Yahoo: Top 30 Drivers
Yahoo / Fox / NASCAR: Quick Picks
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season kicks off this Sunday with the Daytona 500. If you play DFS NASCAR, you already got a taste of the action with last weekend's Clash at Daytona, but the official season opener promises to be much more of a challenge.
Unlike last weekend's 75-lap race that featured just 17 drivers, there will be a full 40-car field taking the green flag Sunday, and it will take 200 laps to decide who adds their name to the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
The challenge with restrictor-plate races like the Daytona 500 is that the running order changes significantly from one lap to the next and big wrecks are almost inevitable. Plate races often become a battle of survival, and it is a challenge just to pick six drivers who are running at the finish, let alone six drivers who run well.
Given the chaotic nature of races at Daytona, the safest, and often the most effective, strategy for building a winning lineup is to focus on the place differential category and load up on drivers starting deep in the field. Drivers gain and lose points based on how many spots the gain or lose from their starting position, so drivers starting at the back have the most points to gain and the fewest points to lose in the category.
In last year's Daytona 500, three drivers who finished in the Top 10 started outside the top 20, and three more drivers who finished in the Top 15 started outside the Top 30. On the flip side, two drivers who started in the Top 3 finished outside the Top 35.
Needless to say, starting position means everything for Sunday's race, so pay close attention to Thursday night's qualifying races that will set the lineup for the Daytona 500. In the meantime, I've highlighted several drivers who should be on your radar leading up to "The Great American Race."
Brad Keselowski ($10,300)
Keselowski was the dominant driver at the plate tracks a year ago, winning two of the four races and leading by far the most laps. In fact, he led 40-plus laps in three of the four races. His five plate wins are tied for the second most among active drivers, and he is one of the few drivers capable of scoring significant points in the laps led category.
Joey Logano ($9,900)
His win in the Clash last weekend added to his growing list of restrictor-plate accomplishments. Over the last ten plate races, no driver has scored more points than Logano, and his three wins also lead all drivers. A second Daytona 500 win could be on tap for Logano, and it could come in dominating fashion.
Kyle Busch ($9,400)
Busch is a former winner at both Daytona and Talladega, and he nearly added to his restrictor-plate win total last year. He finished third or better in three of the four races, finishing third and second in his two starts at Daytona. Busch has also led double-digit laps in four of the last five plate races, so you can count on him running near the front and bringing a car capable of winning.
Kurt Busch ($8,800)
How good has Busch been at plate tracks recently? He ranks fifth in points scored and has a series-best seven Top 10s over the last ten restrictor-plate races despite only being in the field for nine of them. His +8.9 average place differential in the same stretch only adds to his fantasy appeal. He is undervalued at this price.
Austin Dillon ($8,200)
He has been one of the most reliable plate track performers since joining the Cup Series, and in the last ten plate races, Dillon ranks second in points scored. He has just one finish outside the Top 15 in that span, and last year, he cracked the Top 10 in all four restrictor-plate starts. He should be a staple of cash game lineups this weekend.
Clint Bowyer ($7,800)
Bowyer is back in quality equipment after struggling at HScott Motorsports for the entire 2016 campaign. Of course, Bowyer has been successful at the restrictor-plate tracks no matter what he has been driving. He has scored the fourth-most driver points in the last ten plate races, and during that stretch, he has a series-leading seven Top 10s and an average place differential of +11.6. Keep him in mind for cash games this weekend.
Ryan Blaney ($7,300)
I've already talked about how dominant the Team Penske drivers have been at the plate tracks, and Blaney is essentially running Team Penske equipment. Not surprisingly, he was rock solid at the restrictor-plate races last year, cracking the Top 20 in all four events and closing the year with three straight Top 15s. Blaney gives you exposure to Team Penske equipment for a much cheaper price tag.
Aric Almirola ($6,300)
Almirola has quietly become one of the better plate racers in recent years. Over the last ten plate events, he has seven finishes of 16th or better, including a win in the July race at Daytona in 2014. During the same stretch, Almirola owns an 18.2 average finish and +6.9 average place differential. If he starts towards the back, plug him in for some cap relief.
Michael McDowell ($5,800)
Don't sleeper on McDowell this weekend. The No. 95 bunch was very competitive for a single-car operation, and McDowell was particularly impressive at the plate tracks. He finished 21st or better in all four restrictor-plate events in 2016, compiling a 15.5 average finish. More importantly, he posted an average place differential of +19.75 in those races, gaining at least ten spots in all four. If he qualifies in the back, he is an absolute bargain.