Restrictor-plate racing returns this weekend when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
From a fantasy standpoint, the restrictor-plate races can be a bit of a nightmare. The multi-car wrecks that result from the pack racing can level your entire lineup in the matter of seconds, and there really isn’t a safe strategy for guaranteeing a solid point total. This is race where you could potentially lose a lot of ground in your fantasy leagues.
On the plus side, Saturday night’s race is also a chance to gain a lot of ground in your leagues. It is also a chance to post some solid scores by using some unconventional lineups and sleeper drivers.
The second part is particularly important in the Fantasy Live and Driver Group Game contests. Both formats limit how many times you can use each driver, so any chance you get to save a start from one of the top options while still managing solid results is crucial. A trip to Daytona is a golden opportunity to do just that, and I recommend giving the big names a week off. It really won’t hurt your chances of posting a solid score, and it will help you have another start available from some of the top options to use at a much more predictable and fantasy-friendly track.
Even in the Slingshot game, you might want to think about going out on the limb with some sleeper picks. Yes, there are several big names starting deeper in the field who have plenty of upside in the place differential category, but these drivers are all going to be popular plays and could just as easily wreck instead of getting to the front. You can still load up drivers starting in the back without picking the obvious options, and this is a great option if you need to try to make up some ground in your league.
Check out all my top picks for Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, and good luck surviving one of the most unpredictable races on the schedule.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Yes, he has enough value to potentially use 10 times, but with six starts remaining and nine races left in this format, I’m willing to use one of Almirola’s start up this weekend. His 10.3 average finish in the last 10 restrictor-plate races is the best in the series, and he has just one finish outside the Top 15 in that span. Almirola also has six Top 15s in his last seven starts at Daytona, including a win in the 2014 July race and his near-win in this year’s Daytona 500.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse simply isn’t consistent enough to use 10 times over the course of the season, which makes it really easy to gamble on his upside this weekend. Not only is he the defending winner of this weekend’s race, but his five Top 5s in the last eight plate races are tied for the most of any driver. A strong finish and some stage points are very possible.
He’s been one of the most consistent performers at the plate tracks lately, especially Daytona. Menard has three straight finishes of sixth or better here and just one finish outside the Top 15 in the last seven plate races. He’s also picked up points in all four stages at the plate tracks this year, so while I’m just looking for a solid finish, there’s plenty of upside here.
I’m going to play the hot hand with this pick, especially since I have no plans on using Newman 10 times this year. He is the only driver who has cracked the Top 10 in the last four restrictor-plate races, and I’m hoping he can keep the streak going for at least one more race.
Ragan is pretty much useless in this format with the exception of the two restrictor-plate tracks. He has wins at both Daytona and Talladega in the Cup Series, and he has four Top 10s in the last five plate races. Ragan is a smart pick based on his numbers alone, and he only helps my long-term lineup flexibility.
Garage Driver – Austin Dillon
Even before his win in this year’s Daytona 500, Dillon had already amassed a decent resume at the restrictor-plate tracks, and he has five Top 10s in the last 10 plate races. He’s a mediocre talent, at best, at the non-plate tracks, so I have no concern about burning up a start from him this weekend.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
I won’t even consider using up a start from Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex this weekend. They are too valuable at the other tracks. Plus, Logano has the best restrictor-plate resume of any driver the last couple of years. His win at Talladega back in April was his third straight Top 5 finish at a plate track, and over the last 10 races, his seven Top 10s are the most in the series. He’s been the closest thing to a safe pick at the plate tracks.
Aric Almirola has been too solid overall this year to risk using him at a plate track, and while Menard has been much better in 2018, I’m still not worried about running out of starts with him. With that in mind, I’ll try to take advantage of his consistency at the plate tracks where Menard has six Top 15s in his last seven starts, including three straight finishes of sixth or better at Daytona.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
While he has been able to solider out some Top 15s this year, the fact remains that I just don’t trust him enough to use him nine times. It makes it an easy decision to use him this weekend. Stenhouse is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and his five Top 5s in the last eight restrictor-plate races are tied for the most in the series.
I can’t risk using guys with legitimate Top 15 potential at the non-plate tracks like Alex Bowman and William Byron, but Ragan is a more than suitable alternative. He has two plate wins at the Cup level, and he has finished in the Top 10 in four of the last five restrictor-plate races.
Slingshot Fantasy Auto Lineup
Aric Almirola ($10,000)
Paul Menard ($9,300)
Erik Jones ($9,200)
Daniel Suarez ($9,000)
Kasey Kahne ($7,400)