NASCAR Picks for Daytona 500
Length: 2.500 miles
Location: Daytona Beach, Florida
Additional article: NASCAR Daytona 500 Practice Recap: 5 Drivers to Watch
Everything about the Daytona 500 is backwards from other professional sports. Instead of building up to the biggest race during the course of the year, the Daytona 500 is the season opener and the most prestigious event all rolled into one. Sure, a championship can't be won at Daytona, but there isn't another race that a driver wants to win more. Heck, Tony Stewart said he would trade all of his other wins for one Daytona 500 victory. Plain and simple, the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's Super Bowl. It just so happens to also be the first race of the 2013 season.
The Daytona 500 is a bit of curveball for fantasy owners, as well. While starting off any fantasy season on a high note is preferred, pulling out all the big guns can actually backfire. The tight packs that come with restrictor-plate racing make Daytona one of the most unpredictable tracks on the schedule and an absolute headache for fantasy owners because big names and underdogs are both just as likely to get swept up in the multi-car wrecks that are practically a given. As a result, owners may want to lean toward sleeper options at the track rather than risk wasting a start from one of the elite drivers like Jimmie Johnson.
Let's face it. Nobody wants to start their 2013 season in an early hole in their league. That being said, there is nothing wrong with doing a little damage control and thinking about the big picture right off the gate. Save the big names for the tracks where they traditionally provide more bang for the buck, and take your chances with a few dark horses at Daytona. You will be in good shape for the long haul, and if you happen to have a great showing at Daytona, considering it icing on the cake.
Kevin Harvick, #29 Budweiser/Rheem, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class A]
The former Daytona 500 winner has had a heck of a Speedweeks, winning the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel. Not to mention that he is one of the most consistent plate track drivers in the series. In his last six starts at Daytona, Harvick has finished seventh or better four times. Along the way, he picked up a win in the July race and finished seventh in the season opener last year.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Although he switched teams in the offseason, the defending Daytona 500 champ is as valuable as ever at Daytona. After all, he has finished third or better in three straight starts at the track and has finished eighth or better in seven of his last nine. Kenseth has won the Daytona 500 twice during the stretch, and he could start his Joe Gibbs Racing career with a third.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class B]
With pack racing set to return to the plate tracks, Junior could be set to relive the glory days at the superspeedways. He has finished second in two of the last three Daytona 500s anyway, and considering he was even better before the tandem drafting began, the season opener could be the start of something special at the plate tracks.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Stewart has won just about every big race and every championship he has ever tried for, but a Daytona 500 victory has eluded him. That being said, he has won the July race four times and his 12.5 average finish at Daytona in the last 20 races is the best in the series. Whether or not he finally breaks through and wins remains to be seen, but he should be a serious factor either way.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
His career numbers at plate tracks aren't overwhelming, but it is tough to discount his numbers from last year. He finished sixth or better in three of the four races, including a third-place run in the Daytona 500. He also ran second in his qualifying race Thursday. If last season and has run in his Budweiser Duel were a sign of things to come, Biffle could be a steal in the opener.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
In his last five starts at Daytona, Kahne has finished seventh or better three times. He has a pair of top-five finishes during the stretch, including a second-place effort. Kahne has never won a restrictor-plate race, but he does have plenty of top-10s. As crazy as Daytona can be, a top-10 is as good as a win for fantasy owners.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He has flirted with winning the Daytona 500 on multiple occasions, and he has gone to Victory Lane in the July event at the track. He also won the Budweiser Shootout at the track last February. Busch isn't the safest pick because he isn't afraid to take serious risks in order to get the win, but his upside always makes him intriguing. His victory in his Budweiser Duel race makes it even harder to resist his upside.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Penske Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Keselowski is a two-time winner at Talladega, but he is still searching for a win at Daytona. That being said, he did finish a career-best eighth at the track last July. I think it is safe to say that his first top-10 at the track won't be his last.
Paul Menard, #27 Menards, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He has plenty of weaknesses as a fantasy option, but Menard is a sneaky good play at plate tracks. He has been particularly effective at Daytona where he has finished in the top 15 in five of his last six starts, including four straight. In fact, Menard has finished in the top 10 in three of his last four Daytona starts, including a sixth-place run in last year's season opener.
Jeff Burton, #31 Caterpillar/Cheerios, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class B]
While his fantasy value has been declining sharply as a whole, his value as a superspeedway option has been at an all-time high. Burton finished in the top 10 in all four restrictor-plate races in 2012, including finishes of fifth and second at Daytona. Consider him a solid play in the season opener.
Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Penske Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Logano will be looking to make a splash with his new team, and given his recent numbers at Daytona, he just might do it. He has finished in the top 10 in three straight starts at the track, picking up a pair of top-five finishes during the stretch. For what it's worth, Logano and Matt Kenseth are the only drivers with top-10s in each of the last three races at Daytona.
Kurt Busch, #78 Furniture Row, Furniture Row Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although his numbers at Daytona were terrible last year, Busch's numbers were terrible across the board with Phoenix Racing. In his nine starts at the track prior to 2012, he finished in the top 10 seven times. Busch will be driving for Furniture Row Racing in 2013, and with better equipment at his disposal, he should return to form.