4th of July Weekend means it’s time for Daytona part two. The Saturday night summer race at Daytona International Speedway. Before I dive right into this weekend, I have to look back at Chicagoland last week which produced one of the best races of the season from start to finish. The passing, both lines coming into play, Jimmie Johnson running back up front all day and of course the first career win finally for Alex Bowman. Oh, and I was right on with most of my fantasy picks, so I hope you all cashed in your lineups like I did.
In the Daytona 500 we saw an exciting finish that Denny Hamlin took home the checkered flag for, while we also saw much of the same as far as wild restarts and big wrecks. I expect nothing less on Saturday night under the lights. When it comes to picking a potential winner and guys to roll with in your lineups, this weekend more than ever you need lady luck on your side because a guy can be having an awesome day and have someone cut down in front of him, sending him into the wall and ending his day.
One thing that has always worked to my benefit at Super Speedways is looking at the best plate-racers (even though there’s no longer a restrictor-plate this season, work with me). The names that come to mind are Brad Keselowski who has taken over from Dale Jr. as arguably the best super-speedway active driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and so on.
Erik Jones is the defending winner of this race and will be looking for a huge weekend once more to lock him into the playoffs, he has 3 top 10’s in 5 career starts at Daytona including a third place finish to begin this season. Two guys that won at Daytona in the past that will be swinging for the fences on Saturday are the 17 and the 3 car. Stenhouse won this race two years ago and currently sits 58 points out of the cut-off spot currently 19th in the standings. Meanwhile Austin Dillon, who won the Daytona 500 last year, sits in the 21st position 79 points back. A potential sleeper is Ryan Preece. That 47 car has 5 straight top 10’s at Daytona dating back to when Allmendinger was driving it, and in both super-speedway races this season, Preece has his only two top 10’s.
Incase you missed it during final practice on Thursday, Brad Keselowski drew a “line in the sand” when he didn’t lift when young William Byron tried to cut in front of him on his lane and the No. 2 car didn’t lift and sent the 24 for a spin. “I’ve been put in positions these last few plate races, not just by William but a handful of other people, where I’ve had to make a decision to risk myself on being loaded up on the trailer and watching the end of the race or drive through the guy in front of me. I’ve been too conservative and ended up watching too many of these plate races from the back of the trailer and that is not the responsible thing to do for my team. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’ve made that commitment. And if you’re gonna make that commitment, you make that commitment today and make that commitment in the race as well,” Keselowski finished.
A few other takeways from the Thursday practice sessions were that the Toyota’s seemed to click in final practice topping both the speed charts and consecutive lap averages. Truex was fastest in final practice with his teammate Kyle Busch fastest in the opening session while another JGR aligned car in the 95 of Matt DiBenedetto had the fastest consecutive lap average. The top 3 spots were owned by Toyota’s, but after that Chevy’s took spots 4-14 on the board before all the Fords.
Coke Zero Sugar 400 Opening Odds:
-Brad Keselowski & Joey Logano 8/1
-Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick 10/1
-Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney 14/1
-Aric Almirola 16/1
-Ricky Stenhouse, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman 18/1
-Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard 25/1
-Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Erik Jones 30/1
-Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto 40/1
Coke Zero Sugar 400 DraftKings Picks:
Brad Keselowski ($10,500): In this position you’re basically choosing between Penske teammates and when that’s the case 9 times out of 10 I will favor Brad Keselowski, especially on a plate track. His early warning shot in practice showed me he’s ready to go out and win this thing and he’s taking no prisoners. His only career win at Daytona came in July of 2016, and since qualifying was rained out and he’s starting near the front, I can see that car getting out in clean air early and leading a lot of laps.
Denny Hamlin ($9,000): Hamlin won at Daytona in February and has emerged as one of the better super speedway racers in the series. The 11 car was second in consecutive lap average and has 7 top 10’s in his past 11 starts, I’ll go with the numbers here in this selection.
Erik Jones ($8,500): Jones is the defending winner of this race and is currently outside of the playoffs looking in. The N0. 20 needs a great run to get back in contention and is really looking for another win to lock himself in and solidify his place in the playoffs alongside his teammates. Jones has 3 top 10’s in his 5 career Daytona starts and was third in consecutive lap average in final practice.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,400): Stenhouse will be swinging for the fences under the lights. I like his ability on these tracks and while his moves can often lead to a major wreck, I’m buying stock in the 17 especially with a starting spot of 19th. I like his chances to get up near the front quickly, and if he gets into clean air, look out. Stenhouse has the best active average finish at Daytona & Talladega at 15.35 overall.
Paul Menard: ($7,000): There’s something about that 21 car on super speedways. I just like the way Menard drives at these tracks and always seems to be there at the end finishing the race. Sometimes it’s luck, but that team with the Penske affiliation, is usually at it’s best in these types of tracks. He has 3 top 10’s in his last 5 Daytona starts.
Chris Buescher ($6,800): Chalk Buescher up as a sneaky play this weekend that could pay off a big return. This team has had consistent runs near the front on regular and intermidiate tracks, but has also flashed their ability to contend for wins at Daytona. The 37 car, like his teammate, quietly has 3 top 10’s in his last 4 starts.
Austin Dillon ($6,600): Dillon also will be looking at Daytona as his last chance to win his way into the playoffs again. Starting 21st as the field was set due to owner’s points, the 3 car should get up to the front with the speed they have shown throughout the season. In his first dozen career starts at Daytona, Dillon has 7 top 10’s.
Matt DiBenedeto ($6,400): The 95 car was awesome in the Daytona 500 leading 56 laps and really showcasing Matt’s ability in better equipment. They killed it a few weeks back at Sonoma with a top-5 finish and have looked fast so far this weekend, in fact the 95 had the best consecutive 10-lap average in final practice. Sign me up for him starting 25th. If he gets out front, that could shake up the entire playoff picture.
Ryan Preece: ($6,000): As previously mentioned, the 47 car at JTG has ripped off 5 straight top 10’s at Daytona including Ryan Preece who finished 8th to start his rookie campaign. With a starting spot of 26th, I would feel fairly confident in the 47 car especially considering he was just outside the top 10 in consecutive lap average at final practice.
Race Winner Prediction:
Brad Keselowski: There’s definitely a plethora of options to select from this weekend and while we could very well see a first-time winner punch their ticket to the playoffs, I’m going with a veteran who has already won multiple times this season. I just like the way that car looks, feels and more importantly, the guy behind the wheel. He sent a message early and once that car gets out in clean air it’ll be a rocket.