Race Weekend Central

Number Crunching: Daytona 500 Fantasy Forecast

Hi everyone! I’m Nathan and I’m going to be your fantasy sage this year. The long winter is over and that means I’m emerging from my data cave, the place fantasy nerds hibernate to warm up… with their Macs and PCs. I’ve got the mainframes fired up to crunch the data and gingko biloba in my tea to overdrive the brain cells.

So, who am I? Why should you listen to me rant about fantasy? Well, let’s see; I finished first overall two years ago and put four of my teams in the NASCAR.com top 50 last year. I’ve been doing a weekly picks page for the last year and put 16 of my readers in the top 50. It’s a combination of crunching the numbers in front of me, judging what works and then feeling out when those stats don’t tell the whole story. I could talk personality, hand you my resume and such but sometimes the stats can speak for themselves. 

So, let’s talk a little NASCAR Fantasy Live, shall we? The main rules of the game involve picking five drivers while staying within a $100 salary cap. You also get two bonus picks of a winning driver and a winning manufacturer for 30 and 10 points, respectively. How do you collect points? Well, you get .5 points for a lap led, .5 points for the fastest driver each lap, and other points are awarded for finishing position based on the NASCAR points system and, finally, place differential.

Place differential can be the tricky one. Let’s say you start 20th and finish 1st; you would collect 19 points. However, if you start 1st and finish 20th, you would subtract 19 points. It makes you stop and think instead of making the easy choice of throwing a high-risk pole sitter, for example on your roster.

Now, normally I would crunch the historic data, look at all the practice info, and come up with computer magic. Here’s the problem: it’s Daytona, NASCAR’s Super Bowl and home of the super unpredictable draft. Trying to find lap leaders and fastest lap cars is like trying to hit the bull’s-eye on a dartboard blindfolded, facing backwards and throwing over your shoulder. So that leaves us with place differential, and for that we want to pick fast cars starting at the back. This technique is one that I have perfected, using it at superspeedways for the last couple of years and it has served me pretty well.

How will it work for you? Time to find out; enough with the chit chat as we launch into this week’s picks.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski – $27.25

When it comes to checkers or wreckers, few people do it better than Brad. Judging by the performance of his teammate, Joey Logano, the Penske cars are good so don’t be deceived by a 19th-place finish in Thursday’s Budweiser Duels.  Keselowski took care of his piece and made it to the 500 with his primary car; that is a win in and of itself at Daytona in February. Starting 39th, he pretty much only has upside this week.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth – $26.25

Matt has what most people consider one of the top 5 cars to beat, winning Saturday night’s exhibition Sprint Unlimited and leading the most laps in his Budweiser Duel. Unfortunately, he got shuffled out of line in the first qualifying race by a Hendrick Motorsports freight train, as can happen in plate races, so his late-race fade left him starting 35th. That’s bad for Kenseth but most certainly good for us fantasy nerds. Not only are there great place differential points here, but maybe some laps led points also.

Could Denny Hamlin be on the move after the 2015 season?
Denny Hamlin is a solid fantasy pick for the Daytona 500.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin – $25.75

Denny was outstanding last year on the restrictor plate tracks and nearly won the Daytona 500 without communication from his spotter. He starts 42nd, after the Danica Patrick wreck fiasco but is doing so with a Joe Gibbs Racing team that posted four of the top 12 fastest Daytona 500 qualifying speeds. I would expect him to team up with Kenseth, move up, and be a factor in this race when it counts. A new crew chief in Dave Rogers gives Hamlin a little something to prove entering a contract year. 

No. 13 Casey Mears – $12.00

Now, the picks become more difficult. Do you go with someone like Trevor Bayne or Sam Hornish, Jr. to sneak under the budget, both starting back in the pack, or do you take a riskier Casey Mears and find someone starting a little further up? I decided to go with Casey mainly because I don’t trust Hornish. Starting 41st sure helps for a guy who’s had some Daytona success, including a runner-up finish in the 2006 Daytona 500 to Jimmie Johnson.

No. 33 Ty Dillon – $8.00

You can be assured ol’ Pap Pap Richard Childress gave him a strong piece this week. He is starting 31st and has a real chance at a top 10, driving into the race brilliantly in the final moments of his Budweiser Duel. This team, which gets heavy RCR support, also had a top-10 finish in the last plate race the Cup Series ran… Talladega. That being said, almost everyone has a real chance at a top 10 this week. You can’t go wrong, basically with the cheapest options.

Race Winner: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The Hendrick Motorsports cars look strong and Dale seems the most confident of the four. So, Dale it is, becoming the first back-to-back Daytona 500 champion since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95.

Manufacturer: Chevrolet

Daytona is a bit of a lottery; the nature of restrictor plate racing sticks 43 cars together in this weird game of NASCAR Russian Roulette. Good science, then, says to pick the manufacturer with the most numbers, and the Bowties lead the way this 500 with 21 on the 43-car grid.

Want to play NASCAR Fantasy with Nathan and your Frontstretch favorites? Click here and click on NASCAR Fantasy Live to enter our league and have some fun with us. Space is limited so don’t delay… sign up now!

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