Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:03 AM

Best Bets - Daytona

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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.

The MENCS heads back to Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400, the second race of the season at the superspeedway. It's also the third restrictor-plate run in four dates on the schedule.

Hendrick Motorsports driver  Chase Elliott (12/1)  gave his team a much-needed boost by winning the pole for the race on Saturday night. It has been a trying year for Elliott and his teammates, so perhaps this race will get them going as a whole unit. The young driver hasn't had a lot of success at Daytona in the past, at least in a Cup ride, posting finishes of 14th or lower in each of his five starts, including four starts 22nd or lower and three starts 32nd or worse. While he might have qualified well, anything can happen at a plate track and he is a risky play given his mediocrity on this track in the past.

Starting alongside Elliott's No. 9 Chevy will be the ride of teammate  Alex Bowman (33/1) in the No. 88. He was just one mile per hour slower, almost on the nose, than Elliott in qualifying. Elliott blazed the track at 194.045 mph, while Bowman was clocked at 193.046 mph. He has four Cup starts under his belt at the track, posting an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 19.3. He posted his best run at Daytona in July 2014, turning in a 13th-place showing, and he was 17th in the Daytona 500 back in February. There isn't a lengthy history for Bowman in a Cup car, and just one start in Hendrick equipment. But if practice and qualifying is any indication, he could be quite the betting and DFS sleeper this weekend.

Seven-time series champ  Jimmie Johnson (22/1)  continues to struggle with consistency, and he is well down the list of favorites for this weekend. His past five starts at Daytona haven't exactly went according to plan, as he has posted a dismal 27.0 AFP, including three finishes of 34th or lower. Like his Hendrick teammates, however, there is plenty of optimism after qualifying. He rolled up a best speed of 192.361 mph which has him starting on the outside of Row 2.

It seems like a while ago, but it was a Chevy winning checkers at the 500 back in February. Richard Childress Racing and the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet was back in Victory Lane thanks to  Austin Dillon's (40/1) outstanding run. Vegas is rather bearish on his stock heading into Daytona, however, as he is well down the odds list. Yes, it has been a downhill spiral ever since that initial win. He hasn't ticked off a Top 5 finish since that career-changing win, and he has just one Top 10 showing at Auto Club back in mid-March. Other than that he has softly landed in the area of late teens to early 20's finishing spots, and he falls outside of the Top 16 in overall standings as a result. However, at Michigan and Sonoma he finished ahead of his starting spot, and he led a season-high 13 laps at Chicagoland last weekend before disaster struck and smacked him all the way to a season-low 37th-place finish. He has shown some improvement in recent weeks, but will the stage be too big for him on Saturday night? It wasn't back in February, but a lot has changed.

The co-favorites for this weekend are both from the Penske Racing stable, as  Brad Keselowski (7/1) and  Joey Logano (7/1)  face the shortest odds, according to Vegas. Keselowski was particularly impressive in his No. 2 machine in qualifying, posting a top speed of 192.802 mph to land on the inside of Row 2 to start Saturday. Logano wasn't as impressive, and he'll go off from the 11th spot. However, he is perhaps a better DFS value considering the chance to tick off more position differential points. Logano ran aground last July with a 35th-place run, but he has been sixth or better in four of his past five starts at Daytona, including fourth place in February. Kes won the 400 back in July 2016, but has finished 27th or worse in his past three starts at DIS. Still, Logano has a Driver Rating of 93.0 and Keselowski has a Driver Rating of 92.7 across the past five Cup starts at the track, ranking second and third among active drivers with at least two starts at the track.

Often overlooked by casual fans is Penske third-wheel  Ryan Blaney (10/1) . Vegas isn't overlooking him, however, as he is tied for the third-lowest odds to win this weekend's race. And for good reason, too. He has a 101.8 Driver Rating over his past five starts at Daytona, running 80.0 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 during the span. He is also just one of three drivers to lead at least 100 laps during the stretch, joining Keselowski and Joe Gibbs Racing's  Denny Hamlin (10/1) in that exclusive club. Blaney was seventh at the track in February, and had a runner-up finish in Feb. 2016.

As far as Hamlin is concerned, he is looking to get back into Victory Lane at Daytona since rollng to a 500 win in Feb. 2016. He came up just short in February, posting a third-place finish, one of six Top-10 runs over his past nine starts at the Northeast Florida superspeedway. While he has run just 65.1 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 over the past five starts at Daytona, he has 140 laps led and 16 fastest laps while posting a 12.4 AFP during the stretch. He leads all active drivers with 407 laps led at the track, posting a win, seven Top 5s and eight Top 10s with an AFP of 16.8. Hamlin seems to be able to avoid the 'Big One' at Daytona, managing just two DNFs in 25 career starts.

Roush Fenway Racing's  Darrell Wallace Jr. (55/1) is another young gun trying to join the Chase party, and he nearly spoiled everyone's February when he ended as the runner-up in the 500, highest-ever finish by an African-American driver. He has just two races under his belt at this track in a Cup car, but he has a solid 15th and 2nd. As such, he is a nice sleeper for bettors, and DFS players will want to find a way to squeeze him in as a No. 5 or No. 6 driver. Like Dillon, he has struggled since his breakthrough race, but he ended up eighth at Texas in early April and was a respectable 16th on the superspeedway at Talladega in late April. On the fast tracks, he has proven to be a speed demon in the upper half of the leaderboard, and his first-ever Cup win is almost certain to come at a plate track.

Perhaps this is the longest into a column we've gone without mentioning Stewart-Haas Racing's  Kevin Harvick (9/1) or Furniture Row Racing's  Martin Truex Jr. (20/1) . However, neither should obviously be ignored on the big stage. Harvick just hasn't fared well at Daytona lately, and it's hard to figure out what went wrong. He had three straight Top 5 showings, including a runner-up in the 500 back in Feb. 2015. He has been 22nd or lower in each of his past four DIS starts, including three finishes of 31st or worse. That's just hard to believe considering how dominant he has been this season, and how well SHR's program is historically on restrictor-plate runs.

MTJ has also struggled over his past four Daytona stops, posting an AFP of 23.5. He was a runner-up to Hamlin in that Feb. 2016 race, however, but he has a dismal 22.4 AFP in 26 career starts. That runner-up was actually his only Top 5, and just one of three Top 10s, in his career at the track. He has led just 72 laps at Daytona in his career.

You might save some DFS salary by avoiding Harvick and MTJ, and rolling with a more affordable option like RFR's  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (14/1) . Vegas isn't hiding the fact he is a moderate threat, and he has won at Daytona in 12 career Cup starts while posting just five finishes outside of the Top 20 at the track. His AFP of 18.9 is better than Bowman (19.3),  Kasey Kahne (3/1)  (20.0),  Aric Almirola (12/1) (20.3) and Keselowski, and basically about the same as last week's Chicagoland winner,  Kyle Busch (10/1) , who has just one win in 26 starts with a similar 18.7 AFP. 

Speaking of Busch, he has just seven Top 5s in 26 career Daytona starts. His brother, SHR's  Kurt Busch (12/1) , has been a lot more dependable at the track. He has just one win in 34 DIS starts, but he has 13 Top 5s and a solid 17.1 AFP with just three DNFs. In fact, his AFP is fifth-best among all active drivers with at least three Daytona starts under their belt. His teammate  Clint Bowyer (12/1) is also always a threat on plate tracks, posting 12 Top 10s and a stellar 15.8 AFP in 25 career Daytona starts, although he is still searching for that first elusive DIS checkered flag.

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