NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2023 Season Opener at Daytona

I can't wait for the big race on Sunday. After all the driver and team switches and the big announcements, we're finally back to the point of the whole thing -- racing! Yup, it's really cool that Jimmie Johnson is back at NASCAR and Kyle Busch is gearing up to make some noise this season, but what really matters is what actually unfolds.

I don't know about you, but my eye is on Ty Gibbs, Ross Chastain, and Ryan Preece. All three can bring lots of great head-to-head racing as well as hurt feelings and drama. Daytona racing is built for drama, so tighten those belts, and let's go racing.

This week's pick strategy: 
Good fast drafting partners will pay dividends this week, but don't forget those hungry non-veteran drivers who are talented enough to win the biggest race of the year. My roster mix will be past Daytona 500 winners, those who came close, and the hungry drivers looking to get noticed.
Drivers with Most Top 10s in the Last Five Years:
By Race
Both with 4 - Michael McDowell and Denny Hamlin. 
All with 3 - Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.  
All with 2 - Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Corey LaJoie, Chris Buescher, Kevin Harvick, and Ross Chastain.

By Track
All with 5 - Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.
All with 4: Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, and Chase Elliott.
All with 3: Ty Dillon, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece, Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson.

Last Year's Race Winner: Austin Cindric

The Likely Suspects: My go-to Daytona elites are Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Corey LaJoie and Ryan Preece.

My 2 Cents: The weird thing about doing fantasy picks for Daytona and other superspeedway tracks where drafting happens, like Talladega, is that the dancing partners are just as important as the ones that lead. Think in twos, but know that you don't have to waste two driver starts. For instance, the Dillon brothers seems to find each other on the track and both are pretty decent drafting partners. If you tend to pick Austin throughout the season, pick Ty instead because you'll get Austin by default.

My no-brainer pick is Denny Hamlin. My next picks are Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, and Chris Buescher. I'll round out my roster with Ty Dillon and Ryan Preece.

My Final Four: Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, and Ryan Preece.

Second-Look Driver: This week my sleeper pick is Ty Dillon. The oddsmakers have Ty at 125-1 to win. Stranger things have happened at Daytona though, plus Ty has a decent record here in his 18 starts. In the last 10 races at Daytona Ty has one Top 5 and three Top 10s. His average finish is actually a tad better than Alex Bowman's (17 vs 17.1) Stay tuned.
Points to Ponder:
  • Alex Bowman will start Sunday's Daytona 500 on the pole, his third in the marquee race. His sixth consecutive front-row start is an all-time record for the Daytona 500. The previous record of consecutive front row starts in the DAYTONA 500 was three and it occurred five times – Fireball Roberts (1961-1963), Richard Petty (1966-1968), Bill Elliott (1985-1987), Ken Schrader (1988-1990), Dale Earnhardt (1994-1996).
  • Seven of the 41 NASCAR Cup Series DAYTONA 500 winners are active this weekend, led by Denny Hamlin with three wins followed by Jimmie Johnson with two, and Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick with one win each.
  • Wood Brothers Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for the most wins by an organization at Daytona International Speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series with 15 each.
  • The pole position in the Daytona 500 field has produced more winners (nine) than any other position.
  • Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick lead all active drivers in Daytona 500 Top 5 finishes with eight each. 
  • Kevin Harvick leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 Top 10s with 10. 
  • Bubba Wallace (2018, 2022), Kevin Harvick (2009, 2015) and Ryan Blaney (2017, 2020) lead all active drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series in runner-up finishes in the DAYTONA 500 with two each.  
  • Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in laps led in the Daytona 500 with 474 in 17 starts – and he is ranked fifth on the all-time lap leaders chart of the race.

If you are playing Driver Group Game, remember to make your final picks on Sunday, February 19th at 2:30 p.m. ET Enjoy the race, and good luck with your fantasy team. 

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This year our private league will be offering prizes. A $25 gift card (or the gift card of your choice) will be awarded for point winners for the Spring and Summer segments and a $50 gift card (or the gift card of your choice) for the Playoff segment. 
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Carol D'Agostino has been playing Fantasy NASCAR for 16 years. She launched  NASCAR Fantasy Fusion for Skirts & Scuffs in October 2011. Each week, Carol pores through statistics and combs through her personal notebooks to arm fans with analysis and picking strategies that will leave their friends wondering how they got so smart. Carol also does race coverage for Skirts & Scuffs at Richmond Raceway and occasionally at her home track, Dover International Speedway. She is also part of the distinguished NASCAR Expert Picks panel at formerly called Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet. When she isn’t wielding her fantasy-racing superpowers, you’ll find Carol hammering out a news release or creating a marketing strategy at a small niche public relations firm she founded called Purple Cat or executing downtown revitalization projects for a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2023 Season Opener at Daytona NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2023 Season Opener at Daytona Reviewed by Carol D'Agostino on Thursday, February 16, 2023 Rating: 5