To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s nine-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.
And just like that, the NASCAR season has again circled back to where it all began: Daytona International Speedway. They're not racing the Independence Day anymore, but it's still 400 miles at Daytona in July. Saturday night's race marks the halfway point in the full season slate and by the time it's over, just eight races left to make the Chase. With a new tire combination, we're all hoping the action heats up alongside the Florida summer sun from the so-so February show. Who are the best picks? Find out below:
A List (Pick two, start one)
Without a doubt, Harvick was a favorite for February's Daytona 500. But the winner of both the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race and one of the qualifying races didn't even make it a quarter of the way through the big show before a mindless wreck caused by Kyle Busch took him out on Lap 47. He was shelved from the Talladega restrictor plate race in May on the very same lap in the same manner. If nothing else, Harvick is due for a good finish — and he's got the car that can prove it, should he finish.
Matt Kenseth has been good in 2013. In fact, Kenseth has been really good in his inaugural year at Joe Gibbs Racing. Without a bum engine in the Daytona 500, there's a strong chance that Kenseth would be a three-time Daytona 500 winner. Instead, his engine gave up that day while after leading 86 of the race's 200 laps. At Talladega in May, Kenseth led a wealthy 142 of 200 laps before he was shuffled from the lead late. That's as dominant as anyone on restrictor plate tracks this season. And this isn’t a one-year anomaly, as his finishes of first, third, third and first on the plate tracks in 2012 prove.
Also consider: Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson
B List (Pick four, start two)
As much as you hate to burn a Kyle Busch start at a wild card like Daytona — and as little faith as you likely have in the Toyota engines — how can you pass up a guy who's average position at the 2.5-mile legendary track is better than anyone in the last 17 races? Busch has been inside the top 15 at Daytona for 2,171 of the last 3,076 laps (a series high) and has a win from 2008.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If it feels like a virtual eternity since Earnhardt won a Sprint Cup race at Daytona, you're not far off. His last checkered flag was the 2004 Daytona 500 — a race win that came amid a streak of six top-10 finishes at the track. While Earnhardt has led just 15 laps at Daytona since 2009, he still has four top-5 finishes in his last seven starts. Were this any other driver with that stat line, I’d be billing him as a must-start.
Kurt was six laps from the scheduled completion of the May Talladega race with a great shot at a finish near the front when his car suddenly was flipping into Turn 3. In the Daytona 500, he was caught in the early crash induced by his brother. Should Kurt keep the car straight, I like his chances of a Daytona win — especially after his poor Kentucky driving. He's a driver, much like Tony Stewart, who feeds on overcoming adversity.
If you're looking for a driver to start who you won't come close to maximizing this season, Jeff Burton is the perfect Daytona candidate. A crash wiped him out of the 500 in February, but in 2012 he landed two top-5 finishes at the grand 2.5-mile track. Richard Childress Racing's fleet has found speed (see: Harvick in February) and the heady Burton should stand to benefit.
Also consider: Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano
C List (Pick two, start one)
He won NASCAR's most recent restrictor plate race. He's won two of the last eight restrictor plate races. Why wouldn't you pick David Ragan for Saturday night at Daytona? Well, easy: he hasn't finished better than 26th since his 2011 Daytona win. Still, though, you've got to think Ragan is a better pick than most in the C territory.
Patrick's biggest detriment Saturday night at Daytona could be the pressure she'll feel to replicate her stellar outing there in February. Restrictor plate racing has been her strongest medium to this point in NASCAR, and she'll have a car Saturday night capable of running up front. Managing the car until the end is something she's done before. That likely means she'll be a bit more aggressive — which could lead to trouble. Still, if he works another top-10 finish like February, consider that a win for your C-List.
Also consider: Trevor Bayne, Michael Waltrip
by Geoffrey Miller
Follow Geoffrey on Twitter:@GeoffreyMiller