And so it begins… Another season of Fantasy NASCAR is set to drop the green flag with the 61st running of the Daytona 500. I am set to start my 25th season playing Fantasy NASCAR and just like the previous seasons, I plan to take home the league championship trophy.
This will not be a normal week for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. There will two Gander RV Duel races Thursday to set the field for the Daytona 500. The first race is at 7 p.m. ET and the second race is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET. Both are on Fox Sports 1. There will be two practices Friday (1 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET. Both on Fox Sports 1) and final practice will be Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The Great American Race will start Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET on Fox.
The Driver Group Game will not award bonus points for the pole winner since this race has a unique schedule. The roster lock time is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET so you have all week to think about your picks.
Alex Bowman won the pole for the 2018 Daytona 500 and led 13 laps. The first Stage had multiple lead changes and a big wreck as the cars came to Stage ending flag. Kurt Busch won the 2017 Great American Race and he won Stage 1 of the 2018 Daytona 500. Ryan Blaney dominated Stage 2. He also led the most laps in the race (118) and he finished 7th. Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola took turns leading the final laps but Austin Dillon decided to move Almirola to take the checkered flag and win his first Harley J. Earl trophy.
Race Rewind at Daytona: Daytona 500 (2018)
NASCAR Loop Data stats for the Daytona 500
Here are my picks for Daytona…
Driver Group Game A Picks
I plan to fill my lineup with as many Fords as possible this week. The Blue Ovals have won 8 of the last 10 restrictor-plate races. They have also dominated the Stages and led the most laps since 2016. The word in the garage at the Las Vegas test session is that the Ford Mustang GT has better aerodynamics than the Fusion had. If that is the case, the Chevys and Toyota’s will be in trouble Sunday.
Joey Logano (8): The 2018 MENCS Champion will have a good chance to keep his hot streak going with another trip to Victory Lane Sunday. Logano won the 2015 Daytona and he has been the best pick in this race ever since. Logano finished 4th in 2018, 6th in 2017 and 6th in 2016. That is an average finishing position of 4.25 in his last four Daytona 500s. Logano also has two wins at Talladega since joining Team Penske. He is the best pick in Group A this week.
Brad Keselowski (8): Keselowski is better at Talladega then he is at Daytona but that does not make him a bad pick this week. He won the summer race at Daytona in 2016. We get to see five practices and two races before they drop the green flag Sunday. I will be watching to see how the new Ford Mustang GT performs on the track. If it is as good as Keselowski says it is, he will be my 2nd Group A driver. If they look like they are behind on speed, I will have Denny Hamlin in this spot.
Group A Driver Rankings: 1) Joey Logano 2) Brad Keselowski 3) Kevin Harvick 4) Kyle Busch 5) Martin Truex Jr. 6) Chase Elliott 7) Kyle Larson
Driver Group Game B Picks
Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney are the three best choices in Group B. They are the best picks if you want the best chance to start off the season with a good race. The Fantasy NASCAR season is a marathon and not a sprint. They do not give out league championship trophies for scoring the most points in the Daytona 500. We only have 8 starts with Hamlin, Busch and Blaney. Their allocations are too important to be used at such a risky race. I will save the No. 11, No. 1 and No. 22 cars for the shorter tracks. I am loading up my Group B lineup with more Fords…
Aric Almirola (8): Almirola should be the defending Daytona 500 champion. He was leading last year’s race on the final lap and Austin Dillon gave him the chrome horn. Almirola has been one of the most consistent drivers on the Superspeedways. He has finished 4 of his last 7 races on the plate tracks in the top 5. He won the last race on a Superspeedway (Talladega) and he should be up front again Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (8): Stenhouse Jr. is the best pick in Group B if we simply go off of the stats. He has the best average finishing position in the last 10 restrictor-plate races of any driver in the field. Stenhouse has two wins and 6 finishes in the top 10 in his last 10 Superspeedway races. He may wreck the entire field to get to the front but hey… whatever works for him. As long as it scores me some fantasy points.
Ryan Newman (8): Newman ran well at Daytona last year. He finished 8th in the Daytona 500 and 8th in the Coke Zero 400 and that was in a Chevy. Now Newman will be driving the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing. The Ford aerodynamics and the Roush-Yates engine should be what Newman needs to get his hotdog sponsored car to the front. This is Newman’s best chance to get to Victory Lane at Daytona since he won the Great American Race in 2008.
Paul Menard (8): Menard is one of the best sleeper picks at Daytona. He has finished 5th and 6th in his last two Daytona 500s. Menard works really well with Team Penske Racing. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney are three of the best drivers in the race. Menard should be right behind them for 500 miles this week. The Wood Brothers know how to race on restrictor-plate tracks. This is the best track on the circuit to use an allocation with Menard.
Group B Driver Rankings: 1) Ryan Blaney 2) Denny Hamlin 3) Kurt Busch 4) Aric Almirola 5) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 6) Ryan Newman 7) Paul Menard 8) Austin Dillon 9) Clint Bowyer 10) Erik Jones, 11) Alex Bowman, 12) Jimmie Johnson, 13) Daniel Suarez, 14) William Byron
Driver Group Game C Picks
Jamie McMurray (8): One last ride… McMurray will make one more run in the Daytona 500 before he hangs up his helmet. NASCAR lines up the cars in the garages by where they finished in the point standings last year. McMurray will be parked in the #2 garage, next to champion Joey Logano. How is that you ask… Spire Motorsports purchased the charter from Furniture Row Racing (Martin Truex Jr.) team, so McMurray is guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 and has the perks of the No. 78 car. The car McMurray is driving is listed under Spire Motorsports but it is essentially a Chip Ganassi Racing car. His former team provided the car, the engine and most of the team members this week. You cannot pass up an opportunity to use a driver like this in the Driver Group Game. McMurray is almost a lock to make my starting lineup Sunday.
Chris Buescher (8): Who was the best driver at Daytona last year? If you said Chris Buescher you are right. Buescher finished 5th in the Daytona 500 and came back and finished 5th again in the Coke Zero 400. It wasn’t a fluke. Buescher finished in the top 10 in 2017 too. I want to save my allocations with him for the smaller tracks but if Jamie McMurray gets kidnapped by aliens, I want Buescher waiting on standby.
Group C Driver Rankings: 1) Jamie McMurray 2) Chris Buescher 3) David Ragan 4) Darrell Wallace Jr. 5) Michael McDowell
Driver Group Game Team
Group A: Joey Logano (8), Brad Keselowski (8)
Group B: Aric Almirola (8), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (8), Ryan Newman (8), Paul Menard (8)
Group C: Jamie McMurray (8), David Ragan (8)
I will post my final picks for Driver Group Game Saturday evening.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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