Welcome to Start Save Week in Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing! The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams make their way to Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400 this Saturday night, and as we saw back in this year’s Daytona 500, they’re all going to be on different strategies soon after the green flag waves this weekend. Because of the unpredictable nature of the races at Daytona, this is a great week to use drivers that aren’t very viable at other race tracks on the circuit–hence, “Start Save Week.” There are two practice sessions on Thursday followed by qualifying on Friday. Neither mean a whole lot at a track like Daytona, but the rankings below will be updated before the race on Saturday night, and I will list my starters as well.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Daytona 2
Denny Hamlin (9 starts remaining) – I’m very high on Denny Hamlin for this weekend’s Coke Zero 400, and for a couple reasons. First, this #11 team is really starting to get into their groove, as they have posted back-to-back top 5 finishes over the last two weeks at Sonoma and Michigan, as well as four results of 8th or better in the last five races overall with a worst finish of 12th. And second–and probably more importantly–Denny Hamlin is an elite restrictor plate track racer and has led the 3rd-most laps here at Daytona over the last five races. Additionally, Hamlin has five finishes of 6th or better in the last seven races here. The mid-point of the season is when we see another shift among teams and how well they are running, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Joe Gibbs Racing rattled off a few wins here over the next month or so. There’s a 90% chance that Denny Hamlin will be my starter for Daytona 2.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (8 starts remaining) – This is about as cliche of a Fantasy NASCAR pick as it gets at Daytona, but don’t count out the effect of momentum with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. this weekend. Junebug is coming off of his 2nd-best finish of the season at Sonoma (a road course!) and now has back-to-back finishes and four results of 11th or better in the last five weeks. Throw in his elite plate track racing ability as well as NASCAR’s knack for creating storybook endings (how sweet would it be to see Junior win at Daytona in his last start?) and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the #88 Chevrolet up front at the end on Saturday night.
Kyle Busch continued his hot streak at Sonoma last weekend and should be up front here at Daytona on Saturday night as well. Don’t forget, Rowdy led the most laps at Talladega earlier this year, and usually when a team is good in the first two restrictor plate races of the season, they’re good for all four. Kyle finished 2nd in this race last year to Brad Keselowski, who should be another popular option in the A Group this weekend because of that victory. With that being said, don’t forget that Kez is a much better racer at Talladega, and has just four top 10s in sixteen career starts here at Daytona.
Martin Truex, Jr. is another driver running extremely well here as of late, and that should continue this weekend. However, don’t forget that you can only use each driver nine times in this Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing game. Truex’s starts are much more valuable at the 1.5- and 2-mile race tracks. This would be a great track for someone like Joey Logano to bounce back with a victory. The #22 Ford has been one of the most consistent finishers here at Daytona as of late, with four finishes of 6th or better in the last five races here, including a win in the 2015 Daytona 500.
My Starter will be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. over Denny Hamlin, because it’s too hard to pass up those 10 bonus points for a lap led.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Brad Keselowski, (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., (4) Denny Hamlin, (5) Kyle Busch, (6) Joey Logano, (7) Jimmie Johnson, (8) Martin Truex, Jr., (9) Matt Kenseth
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Daytona 2
Austin Dillon (9 starts remaining) – Austin Dillon finished 19th in this year’s Daytona 500, and that was a disappointing effort in the minds of Fantasy NASCAR players. That’s because it was Austin’s worst finish here since the 2013 season. The #3 car has always ran well at Daytona International Speedway, and Austin has been able to drive it to five top 10 finishes in eight career starts here. As far as the Coke Zero 400 goes, he’s a perfect 3-for-3 in finishing inside that mark. He’s another driver that is almost certain to be one of my starters come Saturday night.
Trevor Bayne (7 starts remaining) – The #6 team started off this season on the right foot with a 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see them come away with another top 10 here on Saturday night. Lately, Daytona has been Bayne’s best track on the circuit, as he has three top 10 results in the last four races that the Cup Series has ran here. Also, don’t forget that this #6 Ford came home 3rd in this race one year ago. Bayne is one of those guys that it’s extremely difficult to pull the “start trigger” with on race days, so I don’t mind using another start here on Saturday night.
Chase Elliott (7 starts remaining) – This is for potential qualifying bonus points only. There is no chance that I waste a Chase Elliott start at Daytona. This #24 Chevrolet has been fast at Daytona even before Jeff Gordon stepped out of it, as Chase has started on the pole in each of the last two Daytona 500s with it. Elliott even had a pole run at Talladega last season, too. Getting to see practice before lockdown this week may change this pick, buf as of Wednesday night, Chase Elliott is going to be on my Yahoo! roster for Daytona 2.
Kasey Kahne (8 starts remaining) – Because it only makes sense, right? Kasey Kahne has wrecked out of pretty much every other race this season, but at restrictor plate tracks in 2017 he has wound up finishing 7th (Daytona) and 5th (Talladega). That’s just how NASCAR is sometimes. Anyway, as mentioned before, usually if a team is good at the first two races at Daytona and Talladega, they’re good at the last two as well. Kahne is by no means a safe pick this weekend but he does have three results of 13th or better in the last five races here at Daytona.
All of the top Yahoo! B Group drivers are off limits for me this weekend, including Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, and Jamie McMurray. Quite simply, their starts are much too valuable at other tracks throughout the season to play them in a race that is unpredictable as Daytona. Remember, with how easy it is for a lower-tier driver to finish up front at a plate race, it’s just as easy for a higher-tier driver to finish in the back. Unless you’re hoarding 8 or more starts with one of the guys listed above, I wouldn’t even consider playing them on Saturday night.
Don’t sleep on A.J. Allmendinger this weekend. He came home 3rd in this year’s Daytona 500 and wound up finishing 13th in this race one year ago. Another deep sleeper pick that should be a good off-sequence pick is Paul Menard. This #27 team is coming off of their best non-restrictor plate finish of the season (11th at Sonoma) and has also wound up 5th and 9th in the two plate races we have ran thus far in 2017.
My Starters will be Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon over Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kurt Busch, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Kyle Larson, (5) Clint Bowyer, (6) Austin Dillon, (7) Trevor Bayne, (8) Jamie McMurray, (9) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (10) Ryan Newman, (11) Kasey Kahne, (12) Paul Menard, (13) A.J. Allmendinger, (14) Chris Buescher, (15) Danica Patrick
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Daytona 2
There is absolutely no reason to use the C Group studs–Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Ty Dillon–this weekend, unless you want to put one of them on your roster for potential qualifying bonus points. In fact, the lower-tier C Group drivers are actually better overall options anyway on restrictor plate tracks right now. Michael McDowell is in the middle of the best season of his career and has finished 15th or better in five of his last seven starts at Daytona. Those are better results than some of the top drivers in the series. Additionally, David Ragan is an established restrictor plate driver and came home 10th in the Talladega race earlier this year. He has also finished 17th or better in three of his last five starts here at Daytona. Looking a bit deeper, Matt DiBenedetto has had a good year thus far on the plate tracks, with finishes of 9th here at Daytona in February and 18th at Talladega back in May. Darrell Wallace, Jr. is back in the #43 Ford this weekend and is a solid start save option. Aric Almirola has had very good success in this car at Daytona, including a 4th-place finish in this year’s Daytona 500 and a win in the 2014 Coke Zero 400. The #43 Ford has came home 15th or better in five of the last six points-paying Daytona races. Finally, Elliott Sadler is another great start save option this weekend, as he has only ran the plate races this year. He led five laps in this year’s Daytona 500 before finishing 20th, and wound up 17th at Talladega after leading two laps.
My Starter will be Darrell Wallace, Jr. over Daniel Suarez
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Michael McDowell, (2) Elliott Sadler, (3) Daniel Suarez, (4) David Ragan, (5) Darrell Wallace, Jr., (6) Matt DBenedetto, (7) Ty Dillon, (8) Erik Jones, (9) Cole Whitt, the rest