Daytona 500 Picks
The week marks the biggest week in North American auto racing as the Daytona 500 is set to kick off the 2021 NASCAR season that will span the course of the next nine months. This Sunday has been circled on my calendar for quite some time, as I’m a huge NASCAR fan that participates in plenty of NASCAR-related fantasy leagues and race pools. Because of this, I’m here this year to bring you all of the fantasy info you need to know to dominate any type of fantasy NASCAR pools/leagues you may find yourself in.
If you’re new to NASCAR and want to get your feet wet, this is a great article to start with. Each week I’ll break down some of the top drivers to pick at each track, as well as some to avoid. I’ll also put together a DraftKings lineup as well as breaking down my top bets of the week and a one-and-done pick.
Whether you’re an avid NASCAR fan like myself, or just getting started following the sport, this article should give you all the information you need for whatever NASCAR related league you’re looking for. If not, let me know and we can make a few adjustments to the article to make it fit everyone’s best interest. So, buckle up (terrible pun intended) and let’s get the 2021 season started!
Drivers I Like
Denny Hamlin will enter the 2021 Daytona 500 as the only driver in the field to have won the race more than one time. Hamlin has three wins in the big race and will be going for three in a row after winning the Daytona 500 in 2019 and 2020 (his first victory in the race came back in 2016.) Hamlin has two more top-five finishes in the race over the past ten seasons and an average finish in the race of 13.1 over that span. Hamlin is also one of the most experienced drivers on the track this year, as this will be his 31st career race at Daytona. He certainly won’t be a great value pick this week, but he’s one of the best there is at superspeedway racing.
Ryan Blaney finished runner-up to Hamlin last year and is a solid pick for this year’s 500. Despite not having a career win at Daytona, Blaney has won a pair of races at Talladega – a track that is a similar length and structure to Daytona. Blaney has two top-fives and four top-10s in his past ten Daytona races. If Blaney is still around at the end and hasn’t been involved in “The Big One” he’ll have a solid chance to win.
Joey Logano is another driver I like for the 500, as he has also proven to be a solid force at superspeedways. Logano won the 500 back in 2015 and has won multiple superspeedway races at Talladega since then. As a teammate to Blaney, look for this duo to work together with fellow teammate Brad Keselowski to keep their Ford Mustangs up front in this one.
Ryan Newman is coming off a scary finish in last year’s Daytona 500 that sent him to the hospital for a few days. It would be a great comeback story to see him win the 500 this year, but its not just the story that makes him an appealing pick. Newman is the 2008 winner of the 500 and was leading on his way to the finish line when involved in his big accident last year. Newman has five top-10s in his last ten Daytona races and will also be powered by Ford – the manufacturer that tends to find great success at superspeedway racing.
Michael McDowell is a dark horse candidate for this race. Not only has McDowell never won at Daytona, but he has never won a single race in his 13-year career. Nevertheless, McDowell is one of the best at Daytona. He leads all drivers in the race with a 12.5 average finish over the last ten Daytona races. He’s a smart superspeedway racer that has an outside chance to finally win one this week.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Chase Elliott will be a popular pick for this race. Coming off his first championship and his third-consecutive Most-Popular Driver Award, his odds are going to be listed amongst the top options to win this race. But not so fast; Elliott has had some tough luck at Daytona in the past, as he has struggled to avoid accidents on his way to an average Daytona finish of 24.3 with just one top-10 over the past ten Daytona races. If he avoids trouble, he has the potential to post a good finish – or even win the race – but I’m betting against him this week.
Kyle Busch is another popular name that probably won’t be on the avoid list many times this season. However, Busch has never won the big race as he enters his 18th season in NASCAR. As a matter of fact, he has just one win in 31 tries at Daytona and a career average finish of 19.4 at the track. Busch will likely add to his legacy and win a 500 eventually, and it could come soon as teammate Denny Hamlin has won the last two 500s, but I likely won’t be betting on him when he actually does so.
Daniel Suarez is a name I’m not even thinking about this week. In seven career Daytona starts, Suarez has failed to finish the race six times. His lone time completing every lap, Suarez finished in 17th position. Suarez opens the 2021 season with Trackhouse Racing – a brand new team co-owned by Pitbull (yes, that Pitbull, the singer) – so I’m going to have to see how this experiment goes before I have much confidence in Suarez.
Erik Jones is somewhat in the same boat as Suarez. He joins a new team this year, replacing Bubba Wallace in the 43-car for Richard Petty Motorsports. Unlike Suarez, Jones has a win at Daytona, but his average finish is 20.5 in eight Daytona races. Due to Jones switching teams in what seems to be a demotion – he formerly raced for Joe Gibbs along with Busch and Hamlin – I’m passing on him this week, though the potential is there.
Alex Bowman remains on the same team this year but has switched numbers from the 88 to the 48. After replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. a few years back, Bowman has never been able to find a groove at superspeedway racing like his predecessor had. Though he has never had a DNF (Did Not Finish) at Daytona, he also has never had a top-five finish in nine career races at the track and has only cracked the top-10 twice.
($50,000 budget, six driver lineup)
My strategy this week will be very similar to my strategy for most superspeedway races. Load the top of the lineup with some talented guys and then dig deep for cheap value to round things out. Picking drivers that struggle to keep up tends to pay off in superspeedway racing, as they aren’t fast enough to have to worry about big superspeedway crashes that can take out more than half the field. You’ll often get finishes in the high 20s from guys that would typically finish in the low 30s.
1. Denny Hamlin ($10,400)
2. Ryan Blaney ($10,000)
3. Kevin Harvick ($9,700)
4. Martin Truex Jr. ($9,300)
5. David Ragan ($5,400)
6. Kaz Grala ($4,900)
Remaining Budget: $300
Denny Hamlin over Chase Elliott (-136, 2 units)
Ford to win (+145, 1 unit)
Ryan Newman Top-10 (+190, 1 unit)
Denny Hamlin Top-3 (+225, 1 unit)
Jamie McMurray to win (+6600, 0.25 unit)
Michael McDowell to win (+6600, 0.25 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
Jamie McMurray returns to Daytona for a chance to win a second Daytona 500. McMurray won the 500 back in 2010 and retired from full-time competition following the 2018 NASCAR season. He still runs a few races occasionally, and he steps back into the car this weekend for the 500. He likely won’t compete in another race this season, so he is a nice pick that has a chance to card a low score this week. McMurray has two wins, three top-fives and five top-10s in 33 career Daytona races.