The Daytona 500 gets underway at 1:30 p.m., after James Franco(?!) tells the drivers to start their engines and Ray Lewis waves the green flag, signaling go time. And that means you don’t have much time left to size up the drivers involved. But if you’re in need of some last-minute tips on which drivers to favor (and which ones not to) today, Adam Ansell of RotoExperts.com is here to help. Below, his top 30 drivers to look out for on the track today.
1. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth flashed rare dominance in 2012 at restrictor-plate events, winning at Daytona (July) and Talladega (October) and finishing third in the other two plate races. In 26 starts at Daytona International Speedway, Kenseth has two wins (2009, 2012), six Top 5s, 13 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 16.2. He’s led at least 14 laps in each of the last three Daytona races and hasn’t finished worse than third-place in that span. Overall he’s led at least one lap in 14 races. He’s qualified fourth-or-better three times, including twice in 2012. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Kenseth ranks third in Driver Rating (92.5) and in Average Running Position (14.2). The switch to Joe Gibbs Racing and the effect it has on Kenseth is to be determined, but for this week he’s easily the top choice in all formats.
2. Kyle Busch: Busch hasn’t had as much success at Daytona since his win at the night race in the summer of 2008, but as is the case with restrictor-plate tracks your luck can change just that quickly. In 16 Daytona starts, Busch has one win (2008), five Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 18.0. He’s led at least one lap in 10 of his last 11 starts. Busch leads all competitors in DR (97.6), ARP (12.1), Laps in the Top 15 (2,081) and Quality Passes (2,300). He ranks second in Laps Led (281) and Fastest Laps Run (72). Busch is doing all the right things in the stat categories that matter and it’s only a matter of time before he gets back into Victory Lane.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior finished second in this event a year ago despite failing to lead a single
lap. In 26 starts at DIS, Earnhardt Jr. has two wins (2001, 2004), nine Top 5s, 14 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 14.5. He’s led at least one lap in two of his last four starts. He’s qualified inside the Top Four on the grid six times. Earnhardt Jr. is ranked fifth in DR (88.3) and fourth in ARP (14.7). He has three Top 5s in his last six starts at Daytona and is as safe a bet as anyone for the most unpredictable race of the season.
4. Tony Stewart: Stewart’s up and down 2012 season peaked way too early – July to be exact – when he led 22 laps and took the Checkered Flag in the Daytona night race. In 28 starts at Daytona, Stewart has four wins (2005, 2006, 2009, and 2012), eight Top 5s, 13 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 16.1. He’s led at least one lap in four of his last five starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better seven times. Stewart ranks second in DR (96.5), ARP (13.9) and Laps in the Top 15 (1,825). He leads all drivers in Laps Led (548). Arguably NASCAR’s most versatile driver, Stewart will be a major Fantasy contributor in the season opener.
5. Clint Bowyer: The 2012 Sprint Cup Series runner-up has two DNFs in his last three DIS starts. In 14 Daytona starts, Bowyer has two Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.8. He’s led at least three laps in four of his last six starts. He’s started inside the Top Four once. Bowyer ranks eighth in DR (85.3) and 11th in ARP (16.5). Despite his poor showings of late, Bowyer is very versatile and able to perform well regardless of track type. If his recent numbers deter Fantasy owners in your league from using Bowyer, plug him in and enjoy the great value to kick off 2013.
6. Jeff Gordon: Gordon has already qualified second on the grid for the 2013 season opener nearly assuring him of at least one lap led. In 40 starts at DIS, Gordon has six wins (1995, 1997, 1998-99, 2004-05), 12 Top 5s, 19 Top 10s and three poles with an Average Finish of 16.1. He’s led at least one lap in 10 of his last 11 starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better 17 times. Gordon ranks sixth in DR (88.1) and fifth in ARP (14.9). The veteran may be getting up there in years, but his recent performances at Daytona dictate he’s still an elite option.
7. Greg Biffle: Biffle was a Fantasy stud at Dayton in 2012, leading 44 (February) and 35 (July) laps in each race. In 20 DIS starts, Biffle has one win (2003), three Top 5s, five Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 20.5. He’s led at least one lap in five of his last six starts. He qualified inside the Top Four in both races last season. Biffle ranks 21st in DR (77.7) and 19th in ARP (18.6). He’s not historically known as a great restrictor-plate competitor, but Roush Fenway Racing was elite in these races last year and Fantasy owners should expect more of the same this time around.
8. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin led a race-high 57 laps in this event a season ago. In 14 starts at Daytona, Hamlin has two Top 5s with an Average Finish of 21.0. He’s led at least one lap in six of his last seven starts. He’s qualified fourth-or-better three times. Hamlin ranks 11th in DR (83.3) and 13th in ARP (16.8). He’s a perennial title favorite, and while he hasn’t been historically dominant at Daytona his upside is too much for Fantasy owners to ignore.
9. Kurt Busch: A [presumably] humbled Busch is primed to pick up where he left off in 2012, which he finished with three consecutive Top 10s. In 24 Daytona starts, Busch has 10 Tops 5s and 12 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 18.0. Prior to his 2012 exile from Penske Racing, Busch led at least one lap in five straight races. Busch ranks fourth in DR (89.7) and seventh in ARP (15.9). He has a ton of talent and even more to prove, and the fact that he’ll come at a supreme value in all formats makes him a great play at Daytona.
10. Jimmie Johnson:
Johnson has been horrendous at Daytona, finishing inside the Top 20 (20th in July 2011) just once in his last six starts. In 22 DIS starts, Johnson has one win (2006), six Top 5s, nine Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 19.0. He hasn’t led a single lap in his last four starts. Johnson ranks 14th in DR (82.8) and sixth in ARP (15.1). What makes Johnson worthy of a start this week is that he and crew chief Chad Knaus know they need to get better at restrictor-plate events and it was likely an offseason focus. With so many competent options in Tiered/Grouping formats over the course of the season, Fantasy owners will find nice value in the No. 48 this week.
11. Brad Keselowski: One Top 10 with an Average Finish of 24.9 in seven starts at DIS. 67.5 DR.
12. Kevin Harvick: Two wins (2007, 2010), five Top 5s, 10 Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 15.4 in 23 Daytona starts. 84.7 DR.
13. Kasey Kahne: Two Top 5s and seven Top 10s with an Average Finish of 17.3 in 18 DIS starts. 93.0 DR.
14. Carl Edwards: Four Top 5s, eight Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 16.6 in 16 Daytona appearances. 84.7 DR.
15. Mark Martin: Nine Top 5s, 19 Top 10s and three poles with an Average Finish of 18.2 in 54 starts at Daytona. 78.5 DR.
16. Joey Logano: Has two Top 5s and three Top 10s with an Average Finish of 5.3 in his last three starts at Daytona. 78.5 DR.
17. Martin Truex Jr.: Finished sixth in the 2012 February event at the site. 78.5 DR.
18. Ryan Newman: Posted a fifth-place finish in the July 2012 race. 83.2 DR.
19. Jeff Burton: Back-to-back Top 5s at Daytona in 2012 (fifth and second). 85.5 DR.
20. Paul Menard: Three Top 10s in his last four Daytona appearances. 70.5 DR.
21. Jamie McMurray: 80.2 DR.
22. Marcos Ambrose: 62.4.
23. Aric Almirola: 66.6.
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 64.9.
25. Danica Patrick: 34.9.
26. David Reutimann
27. Juan Pablo Montoya
28. Bobby Labonte
29. Michael Waltrip
30. Casey Mears
Photos via Getty