It’s Daytona. Fantasy players can agonize as much as they care to over statistics and probabilities, but at the end of the day the results for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway are going to come down to a lot of luck and will favor those who can avoid trouble.
If everyone stays out of trouble, the race is no more predictable than it would be if several ‘Big One’ crashes erupt because the vicissitudes of the draft are such that a driver who chooses the wrong line – or someone who gets stuck behind another driver who has chosen the wrong line – can drop from the top five to 30th in a heartbeat.
So what did we do this week? We’re going strictly by the numbers – or as close to it as possible – and ranking drivers based on their recent performance on the restrictor-plate superspeedways.
1. Joey Logano
Strictly by the numbers, Logano should be this week’s top choice. Six of his last seven races on the former plate tracks have ended in results of fifth or better.
2. Ryan Newman
Despite his reputation as being hard to drive around on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. Newman holds a steady wheel on the big tracks with six top-10s and a 14th in his last eight races.
3. Alex Bowman
Last week Bowman finally got the monkey off his back with the Chicagoland victory. The last time he was at a drafting track, he finished second to his teammate Elliott.
4. Aric Almirola
The plate tracks are good courses on which to take dark horses. Almirola has been one of the best of these in recent year with seven top-10s that include one victory in his last 10 attempts.
5. Denny Hamlin
Last year Hamlin finished in the top 15 three times in four races at Daytona and Talladega. If the pattern holds and he has only one bad result in 2019, he got it out of the way at Talladega.
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse is one of the better plate racers in the field. The tapered-spacer is just an updated version of the horsepower killing metal under the carburetor.
7. Austin Dillon
Dillon has been consistent on the two big tracks. He swept the top 10 on them in 2016 and has five results of 17th or better in his last six attempts at Daytona and Talladega.
8. Ty Dillon
Dillon could easily be this week’s most pleasant surprise. In his last 10 attempts at Daytona and Talladega, he has finished 17th or better eight times with a pair of sixths in his last two races in Florida.
9. Erik Jones
Jones should be considered a favorite not only because of his victory in last year’s edition of this race, but also because of the two top-10s that followed on this track type.
10. Kyle Busch
It’s hard to tell which Busch is going to show up this week. Last year he failed to crack the top 10 a single time at Daytona and Talladega; this season he has swept that mark.
11. Ryan Preece
Granted, it has been only two starts but Preece has swept the top 10 in his early attempts on this track type with an eighth in the Daytona 500 and a third in the Geico 500.
12. Chris Buescher
Buescher finished fifth in both Daytona races last year. That record did not keep him safe in the 500 this February, however, and he crashed before heading to the garage in 37th. He wrecked again at Talladega.
13. Kurt Busch
Busch has a reputation as a strong racer on the former plate tracks, but his best performances in the past couple of years have come at Talladega instead of Daytona.
14. Paul Menard
Menard’s last five seasons on this track type are punctuated with top-10s in about 40 percent of his starts, but he is also prone to getting swept into trouble.
15. Chase Elliott
Elliott’s win at Talladega and a third-place finish on that track will have him on quite a few radar screens, but one should note that he has been crash prone on this track type in the past.
16. Brendan Gaughan
While running for his current team, Gaughan has finished in the top 15 five times in 10 races. That suggests he has a knack for staying out of trouble and he should be rewarded with a spot on your roster.
17. Clint Bowyer
Daytona is not the place one wants to come in hopes of turning their season around and Bowyer has had enough bad luck in the past month to make him desperate for a good finish.
18. Jimmie Johnson
Last year Johnson was better at Talladega than Daytona. This year he reversed that trend with a ninth in the Great American Race. For the first time in a long while, he has some momentum on his side.
19. Martin Truex Jr.
A second-place finish in this race last year is one of only four top-20s for Truex on the big tracks since the beginning of the 2017 season.
20. Kyle Larson
Larson’s seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 was encouraging, but one should note that is his only top-10 on the former plate tracks since the end of 2016.
21. Parker Kligerman
Kligerman finished 15th in the crash-marred Daytona 500. He wasn’t quite as strong later in the spring with a 27th at Talladega.
22. Ross Chastain
Chastain’s season got off to a great start with a top-10 in the Daytona 500. The remainder of his results on this track type in the past two years haven’t been bad either with results of 21st to 26th.
23. Ryan Blaney
Blaney finished 15th in his last outing on this track type at Talladega this spring, but that is one of only three such finishes in the past three seasons and he’s had only one strong run each year.
24. Bubba Wallace
Wallace swept the top 20 in four starts on the plate tracks this year. In 2019, he has a 38th at Daytona and a 39th at Talladega. His luck is bound to change. Isn’t it?
25. Daniel Hemric
Hemric’s last attempt on this track type ended in a fifth at Talladega, but Daytona was not nearly as kind with a 34th in the 500.
26. Kevin Harvick
In allocation management games, no one should even consider starting Harvick. He has only one top-15 on this track type in the past three years with an average finish of 24.3.
27. William Byron
With a single exception, Byron has finished in the 20s in every start of his career on the former plate tracks.
28. Brad Keselowski
If Keselowski can stay out of trouble, he will beat our prediction. He has a pair of top-15s at Daytona and Talladega this year, but in 2018 he failed to crack the top 25 a single time.
29. Matt DiBenedetto
It seems that almost everyone has a top-10 to their credit on the plate tracks in recent years. DiBenedetto’s came in last year’s edition of this race with a seventh.
30. Daniel Suarez
In the past two seasons, Suarez has finished 16th or better at Talladega, but when the series rolls into Daytona he suffers with results outside the top 30.
31. David Ragan
Ragan was stellar on this track type in 2017 with three top-10s in four starts. Last year he had a pair of top-15s. So far in 2019, his best effort netted a 23rd at Talladega. He’s heading the wrong direction.
32. Michael McDowell
Last year McDowell got off to a strong start in the Daytona 500 with his ninth-place finish; unfortunately that was followed by three results outside the top 25. This year, he finished fifth at Daytona and that pattern continued with a 40th at ‘Dega.
33. Corey LaJoie
If you are willing to roll the dice, LaJoie could be one of this week’s top earners. He finished 18th in the Daytona 500 and was 11th at Talladega already this year.
34. Landon Cassill
Until he finished 34th this spring in Talladega, Cassill was one of the most consistent drivers on the former plate tracks with results of 22nd or 24th in the previous three races.
35. Joey Gase
The Daytona 500 this spring was not very kind to Gase. Last year he swept the top 30 on this track type in three starts, however.
36. JJ Yeley
Yeley was in attendance in last year’s Coke Zero 400 and worked his way up from 40th to 18th. He was not nearly as lucky at Talladega, however, with a 36th on the sister track.
37. Justin Haley
Haley was on his way to an impressive debut earlier this year at Talladega before he got swept into an accident that was not of his making.
38. BJ McLeod
McLeod was a very pleasant surprise in the Daytona 500 with a 19th-place finish. Unfortunately that race was filled with attrition and he was seven laps off the pace at the end.
39. Matt Tifft
In two starts, Tifft has not had very good luck on the drafting tracks. He finished 36th at Daytona and was 37th at Talladega earlier this spring.
40. Quin Houff
We have absolutely no idea how Houff will perform this week since this is his first attempt on one of the big tracks. His ultimate result will be determined by attrition.