Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

Get Your Dart Board Out, Part 3

The races at Daytona and Talladega are borderline impossible to predict, but there are a few things that I like when picking drivers in fantasy this week. First is momentum: who has been hot lately in Sprint Cup? It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it seems like the guys that have been doing well coming into the plate tracks also do well in the race. This also translates to my second criteria: confidence. Now I’m no NASCAR driver, but I think I would feel a lot better going 200 mph if I have been doing well on them in recent races. When you combine running well lately at other tracks as well as at restrictor plate tracks, a driver’s confidence should be sky high. Finally, I like to use weeks like this to pick underdogs–especially in allocation leagues. Why not? Anyone can finish inside the top 10 here, and I mean anyone (go back to this race in 2010: Reed Sorenson, Scott Speed, and Mike Bliss all grabbed top 10s that night).

As I say every time we visit these big tracks, qualifying is completely worthless. Qualifying is this afternoon in case you want to watch it. Also, don’t forget to check out my Average Practice Speeds post from Thursday. They don’t mean much, honestly, but could be used as a tiebreaker if need be.

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6 Drivers With The Most Momentum In Sprint Cup Action:

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5.) Jeff GordonAverage Finish: 9.8 – Yahoo! A Group

I said this back at Sonoma, but I’m really saying it now: Gordon has to win now if he wants to make the Chase this year. He has six victories here at Daytona and I think has a great shot at getting number seven on Saturday night. We all know about the troubles that this team has had this season, but with their 5th-place finish at Kentucky last weekend, Gordon now has three straight finishes of 6th or better in Sprint Cup action. He started on the pole back at Talladega but got caught up in an accident and finished 33rd. In the last two July races at Daytona, Jeff has finished 6th and 3rd.

6.) Marcos AmbroseAverage Finish: 10.6 – Yahoo! B Group

Well, he’s no master restrictor plate driver like Adam Alexander made him out to be on Thursday, but I really like Ambrose as a sleeper this weekend. He’s probably going to be on the majority of my rosters. Marcos has had his fair share of troubles at Daytona–which is the reason for his 23.4 average finish here–but he has finished 6th and 17th in two of the three July Daytona races he has ran and ended up 13th in the 2012 Great American Race back in February. Ambrose also finished 3rd in the Bud Shootout this year and 3rd in his Gatorade Duel as well. Looking back at Talladega, the Australian started 3rd (wow, lot of 3s here) and finished 14th. Oh, and one last thing: the #9 hasn’t finished worse than 13th in Sprint Cup action since May. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Drivers With The Best Average Finish Over The Last Five Daytona Races:

1.) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Average Finish: 10.2 – Yahoo! B Group

See notes above

2.) Paul Menard – Average Finish: 10.8 – Yahoo! B Group

I’m starting to regard Paul Menard as a David Ragan-type driver on these restrictor plate tracks, believe it or not. He’s good on them, and he’s eventually going to win one, but the question is when? Menard has made ten career starts here at Daytona International Speedway and has come away with three top 10 finishes. Nothing spectacular, but let me remind you: all three have come in the last three events. Paul finished 9th and 8th at Daytona in 2011 and started the 2012 season with a solid 6th-place finish in the Daytona 500 after starting 37th. When it comes to average finish, Daytona is Menard’s best track on the circuit believe it or not, and his recent finishes at Talladega don’t make me want to stay away from him this weekend, either (17th, 12th, 12th, and 13th, by the way). This team has been incredibly consistent this season with top 20 finishes but doesn’t get many top 10s. That could easily change this weekend for the #27 team.

3.) Matt Kenseth – Average Finish: 12.0 – Yahoo! A Group

See notes above

4.) Carl EdwardsAverage Finish: 12.4 – Yahoo! A Group

This team has zero momentum coming into this race. They haven’t even posted a top 10 in the last month-and-a-half of Sprint Cup action. It would be kind of funny for Edwards to finally break out of his “hangover” this weekend, though, wouldn’t it? He finished 8th here back in February, and that makes it five top 10s in the last six points-paying events at this track. The entire Roush-Fenway fleet has been great on these tracks in 2012 and there’s no reason to doubt that Cousin Carl will have speed on Saturday night. I just hope this team takes a chance and goes for the win instead of points racing, which, in my opinion, is what they have done all season, including Kentucky last week, and is the reason he didn’t win the championship in 2011, either. But I won’t bore you with that argument.

5.) Kevin Harvick – Average Finish: 12.8 – Yahoo! A Group

Two DNFs in twenty-two career starts here is pretty dang good, wouldn’t you say? Harvick has finished 7th in the last two points-paying races at this track and seems to always be challenging for the win when the series stops at these big tracks. Happy sports a solid 15.1 average finish at Daytona and has recorded fifteen top 20 finishes in his career here, including two victories. Before his engine problems in the 2011 Great American Race, Harvick posted finishes of 7th and 1st in the two events here in 2010. If I had to guess, I’d say the #29 will end up in 7th on Saturday night.

6.) Jeff Burton – Average Finish: 15.6 – Yahoo! B Group

I generally load up on RCR when we get to Daytona and Talladega because they are all pretty good plate racers and the Chevy engines have power. Burton followed up his 5th-place run in this year’s Daytona 500 with a solid 10th-place effort at Talladega in May. He struggled here in 2011 but in 2010 Burton finished 11th and 5th in the two Daytona events. He also wound up 4th in his Gatorade Duel back in February. Jeff has led at least three laps in each of the last four points-paying events at this track. I’d have no problem picking him and his RCR teammates this weekend at all.

Other Drivers To Think About:

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3 “Big Name” Drivers To Avoid:

1.) Tony Stewart – I know for a fact that many people will have Smoke on their rosters this weekend, but I’m not sold on him right now. His lack of success recently in this race is part of my concern. In the last five July races here at Daytona, Stewart has finished 38th, 20th, 1st, 25th, and 11th. That win is nice but the other numbers aren’t so much. He finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500 and ended up 24th at Talladega in May. I wouldn’t blame you for picking Stewart this week, but I’d personally feel more comfortable going with somebody else.

2.) Ryan Newman – To be quick, The Rocketman is not a plate racer. Here’s a look at his finishes here at Daytona over four years after his Daytona 500 victory in 2008: 36th, 36th, 20th, 34th, 26th, 22nd, 23rd, and 21st. He finished 36th at Talladega back in May. There is absolutely no chance at all that you will find Newman on any of my rosters this weekend.

3.) Jamie McMurray – Surprised?

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