1) Denny Hamlin (Starting – 4th)
Daytona Fantasy Spin – Defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin should be on people’s short list to win. He’s a very strong plate racer who’s arguably been the best Daytona driver since 2014. In terms of pure drafting talent he ranks as one of the premiere drivers in the series. In both races earlier this week he was impressive. He nearly won the Clash, and he raced his way to victory lane in his Duel. On Sunday I expect him to be very competitive and be a factor to win.
Daytona Track History – Denny Hamlin has been very successful at Daytona. He’s the defending Daytona 500 champion and in 5 of the last 6 races he’s finished in the top six. Since 2014 at Daytona Hamlin has the best driver rating, best average finish (5.5), best average running position (8.7) and has led the second most laps (132). Last summer he had a strong car but got out of line late which led to his 17th place result. It should be noted with 9 laps to go he was racing in 6th. In the 2016 Daytona 500 he had a great car and raced his way from 4th to 1st on the final lap. At the finish line he inched Truex Jr. for the win. Additionally in that race he earned the best driver rating, led 95 laps and had a 4th place average running position. In the four Daytona races prior to 2016 he swept the top six with results of 3rd, 4th, 6th and 2nd.
Yahoo A Driver / DraftKings $9,600
2) Brad Keselowski (Starting – 7th)
Daytona Fantasy Spin – Brad Keselowski will be a favorite to win the Daytona 500. He has a great car that has standout speed and handles well. The combination of those two variables is what will separate the contenders from the pretenders on Sunday. Right now Brad Keselowski is arguably the best plate racer in NASCAR. If his engine didn’t go south at Talladega last fall he would likely be entering the Daytona 500 with three straight plate wins. In terms of pure drafting ability Keselowski ranks as one of the best in the series. He knows how to race his way to the front and when he takes the lead he’s very hard to get around. On Sunday look for Brad Keselowski to finish in the top five and compete for the win.
Daytona Track History – Brad Keselowski doesn’t have a great Daytona track record. His average result is 20.7 and he’s only finished in the top ten 27% percent of the time. His top twenty finish percentage is just 47% percent. I completely forgive his poor track record after the display of domination he put on last summer at Daytona. In that race he had the field covered and easily raced his way to victory lane. In addition to winning he earned the best driver rating, led 115 laps and had a 2nd place average running position. In last year’s Daytona 500 he had a good car but faded over long runs when handling really entered the equation. In the race he earned the 12th best driver rating, had a 15th place average running position and finished 20th. In summer 2015 he had top ten speed but finished 29th after getting collected in the “Big One.” In the 2015 Daytona 500 he ran well but his engine blew up late in the race while he was running in 8th.
Yahoo A Driver / DraftKings $10,300
Further Recommended Reading – Daytona 500 Starting Lineup, DraftKings Playability Value Chart/ Projected Base Scores, Likely Finish Ranges, DraftKings Scoring Trends, PROS Rankings, PROS Rankings Extended Edition, Yahoo Start Page, DraftKings Start Page, Daytona Practice Notes / Practice Speeds Center
3) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Starting – 2nd)
Daytona Fantasy Spin – Dale Earnhardt Jr., the pied piper of plate racing is back, and after his impressive Duel performance you have to believe that he’s back in a big way. On Sunday you have to think he wants to make a statement after being out of the seat since last summer. After his Duel race he said, “I felt great.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. is an elite plate racer who knows how to make moves that will get him to the front, and keep him there. Look for him to be very impressive on Sunday, but I’ll set his benchmark for success at finishing in the top ten. One aspect that should be noted about Dale Earnhardt Jr. is that the Daytona 500 has been a particularly good event for him. In 5 of the last 7 Daytona 500’s he’s finished in the top 3.
Daytona Track History – Daytona is a great track for Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s won here four times, has finished in the top five 38% percent of the time and in the top ten 56% percent of the time. Last year he had a tough season and had his only two results south of 15th since 2012. Last summer he was a collected in a wreck but didn’t get DNF level damage and as a result he finished 21st. In last year’s Great American Race he had a tough afternoon and wrecked. His car wasn’t bad though. He led 15 laps and at the time of his wreck with about 30 laps to go he was running around 10th. In summer 2015 he was dominant. He finished 1st, earned the best driver rating and led 96 laps. In the 2015 Daytona 500 he arguably had the best car, but late in the race with 19 laps to go while he was running near the front he made a poor lane selection decision that dropped him in the running order. When the race reached its conclusion he finished 3rd, earned the 2nd best driver rating, had a 4th place average running position and led 32 laps.
Yahoo A Driver / DraftKings $10,600