Fantasy Live: Daytona 500

Dan Beaver
·6 min read

While you read this article and when you set your Fantasy Live roster this week, put the final laps of the Busch Clash on a loop. Play it over and over – and whenever you find you finger hovering over the mouse to click on Kevin Harvick or another marquee driver, look up to see where his mangled car happens to be at that moment in time.

Erik Jones won Sunday’s Clash in a car that looked like a punch drunk prize fighter who led with his chin.

Four others finished on the lead lap; none of the 18 drivers entered failed to sustain some damage. At the end of the race, everyone was noted in the box score as being involved in an incident. Remarkably, Austin Dillon’s second-place car showed minimal damage, but without a teammate to push him to the line, he was beaten by the Joe Gibbs Racing duo with Jones’s No. 20 literally being escorted across the line by Denny Hamlin.

Covering fantasy racing since its inception has taught the futility of handicapping the Daytona 500 with too much detail. It is best to look at basics and set the roster by raw results in unlimited games. In allocation management games like Fantasy Live, stay away from anyone who will be more predictable later in the year. Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed during the 88-lap Clash. All three have had more than their share of accidents in the points’ paying events at Daytona as well.

Ryan Newman
At the bottom of many investment agreements there is a notation that past success does not guarantee future success. That should be painted on the Turn 4 wall at Daytona, but in the absence of any better data to study, it is what fantasy players have. For whatever the reason, Newman swept the top 15 on aero-restricted superspeedways last year with three top-10s. His best finish was a second in Talladega 2. Newman also has three top-10s in 2018 and a pair of top-fives in 2017. For all of his bulldogedness in the cockpit, he has shown a recent knack for finding the front of the pack at the close of these races. Last week, he brought his mangled car home on the lead lap and in the top five in the Clash.

Aric Almirola
Almirola swept the top five on the big tracks in three starts in 2017. He finished 11th or better in three of four races in 2018. Last year, he had three top-10s on this course type. The only time he struggled was in the Daytona 500 after being involved in an accident. On Sunday, Almirola was one of three drivers without damage when the Clash hit its scheduled distance. He was eventually eliminated during one of the green-white-checkered runs, but he skirted the first few mayhems.

Ty Dillon
No one swept the top 10 at Daytona and Talladega last year. Newman, Almirola, and Dillon were the only drivers to post three such finishes. Dillon finished sixth in the Daytona 500 and was fourth in the Coke Zero 400, which made him one of our drivers to watch this week. The summer race was shortened by rain and part of Dillon’s success was due to strategy, but it is notable that he was able to keep his car undented. Dillon is better at Talladega than Daytona overall, but on the combined tracks he has finished in the top 15 64.3% of the time.

Jimmie Johnson
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Johnson knows how to position himself to win on the big tracks. He swept Daytona’s Victory Lane in 2013 and then scored top-fives in three of the next four races. He hit a lull in the next three years with only one top-15 in six races at the World Center of Speed, but rebounded in 2019. Johnson finished ninth in the Daytona 500 and was third in the Coke Zero 400. Daytona and Talladega represent great opportunities for him to win and secure a spot in the playoffs during his final year of competition. That will cause him to drive aggressively, which could be a double-edged sword. Johnson will either earn a top-five or end his day on the hook.

Value Pick

Corey LaJoie
The 'Big One' is a great equalizer. The draft will allow most cars to run in the big pack and drivers like Brendan Gaughan, David Ragan, Michael McDowell, and many others who view this as a chance to get TV time for their sponsors can be a little hit-or-miss in their results when a crash erupts. Then there are those like LaJoie, who seemed content to ride in a safe place for most of the day on the big tracks and take advantage of the equalizer at the end. LaJoie swept the top 20 last year with an 18th in the Daytona 500, an 11th in Talladega 1, and back-to-back top-10s in the second races on those tracks. He did what he had to do and we believe that lesson is ingrained well of enough for him to repeat.

Garage Pick

Kurt Busch
Busch is a big driver who will probably be worth starting several times on unrestricted speedways. If you want a veteran in the garage, however, Busch is among the best on this track type. In his last 18 attempts at Daytona and Talladega, he has earned 10 top-10s and another top-15. These races occasionally come down to a coin flip and Busch has come up heads more often than not in recent seasons. Last year Busch was 50% with top-10s in Talladega 1 and Daytona 2; his other two efforts landed in the 20s.

Red Flag

Kevin Harvick
Seriously, don’t click that mouse. This has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with Harvick’s skill as a driver. He won back-to-back plate races at Daytona and Talladega in 2010. He finished fourth in the 2016 Daytona 500, but since then he has been a magnet for accidents. In his last 16 attempts on the big tracks, he sustained damage in 11 events; six of these were significant enough to send him to the garage and out of the race. Ten of those races were 20th or worse. If he’s own your roster and manages to get the checkered flag, you can feel a little smug. But if he ends another race on the hook, you’ll hate yourself in Week 26.

Daytona Coverage

Daytona 500 Qualification Report
Bluegreen Vacations 150, Clash Practice Report
Four to Watch: Ty Dillon
Accident Waiting to Happen: Superspeedway success