When considering the content for this post, I first thought that the best way to select the drivers I would write about would be by taking 20 driver’s car numbers, attach one each to the dartboard in my house, blindfold myself, and fire a way. Whichever four it lands on, they are it. Luckily for you readers, I put more thought into this post than that.
However, for most fantasy NASCAR players, the dartboard approach may be thought of as a logical choice when selecting teams for the Daytona 500 simply because of the unpredictability that race can bring. Let me try to help by identifying two sleepers to consider as well as two drivers to avoid to help narrow down the prospects.
Sleeper Fantasy Picks for the 2015 Daytona 500
Austin Dillon – #3 Chevrolet
It’s trivia time! Can you name the 3 drivers that swept the top 10 at Daytona last season? Dale Earnhardt Jr? After all, he did win the 2014 Daytona 500. Jeff Gordon perhaps? How about the 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick? Nope, nope, and nope. The three who posted top 10s in both Daytona races last year were Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears, and Austin Dillon. Use that as a trivia question at your next party/bar outing and when nobody gets it right, collect yourself a cold one. You’re welcome. Anyways, the iconic black #3 piloted by Dillon sat on the pole last year in his rookie season and brought it home 9th . Then, for an encore at the night race in July, he scored his only top 5 of the season. Lately Austin has talked about being more confident coming into Daytona this year. He also looks to be more aggressive, which bodes well for him at this track. Also, without the rookie stripes on the back of his car, more respect should be given, and he should have a fast Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet with plenty of drafting help, which could very well put him in position for a top 5 when the checkered flag waves on Sunday afternoon.
Casey Mears – #13 Chevrolet
If we dive in a little deeper then just his top 5 and two top 10 finishes in his last three races at Daytona, then you will see why I consider Casey Mears a serious sleeper for the Daytona 500. His car is owned by Germain Racing, which connected a partnership with Richard Childress Racing last year. RCR has always been known for building fast cars at the plate tracks. Their continued partnership and resources this season should only help strengthen Mears’ restrictor plate results. Another reason for the #13 Chevrolet’s success could be the mechanical mastermind crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker. Barker has been known to field cars that are capable to win on these track types. Watch out for Casey Mears to make some noise in the Daytona 500 this coming Sunday.
Bust Fantasy Picks for the 2015 Daytona 500
Danica Patrick – #10 Chevrolet
A lot of columns would put Danica Patrick in the last group I wrote about, as a sleeper. After all, this is one of the few track types where she could be recommended to use–unless you are counting allocations in the “C” group of Yahoo! Auto Racing. Yes, she did sit on the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, finishing 8th–similar to what Austin Dillon accomplished last year. However, I have concerns with her repeating that success, partially because of the new “group” qualifying format that will be in place for the first time in Daytona. It was supposed to take effect for last July’s Pepsi 400 but it got rained out after one round. Danica and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse have voiced concern recently about this format. In 2014, when the same format was used at Talladega, Stenhouse failed to qualify, and Patrick started 27th . You could say that qualifying at this track type doesn’t matter as much–which is partially true–but if she does start at the back, I’m not sure she will have the drafting partners to make it up to the front on a consistent basis. Even tough Danica will have a fast Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, I don’t believe she has gained the respect of her fellow competitors. Tony Stewart would probably be one of the few exceptions because he is the partial owner. You have got to have friends to be a factor at the end, and this is the main reason why I do not consider Danica Patrick a contender here.
Jamie McMurray – #1 Chevolet
I see Jamie McMurray as a very overrated restrictor plate racer. He has won at Daytona twice, including the 2010 Daytona 500. Since then, however, he has finished 18th , 31st , 32nd , and 14th in The Great American Race. Actually, his career average finish at Daytona is a mediocre 22.4. As I stated in my 3 NASCAR Sleepers to Keep an Eye on in 2015, McMurray will have new crew chief in 2015. Matt McCall will replace Keith Rodden, who is back with Kasey Kahne this season. McCall has never been a crew chief before, so I think the communication may be an issue in their first race.
When looking at the handicap points for the 2015 Showcase fantasy game located on this website, Jamie McMurray has a 6 handicap points for the first race of the season. I could name five drivers that I would rather have an equal or higher value on my team, which are: Jeff Gordon (6), Clint Bowyer (8), Jimmie Johnson (8), Carl Edwards (8), and even Tony Stewart (9). There’s no doubt that Jamie McMurray will be up at the front at some point during the Daytona 500. He may even lead some laps, but I give him a very slim chance top be at the front at the end of the race–when it actually matters for fantasy racers.
There you have it, my likes/dislikes for our first race of the season, the Daytona 500. Feel free to comment or ask any questions. Just remember: if you decide to take my advise on any of these picks and it works out well for you, you’re welcome. Otherwise, if they don’t, you are the one who hits the submit button when selecting your team, not me. Good Luck to everyone and LET’S GET IT!!
Scott Boyle is a guest blogger at Fantasy Racing Online and an avid player in the fantasy NASCAR community.