RENEW TICKETS TODAY! CALL US AT (603) 783-4931

FANTASY: Great American Tradition

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The pack is back, ya' heard!? (Getty) Photo: Getty Images

Daytona 500 Fantasy Preview

There's nothing quite like the Daytona 500.  It's unique in that it's the season's first race, while also being the season's highest profile race.  That's not to suggest that the quality of the race falls off or that the stakes will be lower by the time NHMS gets a few pieces of the pie in the summer.  It's just unusual for the "Super Bowl" of the sport to be the first event of the season.

This is the "Great American Race" and it takes on a unique life of its own.  For starters, it kicks off the race season.  With the opening of a new year, there's always an eternal optimism that springs from fans with the notion that their favorite driver (or team, in the case of other sports) has a shot at a championship.

Then, there's the prestige of the race.  While every other race has sold its name to one sponsor or another, the Daytona 500 remains a unique breed.  It's like the Rose Bowl in college football; you can tack all the presenting sponsors you want on to the end, but no sponsor is going to take precedence over the historic name.

Lastly, it promotes a traditional and, almost, stereotypical style of stock car racing.  When the average American thinks of auto racing, they don't think of the lap-down cars or start-and-parkers, they think of the pack style of racing for which Daytona is famous.  The two-car tandem was a cute way to try to win a race while it lasted, but NASCAR clearly understands the importance of pack racing and has promised fans that the pack is back in 2012!

So, let's get ready for the 54th running of the Daytona 500 by preparing our Yahoo Fantasy teams for NASCAR's "Opening Day."

Strategy: If the Bud Shootout showed anything, it's that the drivers haven't fully transitioned back into pack racing mode, and this race could be messy.  Daytona uses restrictor plates on the cars to stop them from going too fast (which sounds like an oxymoron, but is done for safety).  If you don't know, a restrictor plate essentially sets a maximum speed for a car and thus all the cars tend to go the same speed (and race in a pack), since they can't reach their individual top speeds.

While all drivers are allotted up to nine starts per season under Yahoo's rules, it's best to keep that in mind sooner than later.  Take into account the drivers you expect to start nine times and be very wary about using them in a race that involves so much luck or lack thereof.  Keep in mind: Trevor Bayne won this race last year when few of us really had much of an idea who he was.

A-List

Start

#14 Tony Stewart - While it's unlikely that Stewart picks up where he left off, it was also unlikely that he won five of ten Chase races last fall.  He has three career wins at Daytona and his 98.2 driver rating will be second in the field.

#18 Kyle Busch - "Shrub," as they sometimes call him, looked dialed in during the Bud Shootout last week and his 98.7 driver rating is best in the field.  He always seems to put up his best races before the Chase, so he's a good driver to ride with near the start of the season.

#24 Jeff Gordon - Six wins at Daytona suggests that No. 24 is worth considering.  He has top-10s in half his starts (19 of 38 races), which is about the best numbers you'll see from anyone at this wild card of a track.

Park

#11 Denny Hamlin - He has one top-10 in 12 starts at Daytona.  He also has zero DNFs, so it's not like bad luck has played a role in his statistics.  Anything can happen in this race, but the stats say he's not worth considering this week.

B-List

Start

#1 Jamie McMurray - McMurray's a big risk.  On the positive, he's won twice at Daytona.  On the negative, he's wrecked out in five of eighteen starts, so he seems to have a knack for getting caught up in the mess.  Last year was a disaster and I expect McMurray to bounce back a little, but I'm not putting all the chips in that bank.

#15 Clint Bowyer - New team owner Michael Waltrip has a history at this track, as he won the infamous race in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a last-lap wreck.  Waltrip continues to enter this race every year, so you have to assume his garage knows how to set up the cars.  Bowyer's 87.0 driver rating at Daytona is third in the B-group and he did very well at Talladega last year, the other restrictor plate superspeedway.

#51 Kurt Busch - Your guess is as good as mine on how Busch will do this season in general.  I don't expect he'll put up consistent finishes, but I think the nature of the pack racing is a huge equalizing factor for a stronger driver in a weaker machine.  His 96.0 driver rating is third-best in the field and easily tops the B-list.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior seems to be best on the largest tracks and has two wins at Daytona.  His 87.1 driver rating just edges out Bowyer, and his 15.0 average finish is the best in the field.

Park

#5 Kasey Kahne - I expect Kahne will be a B-list superstar this season.  You'll find nine better opportunities to start him this year than in a restrictor plate race.

#39 Ryan Newman - Sure, Newman has a win at Daytona.  However, he also has only three top-10s in 20 starts, so calculate the odds!  Like Kahne, he's probably going to be one of the drivers you'll consider regularly throughout the year, so be the tortoise, not the hare, when it comes to starting him.

C-List

Start

#6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - The 2011 Nationwide Series champion steps into a ride that David Ragan took to Victory Lane the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Daytona in July.  Roush Fenway Racing is a very solid team and any driver has the machinery to win a race.

#10 Danica Patrick - The C-list always ends up having more demand than supply, so anytime there's a competent part-time driver it's best to use him...err, her...when you have the chance.  Danica is in a pretty solid machine from Stewart-Haas Racing and is as good of an option as any at Daytona.

#21 Trevor Bayne - The logic with Bayne is the same as with Danica, and if you'd followed it last year, you would have shocked the world by picking the race winner!

Park

#34 David Ragan - Naturally, Ragan is one of the favorites in the C-group because he won at Daytona last July and led late in February before a restart penalty.  However, that was in a different car than he has now, and it was also a different style of racing (love bug vs. pack).  It's hard to take his performance last year at face value.  While he's not a terrible choice, the expectations are being overrated.

--

The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules.  You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com