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 Daytona 500, the first race of the 2019 season and the first of four restrictor-plate runs on the schedule.
Chevrolet is looking for a turnaround after an embarrassing four victories in 36 races in the Manufacturer's Championship. Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron (20/1) looks to give Chevy a jump in the Great American Race, as he claimed the pole position for Sunday's race. It will be interesting to see if the advantageous spot can finally spur Byron on at Daytona. In his first two career MENCS starts at DIS he has finishes of 23rd and 32nd place with one DNF. That's a very poor 27.5 Average Finish Position (AFP) with 12 laps led.
Seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (20/1) won the Clash last Sunday in a controversial finish. He triggered a wrecked that took out nearly the entire 20-car field in a very soggy race, shortened by the weather. Johnson failed to win a race last season for the first time in his career, but he served notice to the rest of the circuit that he is still a force to be reckoned with. It was a win for new crew chief Kevin Meendering and his new primary sponsor Ally, after years with the Lowe's sponsorship coming to an end. The car looked different, but the driver celebrating in Victory Lane looked the same. Johnson has made 34 career starts at Daytona, posting three wins with 11 Top 5s, 14 Top 10s and 299 laps led while posting an 18.59 AFP. He will start on the inside of Row 2 from the third position.
Alex Bowman (22/1) will be on the outside of Row 1 after posting a speed of 194.154 mph in qualifying, just a tick behind teammate Byron in the No. 24 machine. Bowman has had a lot of success in his five career starts at the track, posting a Top 10, three Top 20s and an AFP of 17.4. He has finished inside the Top 10 just the one time, but he has never finished worse than 24th, either, while logging 14 laps led. Bowman checks in third among active drivers with a 99.1 Driver Rating according to NASCAR's Loop Data, and he has run 91.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 over the past five-race span.
Hendrick's Chase Elliott (10/1) will be next to his teammate Johnson on the outside of Row 2 heading into Sunday. Elliott has really struggled at the track, managing a dismal 28.7 AFP in six career starts while managing just one finish inside the Top 20. He has qualified well in the past, posting an Average Start of 5.5, buoyed by three pole positions at the track. However, he has always ended up tumbling down the leaderboard to 28.7 with only 61 laps led and a pair of DNFs. Buyer beware.
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon (33/1) is the defending champion, but Vegas doesn't feel confident he'll be able to repeat. There is good reason, as the Daytona 500 has seen just four repeat winners in its history, as Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarbrough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) are the only drivers to turn the trick. Dillon has a fighting chance, as plate tracks are his specialty. In 11 career starts at Daytona he leads all drivers (min. four starts) with a 13.36 AFP, turning in seven Top 10 finishes with 18 laps led.
Daniel Hemric (50/1) is looking to impress just like he did during qualifying. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year will go off from the fifth position after turning in a qualifying speed of 192.460 mph, so the RCR driver will certainly be worth keeping a close eye on in the No. 8 Chevrolet machine. It will be his first time in a Cup race at Daytona, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the moment too big for him despite an outstanding Speedweeks to date.
Penske Racing's Joey Logano (8/1) was the top Ford during qualifying, posting a speed of 192.448 mph. He'll go off sixth in Sunday's race. Logano checks in sixth in Driver Rating (85.6) across the past five starts at DIS, running 61.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. Overall he has made 20 career starts at the superspeedway, posting a win, five Top 5s and eight Top 10s with an AFP of 17.7. His partner in crime, Brad Keselowski (7/1) enters as the early favorite to bring home checkers. He has rather marginal numbers all-time at Daytona, however, posting a win, just three Top 5s and four Top 10s in 19 career starts with a subpar 23.0 AFP. Kes will go off from the ninth position on Sunday.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (9/1) has always been strong on the plate tracks, and he is among the favorites to celebrate in Victory Lane on Sunday. While he is outside of the Top 10 in Driving Rating over the past five starts according to Loop Data, a handful of those starts came in inferior machinery until he came over to SHR last season. His overall body of work shows him with a 16.0 AFP, second-best to Dillon among all drivers with at least four starts at Daytona. He has four Top 5s, 12 Top 10s and 159 laps led with just eight finishes outside of the Top 20. Five of those eight finishes resulted in DNFs.
Oh yeah, don't forget about Bowyer's teammate, Kevin Harvick (11/1) . He has been a beast on plate runs, and he has a pair of wins in Daytona across 35 career runs with 244 laps led and 40 percent of his starts at DIS resulting in a Top 10 finish. Loop Data shows the driver of the No. 4 machine with an 81.6 Driver Rating and just 39.8 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15. He hangs back in the second pack looking to make his move late while trying to avoid 'The Big One'. It looks like it has been a sound strategy.
Wood Brothers Driver Paul Menard (25/1) was bent out of shape by Johnson's aggressive move in The Clash, but they apparently smoothed things over. He actually led 51 laps in that race, and appeared to have a tremendous setup to his No. 21 Ford. He came back strong in qualifying, posting 191.107 mph speed to qualify in the 11th position. Menard has been a force on plate runs, amd he has a respectable 19.0 AFP in 23 career starts with six Top 10s, 13 Top 20s and 68 laps led with just three DNFs.
Joe Gibbs Racing should never be overlooked, either. Kyle Busch (11/1) , Denny Hamlin (10/1) and Erik Jones (25/1) will be looking to make noise in their Toyotas. Rowdy has been erratic at Daytona, although he has made inroads in recent years after many struggles. He has one win and just seven Top 5s in 27 career starts with a marginal 19.2 AFP. Hamlin has had a little more success, going for a win, seven Top 5s and 407 laps led with a 17.7 AFP. Jones enters the season with quite a bit of promise, too, posting a win at the Coke Zero 400 in July 2018, the most recent Cup race at the track. He will go off from the 14th position and could be in line for plenty of upward movement. Busch goes off 13th, and Hamlin 12th, so look for that trio of JGR cars to work together early and often.
Kurt Busch (16/1) moves over to Chip Ganassi Racing, replacing Jamie McMurray (33/1) in the No. 1 Chevy. Busch has managed a win, 13 Top 5s and 307 laps led in his carer at DIS, recording a solid 17.7 AFP. He could get off to a quick start with his new team. He'll be working with Kyle Larson (28/1) , too, and the driver of the No. 42 machine is quite the sleeper at this price level. He had never fared particularly well at Daytona, averaging a 24.9 AFP in 10 career starts at the track. His best finish is sixth, just one of two Top 10 finishes with five DNFS -- or half of his all-time Cup starts at the superspeedway. Not good.
Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15/1) is always a solid option on restrictor-plate tracks. He checks in fourth in Driver Average (91.9) over his past five starts at Daytona, leading 79 laps while posting a solid 16.6 AFP. In 13 career starts he has a win, three Top 10s and eight Top 20 finishes while posting just two DNFs. Rookies Ryan Preece (66/1) , Matt Tifft (150/1) and Cody Ware (150/1) will make their first-ever Cup starts at Daytona, but they're very risky plays.
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