Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

Fireworks Both On And Off Track

We’re back for Daytona Round 2 this weekend, which–in my opinion–gives us fantasy racers a bit of an off week from studying and analyzing statistics. The races on restrictor plate tracks are so unpredictable that I have found that it is usually not time well spent to scrutinize the numbers. Still, we need some kind of basis to go off of, so I’ll briefly include some statistics throughout this article. At the bottom you will find the drivers ranked in terms of average finish and average driver rating on plate tracks in 2014. As always, my recommendation this week is to just make your rosters and enjoy the race. There was one practice session on Thursday–the second got rained out–and you can review the results by clicking here. Read Ryan’s notes on that practice by clicking here. DRIVER won the pole for Saturday night’s race, and you can view the full Coke Zero 400 starting lineup by clicking here.

Plate races also give me the opportunity to try some new things with my Predictions article. This weekend, I’m not going to waste your time by talking about the favorites–guys like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, etc. We all already know that they will be popular picks in every league. So I’m going to dig deeper for those of you who are like me and like to think outside of the box when we come to Daytona or Talladega.

Drivers With Momentum:

Paul Menard – I have long considered Paul Menard as one of the better plate racers in the series despite the fact that he has just six top 10s in 30 career starts between Daytona and Talladega. However, when you look at his top 20 numbers at the two tracks, it bumps up to 16 total, or just over half of the time. Menard put together a great month of June and his confidence right now has to be through the roof. Over the last six Sprint Cup races, Paul has one finish worse than 15th and has recorded four top 10s. Looking back at this year’s Daytona 500, the #27 Chevrolet came home in 32nd-place but Menard led 29 laps that day. He also led 10 laps at Talladega in May en route to a 6th-place finish.

Jamie McMurray – Another driver that is considered a solid choice at restrictor plate tracks is Jamie McMurray, who has two victories at both Daytona and Talladega. Before his blunder at Kentucky last weekend, Jamie had five straight finishes of 13th or better in Sprint Cup action including a couple of top 5s. He started the 2014 season with a 14th-place run in the Daytona 500, which is encouraging, and has ended up 7th and 13th in the last two July races here at Daytona. McMurray was the quickest in Practice #1 on Thursday, right ahead of teammate Kyle Larson. The only thing I’m kind of concerned about with the #1 Chevrolet this weekend is how many DNFs McMurray has posted here–seven in 23 starts (30.4%).

Kurt Busch – Kurt Busch hasn’t been putting up great finishes as of late–except for his 3rd-place run at Pocono–but this #41 team does have four straight finishes of 13th or better in Sprint Cup action, and that is excellent for them when you consider the kind of start they got off to this year. Kurt is continually lauded as a solid plate racer but I feel like he tends to disappoint a lot more than he doesn’t. He’s still a hothead driver and guys like that are either going to wreck out at Daytona or finish up front. Kurt did end up 6th in this race one year ago but that’s his only top 20 over the last five points-paying events at Daytona. On a positive note, he runs for Stewart-Haas and we all know how great their cars and engines have been all season long.

Outside The Box Picks:

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Solid Choices That Aren’t Favorites:

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Overrated Drivers At Daytona:

Trevor Bayne – If there’s anyone out there still clinging on to Trevor Bayne’s Daytona victory in 2011, I’m not sure I can help you. In his six Cup starts here since that race, Bayne’s best result has been 20th and three of those have ended with him outside of the top 30. He was a one-hit wonder and I just don’t see the point in taking the #21 Ford at a plate race until he can at least get one good finish under his belt. Bayne finished 33rd in this year’s Daytona 500 and ended up 41st at Talladega in May.

David Ragan & David Gilliland – Front Row Motorsports provided excellent fantasy options at restrictor plate tracks in 2013, capped off by their 1-2 finish in the Talladega spring race. However, something happened to this organization in the off-season. I’m not sure what, but their cars have been junk all season long; Ragan and Gilliland have under-performed not just at the restrictor plate tracks but pretty much any course that requires decent horsepower. Ragan is averaging a 34.5 finish at the plate tracks this season while Gilliland is at 38.0. I feel like there’s a lot more “sleeper” picks available for Saturday night, so I wouldn’t even bother taking a chance with the #34 or the #38.

Aric Almirola – I’m an Aric Almirola fan, purely from an underdog standpoint. I like to pick him on some race weekends just in case he surprises and gets a good finish. I think Richard Petty Motorsports has some powerful race cars and I think Almirola has a decent amount of talent. That being said, I wouldn’t pick the #43 at Daytona even if you paid me. Almirola did finish 13th in the 2013 Daytona 500, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. Three of his career starts here at Daytona have ended in DNFs, which is probably one of the worst percentages in the series. Pick at your own risk. Aric finished 39th at Daytona in February but bounced back a 13th-place effort at Talladga in May.

Best Average Finish On Plate Tracks In 2014:

Driver Average Finish …. Daytona 500 Talladega
Denny Hamlin 1.5 …. 2 1
Greg Biffle 5.0 …. 8 2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 8.5 …. 7 10
Kevin Harvick 10.0 …. 13 7
Landon Cassill 11.5 …. 12 11
Austin Dillon 12.0 …. 9 15
Casey Mears 12.0 …. 10 14
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 13.5 …. 1 26
Jimmie Johnson 14.0 …. 5 23
A.J. Allmendinger 15.5 …. 26 5
Kyle Busch 15.5 …. 19 12
Brian Vickers 17.0 …. 30 4
Marcos Ambrose 18.5 …. 18 19
Paul Menard 19.0 …. 32 6
Kasey Kahne 19.5 …. 31 8
Ryan Newman 20.0 …. 22 18
Brad Keselowski 20.5 …. 3 38
Jeff Gordon 21.5 …. 4 39
Matt Kenseth 21.5 …. 6 37
Joey Logano 21.5 …. 11 32
Jamie McMurray 21.5 …. 14 29
Clint Bowyer 22.5 …. 42 3
Carl Edwards 23.5 …. 17 30
Kyle Larson 23.5 …. 38 9
Aric Almirola 26.0 …. 39 13
Justin Allgaier 27.0 …. 27 27
Kurt Busch 27.0 …. 21 33
Martin Truex Jr. 30.0 …. 43 17
Danica Patrick 31.0 …. 40 22
Michael Waltrip 33.0 …. 41 25
David Ragan 34.5 …. 34 35
Trevor Bayne 37.0 …. 33 41
David Gilliland 38.0 …. 36 40
Tony Stewart 39.0 …. 35 43

Best Average Driver Rating On Plate Tracks In 2014:

Driver Average Rating …. Daytona 500 Talladega
Denny Hamlin 118.5 …. 113.8 123.2
Greg Biffle 104.6 …. 94.1 115.1
Kyle Busch 102.0 …. 100.5 103.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 101.1 …. 133.1 69.0
Jimmie Johnson 100.5 …. 101.2 99.8
Joey Logano 97.7 …. 104.1 91.3
Kevin Harvick 96.4 …. 85.1 107.6
Matt Kenseth 87.9 …. 98.2 77.6
Kurt Busch 86.2 …. 89.9 82.4
Jeff Gordon 85.9 …. 102.7 69.1
Paul Menard 81.9 …. 80.0 83.8
Austin Dillon 81.4 …. 83.4 79.4
Casey Mears 77.8 …. 80.8 74.7
Brian Vickers 76.2 …. 70.6 81.8
Kasey Kahne 75.9 …. 64.1 87.7
Brad Keselowski 74.9 …. 117.1 32.6
A.J. Allmendinger 70.7 …. 53.1 88.2
Marcos Ambrose 70.3 …. 79.5 61.0
Carl Edwards 69.5 …. 87.0 52.0
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 68.8 …. 72.0 65.5
Trevor Bayne 68.6 …. 59.5 77.6
Landon Cassill 66.1 …. 64.6 67.6
Danica Patrick 64.3 …. 53.6 74.9
Kyle Larson 63.5 …. 32.2 94.8
Aric Almirola 63.1 …. 59.8 66.3
Justin Allgaier 57.1 …. 60.8 53.4
Martin Truex Jr. 56.3 …. 27.3 85.2
Clint Bowyer 54.1 …. 41.0 67.2
Jamie McMurray 53.1 …. 73.8 32.4
Ryan Newman 53.1 …. 60.3 45.8
David Gilliland 51.1 …. 41.5 60.6
Michael Waltrip 45.0 …. 46.0 43.9
David Ragan 42.6 …. 32.2 52.9
Tony Stewart 40.5 …. 36.8 44.2