Fantasy NASCAR: Daytona 500 Quick Picks

Fantasy NASCAR returns this weekend, and Brian Polking helps you get off to a fast start in 2020 with his top picks for the Daytona 500.

Feb 15, 2020; Daytona Beach, Florida, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson (48) races alongside teammate Chase Elliott (9) during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season officially begins this weekend, and the 62nd running of the Daytona 500 also marks the beginning of the Fantasy NASCAR season for most season-long leagues.

I will once again be covering Fantasy Live, the Driver Group Game and Slingshot Fantasy Auto in my weekly article, and while these are some of the popular, free-to-play games, I play a variety of other contests and several sites. If you ever have a question about a contest not covered here, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via e-mail or on Twitter at @BPolking.

Getting back to Daytona, I also recommend a big-picture, conservative approach for all superspeedway races. Since and the Driver Group Game both limit how many times you can use a driver over the course of the year, I try to avoid using any of the upper-echelon drivers who I plan to use the maximum number of times. If I think there is a chance that a I may need all of a particular driver’s allocations, I play it safe and avoid them.

For the Slingshot contest, being conservative means loading up on drivers starting deeper in the field. There’s not limit on how many times a driver can be used in this scoring system, but there is a penalty for losing spots and bonus points for gaining spots compared to where a driver qualifies. At a chaotic track like Daytona where attrition is high and the running order is constantly shuffling, drivers starting in the pack are simultaneously the safest picks and have the most upside.

Daytona is one of the tougher tracks to predict, but hey, Fantasy NASCAR is back. Good look in the season opener and good luck all season long. Now go get your Daytona 500 picks locked in before Sunday’s green flag.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is the ultimate boom-or-bust option this weekend, but his numbers at the superspeedways speak for themselves. He ranks third in the series in points scored over the past 10 races, and he has led laps in nine of those starts, leading double-digit laps in three of the four races last year. Stenhouse did switch teams this offseason, but after grabbing the pole for Sunday’s race, I think his upside remains unchanged.

Aric Almirola

He has been one of the steadiest superspeedway drivers in the series, and over the last 10 races, he has the second-best average finish (11.4) and ranks in the Top 5 in points scored. Yes, Almirola has one of the safer fantasy floors week in and week out, but I don’t mind using up one of his starts at Daytona because he rarely dominates races and earns a bunch of stage points.

Alex Bowman

There’s a chance that Bowman makes a big leap in 2020 and becomes a weekly fantasy force, but I still don’t view him as someone I will use all 10 starts from. I do view him as a sneaky option at the superspeedways. Since becoming the full-time driver of the No. 88, he ranks fifth in points scored in eight starts, and he has finished 11th or better four times. Last year, Bowman finished third or better in five of the eight stages in the four superspeedway races, and starting from the front row, I think he could find his way to some more stage points Sunday.

Ryan Newman

Newman is a solid, all-around performer, but he just doesn’t pile up the stage points and elite finishes to be a weekly option in this scoring system. With that in mind, I’ll try to capitalize on his unmatched consistency at the superspeedways. After all, he is the only driver who has finished on the lead lap in each of the last 10 superspeedway events, and he leads the series with an 8.5 average finish and eight Top 10s in that span.

Austin Dillon

Barring some miraculous jump in performance, I don’t expect to use Dillon at any tracks outside of Daytona and Talladega this year, so I’m not worried about wasting a start. As a bonus, he’s actually been good at Daytona, cracking the Top 10 in seven of his 13 starts while compiling a 15.1 average finish.

Garage Driver – Ty Dillon

I’m playing the percentages with my Garage Driver. Dillon has been able to avoid major trouble at the superspeedways, finishing on the lead lap in nine of the last 10 races. His 13.9 average finish in that same stretch ranks third in the series, and he has finished sixth or better in his last three starts at Daytona.

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game

Joey Logano (A)

Yes, Logano is one of the best in the business, but this tier is loaded with elite options, I don’t have to be as concerned with how I allocate his starts. Instead, I’ll try to take advantage of Logano’s excellent resume at the superspeedways. Over the last 10 races, he has scored by far the most points of any driver, and his six Top 5s in that span are two more than anyone else.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (B)

Stenhouse offers the best of both worlds this weekend. He happens to be one of the best superspeedway drivers in the series, but with little value at other tracks, I don’t have to worry about long-term ramifications if he wrecks. Stenhouse always seems to be at the front at the superspeedways, and he has led laps in nine of the last 10 races, scoring the third-most points in the series in that stretch. From the pole, I could see him winning a stage and contending for the win.

Austin Dillon (B)

I don’t see using Dillon more than a couple of times this year, so I don’t mind using him at the superspeedways where he has typically produced his best results. He’s been particularly solid at Daytona, winning the Daytona 500 in 2018 and finishing in the Top 10 in seven of his 13 starts.

Ty Dillon (C)

With the loaded rookie class likely providing plenty of quality Group C options, Dillon’s starts become expendable. With that in mind, I’ll gladly try to take advantage of his ability to avoid trouble at the superspeedways. He has finished sixth or better in his last three starts at Daytona, and he has finished on the lead lap in nine of the last 10 superspeedway events, posting the fourth-best average finish (13.9) in that span.

Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto

Kyle Busch ($11,700)

Busch has run hot and cold at the superspeedways throughout his career, but he is coming off a strong year that included a runner-up effort in the 2019 Daytona 500. He also owns the best driver rating at Daytona, so he is going to have a car capable of running up front and contending for stage points and the win. From the 28th starting spot with bunches of place differential points up for grabs, I’ll gladly roll the dice on his high ceiling.

Chase Elliott ($11,200)

I debated between Elliott and Denny Hamlin, and while Hamlin has been the steadier performer at the superspeedways, Elliott has shown plenty of upside in his own right. He notched the win at Talladega in the spring, and he ranks in the Top 10 in points scored over the last 10 superspeedway races. He also starts 25th, giving him slightly more differential points to gain compared to Hamlin.

Ryan Blaney ($10,800)

You could throw in Clint Bowyer or Michael McDowell in this spot, Blaney has essentially the same amount of differential points available after qualifying 27th. Meanwhile, he has shown a higher ceiling at the superspeedways, and in eight starts with Team Penske, he has led a series-best 177 laps, winning at Talladega last fall. He’s the total package in this scoring system.

Corey LaJoie ($6,100)

He will roll off 36th Sunday, but LaJoie is no stranger at coming from the back at the superspeedways. LaJoie gained at least 14 spots in all four superspeedway races last year, and his 10.5 average finish in those events ranked third in the series. He finished 18th or better in all four starts, gaining at least 24 spots and finishing 11th or better three times. LaJoie is positioned to pile up differential points again this weekend.

Brendan Gaughan ($6,000)

I’ll round out my place differential-based lineup with Gaughan. He starts all the way back in 39th, and over the last 10 superspeedway races, he has compiled a 17.7 average finish. He has gained an average of 11.5 spots per race in that stretch, and Gaughan has gained at least 16 spots five times, gaining at least 20 spots in two of the four races last year.

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