By Jordan McAbee
Now that the starting lineup for the 2016 Daytona 500 has been set, it’s time to take a look at which drivers will be the best choices for the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game. For those new to this league, you get points based on: laps led (0.5 for each), fastest laps (0.5 for each), place differential (+/- 1 for each position), and finishing position. That means we should have at least 100 points available for laps led as well as fastest laps on Sunday. There are also bonus points awarded if you choose the winning driver (30 points) and the winning car manufacturer (10 points).
Please note that there is quite a bit of strategy involved in being successful with NASCAR.com Fantasy Live. Part of that success can come from finding an undervalued driver in the beginning of the season and locking him in at a low salary. As long as you keep a driver on your roster, the salary you “paid” doesn’t change. Martin Truex, Jr. was a major undervalued driver last season and keeping him on my roster all year was a big part of the reason I finished inside the top 100 overall.
Daytona 500 NASCAR.com Fantasy Live Picks
Jimmie Johnson ($26.50) – This is my lock pick of the week for a few reasons. First, at $26.50, Jimmie Johnson is just the 7th-highest-priced driver in this game, and his official qualifying position is 26th, so there’s a chance for position differential points there. Yeah, he has to start in the back because of the wreck in the Duel race Thursday night, but let’s not forget where the #48 Chevrolet was before that wreck: running toward the front. Johnson is capable of winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday and should have a very strong race car. And in the last three Great American Races, “Six Time” has finished 5th, 5th, and 1st. The final reason I like Jimmie for my Fantasy Live team? Next week is Atlanta, and he dominates there. Always be looking ahead!
Denny Hamlin ($26.00) – The #11 Toyota has been one of the top 2 cars all week at Daytona and there’s no reason to think that that speed will disappear here on Sunday in the Great American Race. Hamlin hasn’t finished worse than 6th in the last four points-paying races here at Daytona either, which is better than Dale Earnhardt, Jr.–the most popular pick in this game for week 1. Denny’s modest 11th-place starting spot doesn’t concern me too much (I usually pick guys that start mid-pack or worse at these plate tracks) and he has the potential to score some laps led and fastest lap points as well. As far as one of the top-priced drivers, Hamlin is one of the greatest values this week.
Brad Keselowski ($27.50) – Here’s the part of my roster that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. You could either go with another high-priced driver and pair him with a lower priced driver, or go with two mid-tier drivers. Because of the limited options right there in that $20 range, though, I decided to go with the former. I initially had Matt Kenseth in this spot, but the fact that he officially has the 2nd-place starting spot kind of scares me. If he finishes 3rd or worse, he’s going to have a negative point balance for that statistic. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the #20 Toyota is capable of winning on Sunday, but that doesn’t make Kenseth a good pick in this game. So, I’m going with Brad Keselowski. The #2 Ford was one of the best cars in the Sprint Unlimited and BK knows how to plate race. He’s better at Talladega but he’s not too shabby at Daytona (he has two top 5s in the last three 500s). Keselowski will start Sunday’s Great American Race mid-pack so there’s an opportunity for some place differential points.
Casey Mears ($13.00) – I love this fantasy pick at this price point. Casey Mears is an excellent restrictor plate racer, believe it or not. In his Duel on Thursday night, Mears was running up front with the leaders until he ran out of gas. Also, Casey’s worst finish in the last five points-paying races at Daytona has been 11th. Yes, Casey Mears has out-performed most of the Sprint Cup field in the last year and a half at Daytona International Speedway. His 32nd-place starting spot only seals the deal with Mears this week. He’s probably the best value pick in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live for week 1. Remember, he started 41st and finished 6th in last year’s Great American Race.
Michael Annett ($6.00) – This roster spot is typically reserved for a “filler” driver. Most weeks, you want to pick someone who starts in the back and has a decent shot at improving some positions. For the record, I really like Landon Cassill in this position for Daytona, but I couldn’t make that work with the salary cap unless I took Matt Kenseth, which I detailed above why I am not doing so. Annett finished 13th in last year’s Daytona 500 and anything inside the top 20 this season would be great for this Fantasy Live roster.
Race Winner Pick: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Manufacturer Pick: Chevrolet