The phrase ‘your guess is as good as mine’ should be uttered by every so-called expert or handicapper anytime the NASCAR field rolls into Talladega Superspeedway or Daytona International Speedway at least a couple of times during the weekend.
While that is not entirely true – we are paid to think deeply all week about how drivers will fare and that should give us a little advantage – the aero-restricted superspeedways are the most unpredictable courses NASCAR visits during the year.
The tapered spacers are no different that the restrictor plates. They are intended to create dramatic drafting packs and the slight variation in throttle response is not enough to allow a driver to get out of harm’s way. It does give the illusion of control, however, and over time patterns may emerge. Distinguishing those versus the occasional historic streaks with plates is going to be nuanced.
Each week before writing the cheat sheets a script is run from the 600,000+ database that powers the knowledge base that informs this editorial. It is often tweaked and reformed by intuition and intangibles; this week, the most productive way to look at the prediction is to allow it to simply run with very little interference. A drier like Kevin Harvick is just as capable of winning as he is to be swept up by a 'Big One' crash. The same is true of Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.
The Fantasy NASCAR victory this week will go to the player who balances his roster with a sprinkling of marquee drivers, a preponderance of mid-pack selections, and the perfect dark horse.
1. Joey Logano
Logano has a knack for the big tracks. He has finished in the top five in six of his last eight starts. His other two ended disastrously with a 39th and 25th in the last two Daytona summer races.
2. Aric Almirola
Almirola is not necessarily the first driver one thinks of on plate tracks, but he has eight top-10s in his last 11 starts including last year's win in this race.
3. Alex Bowman
Since joining Hendrick Motorsports, Bowman has finished in the back half of the field only twice in seven starts. His best effort was a second-place to teammate Elliott at Talladega this spring.
4. Ryan Newman
Newman could be the optimal spoiler this week. In his last nine attempts at Talladega and Daytona, he has seven top-10s and a 15th. He almost never gets in trouble in the draft.
5. Ty Dillon
It may seem a little strange to see Dillon ranked this high, but he has finished worse than 17th only twice in 11 attempts at Talladega and Daytona since he joined the series full time.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse won the spring Talladega race and backed it up with another victory at Daytona that year. He has a pair of top-fives in 2016 and 2018 as well, but his best effort on these two tracks so far this year is a 13th in the Daytona 500.
7. Kurt Busch
Busch is generally considered one of the better plate racers. He's proved his ability in the draft with back-to-back top-10s at Talladega and Daytona.
8. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin got off to a good start in 2019 with his Daytona 500 win. Since then, he's finished worse than 25th in the last two races on aero-restricted superspeedways.
9. Jimmie Johnson
Johnson could be one of this week's most pleasant surprises because he has scored three top-10s in his last four aero-restricted superspeedway races - including a seventh in last year's 1000Bulbs.com 500.
10. Kyle Busch
In 2018, Busch scored only one top-15 on the aero-restricted superspeedways. This year, he's swept that mark with a best of second in the Daytona 500 to his teammate Hamlin.
11. Paul Menard
Menard might not earn maximum points this week, but he will probably be a decent value after finishing 16th in his last two attempts on the big tracks.
12. Ryan Preece
An eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500 this February might be viewed as an anomaly, but Preece backed that up with a third in the spring Talladega race.
13. Erik Jones
Jones' victory in the 2018 Coke Zero 400 sparked a three-race streak of top-10s on this track type. His last two efforts ended in a 19th at 'Dega and 23rd at Daytona this year.
14. Austin Dillon
This is a good week to spread the wealth around and take some longshots in order to differentiate your lineup. Dillon's 2018 Daytona 500 win was unexpected, but helped his fans win that week.
15. Daniel Hemric
The season got off to a bad start for Hemric. He finished 34th in the Daytona 500, but climbed to fifth in the first Talladega trial.
16. Matt DiBenedetto
DiBenedetto finished eighth at Daytona this summer. If his recent pattern holds, that will be the only top-10 on this track type in 2019; he scored one per year in 2017 and 2018.
17. Daniel Suarez
In the last two seasons Suarez finished between 10th and 16th three times at Talladega. Four of his efforts at Daytona ended outside the top 30, however.
18. Bubba Wallace
Time will tell which of these are anomalies: Wallace's four top-15s in eight starts at Talladega and Daytona or the 38th and 39th he earned on those tracks earlier this year.
19. Martin Truex Jr.
The good news for Truex fans is that he finished second in last year's Coke Zero 400. The bad news is that’s his only top-10 since 2016 and one of only two top-15s.
20. Chris Buescher
Buescher nearly earned his first Talladega top-10 last spring when he crossed under the checkers 11th. Last fall he fell to 21st and this spring he was 30th.
21. William Byron
Byron entered the summer Daytona race with a best finish of 20th on the big tracks. No one expected his second place in the Coke Zero 400.
22. Kyle Larson
Larson is happy with his win last week at Dover because the plate tracks have not been kind to him. He has only one top-10 in the last three seasons at Talladega and Daytona.
23. Clint Bowyer
Bowyer has some seriously good runs on the aero-restricted superspeedways like his second-place finish in this race last year, but that is his only top-10 on this track type in the past two seasons.
24. Chase Elliott
Yes, Elliott won the spring Talladega race, but four of his last starts on the Big Tracks landed outside the top 30. This week will be nerve racking for last week's last-place finisher.
25. Ross Chastain
Chastain has actually been very consistent on the Big Tracks with four results in the mid-20s at Talladega and Daytona in the past two years. His other two starts ended in a 10th in the Daytona 500 and a 30th in this year's Coke Zero 400.
26. Brendan Gaughan
Gaughan is probably going to add place-differential points this week no matter where he qualifies. He's done that in 11 of his last 12 attempts at Daytona and Talladega.
27. Corey LaJoie
LaJoie should be considered as one of the top dark horse contenders this week. In 2018 he's finished 18th in the Daytona 500, 11th in 'Dega's spring race, and sixth in the Summer Daytona duel.
28. Landon Cassill
After finishing 22nd or worse in his previous four aero-restricted superspeedway attempts, Cassill nearly cracked the top 10 at Daytona this summer. He finished 11th.
29. Michael McDowell
With four top-10s on the Big Tracks in the last four years, McDowell obviously knows how to race in the draft. All of those came at Daytona, however.
30. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has momentum on his side, but he hasn't finished in the top 15 on a plate track in his last five attempts.
31. Ryan Blaney
Two things are typically in play on the Big Tracks. Dark horse success means the favorites do not excel. Blaney has only three top-10s on this track type in the last four seasons.
32. Brad Keselowski
Since winning this race in 2017, Keselowski has amassed an average finish of only 27th in the past two seasons. His high water marks were a 12th in the Daytona 500 and a 13th at 'Dega.
33. David Ragan
In 2017, Ragan earned three top-10s at Talladega and Daytona. Last year, he scored a sixth and 15th on these two tracks. So far in 2019, his best effort netted a 23rd.
34. Parker Kligerman
In three starts at Daytona and Talladega this year, Kligerman has finished progressively worse with a low of 31st in the Coke Zero 400.
35. Matt Tifft
The Coke Zero 400 was extremely kind to a bunch of dark horses. Tifft finished ninth there, but his first two attempts on this course type ended in results outside the top 35.
36. Joey Gase
Gase finished 18th in last year's edition of this race. Anything can happen on these tracks if a driver avoids the 'Big One' crash.
37. Reed Sorenson
Keep a close eye on drivers that are normally at the bottom of the pack. Sorenson finished 18th this spring at Talladega,
38. Austin Theriault
Four Cup starts do not provide a lot of seat time, but Theriault has a pair of 32nd-place results as his high water mark. One of these came on the 2-mile track in Michigan.
39. Spencer Boyd
Nothing prepares a driver for the chaos of a Cup race on one of the aero-restricted superspeedways, but Boyd has some laps on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway.
40. Blake Jones
With three K&N starts to his credit, plus seven ARCA, five Xfinity, and three Cup starts, Jones is going to be a fish out of water this week in the No. 77.
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