The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Daytona, Florida this week for the Coke Zero 400. This will be the second race at the track for the Cup Series this season. Be sure to test your knowledge of NASCAR by competing in the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing.
The summer race at Daytona is much different than the race in February. The track is slicker because of the heat and humidity which causes the cars to get loose in the corners. The Stages created a new type of racing in the Daytona 500. Drivers did their best to keep their cars up front to score Stage points. The days of riding in the back of the pack until the end of the race may be over at Daytona.
Track position does not mean much on restrictor-plate tracks. Drivers can go from the back to the front in one lap. The scoring system for the Fox Sports Fantasy Auto Racing game rewards drivers who improve their position in the race more than the drivers who lead the most laps. Fantasy teams will need to select drivers who start outside the top 20 Saturday night. These drivers will have the best chance to score bonus points for position differential at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,200) needs a win to secure a playoff spot in his final season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR has a history of creating storybook endings. Jeff Gordon won at Richmond to secure his spot in the Chase in 2015 and Tony Stewart won at Sonoma to secure his spot in the Chase last year. Earnhardt has been the best driver at Daytona in his career and the race Saturday night gives him the best chance of getting to Victory Lane before the playoffs begin. If Earnhardt does win at Daytona, it may be the biggest party in NASCAR history.
Kevin Harvick ($12,000) is often referred to as “The Closer” at Daytona because he likes to ride in the back of the pack before making his way to the front in the final laps of the race. Harvick had the sixth-best average running position in the Daytona 500 and he led 50 of the 200 laps. Harvick will have momentum after winning his trip to Victory Lane last week at Sonoma. Harvick has two restrictor-plate wins on his resume and it would not surprise me if he added another Saturday night.
Kyle Larson ($12,000) is not the first name that comes to mind when it comes to restrictor-plate racing but he should not be overlooked this week. Larson has been the best driver in the Cup Series this season and he will not slow down at Daytona. Larson had a series-best 8.1 average running position and the third-best driver rating in the Daytona 500. Larson led 16 laps and almost made it to Victory Lane. The California kid will be a good pick for your team Saturday night.
Joey Logano($10,900) has been the most consistent driver at Daytona the last two seasons. He has a series-high 7.8 average finishing position and the third-best driver rating (94.7) at the track. Logano has finished four of the last five races at Daytona in the top six, including a win in the 2015 Daytona 500. The No. 22 car is one of the safest picks for your team this week.
Denny Hamlin ($10,800) has become one of the best restrictor-plate races in the sport. He won the Daytona 500 last year and he has finished five of the last seven races at the track in the top six. Hamlin needs a win to secure his spot in the playoffs. After a slow start to the season, Hamlin has been on a hot streak. He followed up his fourth-place finish at Michigan with a fourth-place finish at Sonoma. Hamlin will be up front at Daytona.
Kurt Busch ($10,100) won the Daytona 500 and he should be up front again this week. What was amazing about the win for Busch is that he did it without a rearview mirror in the car. That had to be incredibly difficult. Busch has been consistent at Daytona. He has finished four of the last five races at the track in the top 10 and Busch has completed 21 consecutive races at the track without an accident. The best way to be a great fantasy pick at Daytona is to stay out of trouble and that is what Busch will do for your team this week.
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Value Picks (Drivers under $9,000)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,700) won the last restrictor-plate race at Talladega and he should be up front at Daytona. Last year Stenhouse qualified fourth and finished fifth in the summer race at Daytona. Fantasy teams should expect another top-10 finish from the No. 17 car this week. Stenhouse is one of the best value picks for your team.
Ryan Blaney ($7,400) almost won the Daytona 500. Blaney was closing in on Kurt Busch at the end of the race but he finished second. Blaney had the second-best driver ranting and the fourth-best average running position in the Daytona 500. The Wood Brothers always bring a fast car to the restrictor-plate tracks. Blaney should run up Saturday night.
Michael McDowell ($6,600) has had a career season and he should be able to run well Saturday night. He has finished four of the last five races at Daytona in the top 15. That includes a top-10 finish in the Coke Zero 400 last season. McDowell is good at avoiding trouble in the restrictor-plate races and that makes him a good value pick this week.
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Here are my pre-qualifying picks for the Coke Zero 400: