona is Mears best racetrack. In the last four races at Daytona, Mears has finished in the top 10 on three occasions. He finished fourth in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday and finished fourth in the Coke Zero 400 last July. Mears is the perfect driver to start this week and save your other drivers for more predictable race tracks.
There are two reasons for picking Busch this week: 1) Busch is probably the best restrictor-plate driver who has never won at a superspeedway. 2) Busch is currently facing charges for domestic abuse which could result in a suspension if he is found guilty. It may be wise to get some starts from Busch just in case the court case does not go his way.
Busch has finished half of his starts at Daytona in the top 10. If that is not enough, Busch will be driving the same car that Danica Patrick drove to the pole position and an eighth-place finish in 2013. Busch will also have Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Gibson calling the race for him. Busch is a great pick this week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse has started three Daytona 500s and has never finished outside the top 20. Last year he started 34th and finished seventh. His car was the fast in the first practice last Saturday. In 2013 Stenhouse scored the third-most points on the superspeedways. Stenhouse is a good pick for your team this week.
If you want to take a more popular driver who has had success at Daytona, Biffle is your driver. Biffle has the best driver rating of any driver in Group B in the last four races at Daytona. He finished four of the last five races in the Daytona 500 in the top 10. Biffle finished eighth in 2014, sixth in 2013, third in 2012 and third in 2010. Biffle is one of the best choices in Group B this week.
Other good choices: Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Aric Alimirola
Yahoo Group C Picks
The good thing about the Daytona 500 is that many drivers show up to try and win the Harley J. Earl trophy. Many of these drivers do not race the entire season so they come out of the list of drivers in Group C.
Danica Patrick will be the most popular pick for Group C this week. She has had success at Daytona in the past, but I would not recommend using her for the race. It will be important to get nine starts from Patrick this season and if you use a start at Daytona you will probably wish you had that start back later in the season.
Michael Waltrip will be filling in for Brian Vickers in the No. 55 car this week. Waltrip is a former Daytona 500 champion and will have a good car this week. His driving abilities are not what they used to be, but at least he is locked into the race. Do not expect Waltrip to run around the back this year.
Bobby Labante is another interesting choice in Group C this week. He will be driving the No. 32 C&J Energy Ford. Labonte has finished the last four Daytona 500s in the top 15. He may be worth the risk this week.
Here are the two drivers I selected for Group C…
Dillon is currently only scheduled to drive two races this season in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevy (Daytona and Pocono). It would be wise to use a start with Dillon when he is driving the car. Dillon is paired with crew chief Todd Parrott this week. Parrott has guided teams to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and wins in the Daytona 500. The combination of car and crew chief will make Dillon a great pick for Group C this week.
Some drivers adapt to restrictor-plate racing better than others. Ragan falls into this category. He only has two wins in his career and they both came on the superspeedways (Talladega in 2013 and Daytona in 2011). Ragan must qualify on speed to make the race, so be sure to check the starting lineup after the Budweiser Duel 125 on Thursday to ensure Ragan made the field.
Other Good Choices: Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and David Gilliland
Fantasy Live Picks
Fantasy Live made some minor tweaks to their game this year. Instead of selecting the best pit crew, fantasy teams must predict the winner of the race to earn bonus points. Selecting the winner makes more sense than trying to select a pit crew.
The key to winning the Fantasy Live game is to understand the rules. Your team is awarded points for leading laps, having the fastest lap, quality passes, the difference between starting position and finishing position and where your driver finishes the race.
The best strategy for the Daytona 500 is to pick a combination of drivers who have looked strong all week and will start up front and drivers who will start in the back with the ability to move to the front. Your team will need a good finishing differential to get a high score this week.
Fantasy teams will want to select drivers who will start in the back with a good opportunity to move to the front. Check my Fantasy NASCAR Facebook Page for my final picks after Happy Hour practice on Saturday.
Here are the five drivers I selected for Fantasy Live for the race for the Daytona 500:
Driver 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Driver 2: Matt Kenseth
Driver 3: Denny Hamlin
Driver 4: Casey Mears
Driver 5: David Ragan
Pick to Win: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Fox Fantasy Racing
Fox Fantasy Racing completely changed their game this year. They changed to a salary cap game which allows fantasy teams to use a driver as many times as they want throughout the season as long as they stay under the $50K salary cap. Drivers earn points based upon laps led (1 point for leading a lap and 1 point for leading the most laps), positions gained from his or her starting position and the driver’s finishing position.
Since qualifying for the Daytona 500 does not matter much, my strategy is to select drivers who start the race in the back with the opportunity to move to the front. This strategy will allow your team to score bonus points and move to the top of your league standings.
Here are my selections for Fox Fantasy Racing for the Daytona 500:
Driver 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr. $12,400
Driver 2: Matt Kenseth $11,400
Driver 3: Jimmie Johnson $10,100
Driver 4: Kyle Busch $8,900
Driver 5: Tony Stewart $6,800