NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2024 Season Opener at Daytona

Well, we didn't have to wait long to see if Denny Hamlin would continue to antagonize the haters. Denny should make this an interesting season, but I think Chase Elliott could upstage him if he hits his stride early. 
From a fantasy standpoint, the rookie class always seems to be the most difficult to get my arms around, although this year's class includes Josh Berry, Kaz Grala, Zane Smith, and Carson Hocevar. None of these drivers are rookies in my book, although Kaz Grala has probably had the most tumultuous and dramatic journey here.

The Daytona 500 used to be one of those races where an underdog could emerge as the winner. As the competition got tighter over the years, the pendulum swung to the more experienced drivers. After watching the Duels and practice, I'm not so sure that a non-full time driver or a rookie won't spoil the party. Now, wouldn't that be fun! Stay tuned.

This week's pick strategy: 
With Legacy Motor Club switching to Toyotas, and RFK Racing strategically fielding a third car to give the Fords a fighting chance, this race could be more Toyota/Ford focused. Statistically, if you look at the Top 15 fastest cars in practice on Friday there were eight Toyotas, six Fords, and the lone Chevy of Austin Dillon.

While I'm sure they were practicing drafting as manufacturers, they obviously are planning out their race, and it didn't hurt that they were super fast. My roster mix will be one or two key Chevys, and then an even split between Toyotas and Fords.
Drivers with Most Top 10s in the Last Five Years:
By Race
All with 3 - Michael McDowell, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Ross Chastain. 
All with 2 - Joey Logano, Corey LaJoie, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, and Ryan Preece.

By Track
All with 5 - Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Chris Buescher.
All with 4: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Corey LaJoie.
All with 3: Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson, Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, and William Byron.

Last Year's Race Winner: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The Likely Suspects: My go-to Daytona elites are Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Austin Cindric, Corey LaJoie, and Ryan Preece.

My 2 Cents: Think drafting partners when doing your fantasy picks, but know that you don't have to waste two driver starts. For example Joey Logano is a great pusher and since he earned the pole, he obviously has a fast car. If you tend to run out of Logano starts, perhaps pick another Penske driver like Austin Cindric who is pretty stellar here.

My no-brainer pick is Denny Hamlin. My next picks are Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric, and Michael McDowell, I'll round out my roster with Corey LaJoie and Jimmie Johnson.

My Final Four: Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, and Corey LaJoie.

Second-Look Driver: This week my sleeper pick is Brad Keselowski. Brad is one of the six active NASCAR Cup Champions yet to win the Daytona 500. He is in good company with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney. In the last two Daytona 500s, Brad led the most laps of all drivers: 42 in 2023 and 67 in 2022.

On race day, Brad will make his 30th overall start at Daytona International Speedway this weekend, and his 15th start in the Daytona 500. In his 14 starts in the Daytona 500, Brad earned two Top 10s and a best finish of third in 2014. This could be Brad's year to check the 500 off his bucket list.
Points to Ponder:
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in DAYTONA 500 starts with 21 appearances heading into this season.
  • Seven of the 42 NASCAR Cup Series DAYTONA 500 winners are active this weekend, led by Denny Hamlin with three wins (2016, 2019, 2020), followed by Jimmie Johnson with two, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, and Joey Logano with one win each.
  • Petty Enterprises leads the NASCAR Cup Series in DAYTONA 500 wins with nine. Hendrick Motorsports leads all active organizations with eight wins. 
  • Nine different manufacturers have won the DAYTONA 500, led by Chevrolet with 25 victories; followed by Ford (17). 
  • The pole position in the Daytona 500 field has produced more winners (nine) than any other position (13.8%). 
  • Bubba Wallace (2018, 2022), 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 lead all active drivers in DAYTONA 500 Top 5 finishes with eight.
  • Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson lead all active drivers in DAYTONA 500 Top 10 finishes with eight each.
  • Denny Hamlin leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in laps led in the DAYTONA 500 with 480 laps led in 18 starts – and he is ranked fifth on the all-time lap leaders list of the race.
  • Austin Cindric has the best average finish among active drivers (13.0) with more than one start; he has made three appearances in the DAYTONA 500. 

If you are playing Driver Group Game, remember to make your final picks on Sunday, February 18th at 2:30 p.m. ET Enjoy the race, and good luck with your fantasy team. 

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Carol D'Agostino has been playing Fantasy NASCAR for 17 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: 2024 Season Opener at Daytona NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2024 Season Opener at Daytona Reviewed by Carol D'Agostino on Saturday, February 17, 2024 Rating: 5