The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season officially kicks off with the Daytona 500 February Sunday, Feb. 17. The 61st running of “The Great American Race” will also mark the beginning of the 2019 Fantasy NASCAR season.
As in the past, I will be providing early-week driver rankings for every race throughout the season, as well as DFS previews and lineup advice catered to a variety of season-long leagues and DFS contests throughout each race weekend.
The first few races of a season are always interesting because of offseason driver movement and rules changes, and identifying the new pecking order among the top drivers as quickly as possible is the first priority.
Of course, the Daytona 500 is a bit of its own animal because restrictor plates are involved, and attrition could be high. The last thing you want to do is dig yourself a hole right out of the gate, but more importantly, you don’t want to hurt your long-term prospects one race into the year. With Daytona being one of the more unpredictable tracks on the schedule, I recommend avoiding big names in any fantasy games that limit how often you can use each driver.
There are plenty of drivers who have had a lot of success at plate tracks who are middle-of-the-road options at most other tracks, so you can still have a great chance to post a big score while maximizing the production of some weaker drivers and protecting your overall lineup flexibility at the same time.
1. Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske
Plate racing is unpredictable, but Logano has been the closest thing to a safe pick. He has scored the most points of any driver over the last 10 plate restrictor-plate events, piling up a series-best seven Top 10s and six Top 5s. Logano also has five career plate wins under his belt, so there is no shortage of upside either.
2. Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing
The former Daytona 500 winner finished third in last year’s opener, and more importantly, he always seems to be around the front of the field at plate tracks. He ranks fourth in driver points scored over the last 10 plate events, and he has led laps in seven of the 10 races in that span.
3. Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite/Discount Tires, Team Penske
A Daytona 500 win has eluded him, but Keselowski’s six restrictor-plate wins are the most among active drivers. His 331 laps led over the last 10 plate races are also the most of any driver, and he has led 20-plus laps six times in that span. In DFS formats, he is one of the few drivers who can pile up a decent amount of dominator points.
4. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., #17 Fastenal/Fifth Third Bank, Roush Fenway Racing
Over the last couple of seasons, Stenhouse has been as good as anyone at the plate tracks. His six Top 5s and two wins in that span are tied for the most of any driver, and he ranks second in driver points scored. If you are looking to maximize Stenhouse’s value, Daytona is one of the tracks to use him.
5. Aric Almirola, #10 Smithfield Foods, Stewart-Haas Racing
His six Top 10s over the last 10 plate races are tied for the second most in the series, and Almirola was even better after joining Stewart-Haas Racing last year. He posted an 11.5 average finish in the four plate races, coming within a half of a lap of winning the Daytona 500 and going to victory lane at Talladega last fall.