This year’s speedweeks have been super successful from a  racing standpoint. The ratings weren’t great, but at the end of the day nobody expected midweek exhibition races with little to no marketing to draw a crowd. The clash, duel, races, and last night’s truck race had exciting finishes to really hype up what to expect for tomorrow’s 500. Even better we got one more race tonight in the Xfinity series that will hopefully continue the trend.

It’s so exciting to have practice and qualifying back in place, because it gives the media and fans so much more content to dive into. Making race day picks and fantasy teams is a staple for me on LTL and it was horrible not being able to do it properly last year because of the lack of practice and qualifying to gauge drivers each week.

To piggyback on how I did things last year, but tweak it slightly. This year I’ll pick a favorite and a dark horse and then give my fantasy picks for the race which will be separated by high-end, mid-tier, and low-end.

Favorite: Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is going after history this week to tie Cale Yarborough for second all-time in Daytona 500 wins with 4 and also become the first driver to ever win three in a row. After claiming the last two and always being up front when we come to Daytona, it’s hard not to picture Hamlin making that history tomorrow night. Obviously there are 39 other cars that will be attempting to stop him, but it hasn’t been too much of a factor for him lately.

The momentum has continued to swing his way and with his car finishing in the top five of both practices and running up front for most of the duel races before dropping back to avoid potential mayhem, the #11-car seems capable of running up front all day on Sunday and biding his time as he usually does. It’s hard to imagine him pulling off what seems to be impossible, but I’m not one to bet against Hamlin.

Dark Horse: Bubba Wallace

Wallace has run up front at almost every superspeedway track he visited for Richard Petty Motorsports. This time he has equipment that is capable of keeping him there, and the JGR team along with the new 23XI Racing have brought the cars to beat this week. Despite not winning a duel race, they all dominated the practice sessions and at one point a JGR car was leading the fields in both duel races. Oh, and of course Kyle Busch’s lucky win at the clash. Even before that, at one point Hamlin and Truex were leading the clash.

Wallace led the first practice, finished third in the second, qualified sixth, and finished second in his duel race. I think that his loss to Austin Dillon who made a spectacular move was a learning experience since he’s more used to chasing the lead on the last lap instead of trying to keep it. Bubba Wallace has a lot of motivation and now speed to match this weekend, and a lot of his detractors might be in for a rough Sunday.

Fantasy Picks:

High-End Picks:

  1. Denny Hamlin: $10,400
  2. Kevin Harvick: $9,700
  3. Joey Logano: $9,900
  4. Martin Truex Jr.: $9,300
  5. Kyle Busch: $9,500

Mid-Tier Picks:

  1. Bubba Wallace: $7,400
  2. Aric Almirola: $8,600
  3. Austin Dillon: $8,300
  4. Christopher Bell: $7,600
  5. Kyle Larson: $8,500

Low-End Picks: 

  1. Ryan Preece: $6,000
  2. Daniel Suarez: $5,700
  3. Michael McDowell: $6,300
  4. Jamie McMurray: $6,400
  5. Corey LaJoie: $5,800

Denny Hamlin of course has the steepest price of everyone, but there’s good reason for that in what we already discussed above. Hamlin will be a mainstay in most lineups this week, and barring a wreck, the chances are you’re looking at a top five play with him near guaranteed. If you’re looking to build a line-up without Hamlin I would look to make it Ford and Toyota heavy. Having Harvick, Logano, or maybe even Keselowski as your highest paid driver is a safe bet when you can grab Busch or Truex for a cheaper price after.

Be cautious with Chase Elliott this week. He’s the second most expensive driver on the board and he hasn’t performed worth it so far these speedweeks. He has also never finished higher than 14th in the Daytona 500 and only has an average finish of 16th at Daytona overall. Elliott will eventually figure out his Daytona woes, but I do not believe this year will be the year.

Both Alex Bowman and William Byron would’ve been good plays but with Bowman’s engine issues and Byron having to go to a backup car worries me. I would personally keep Bowman out of any lineups with his stats at Daytona being mediocre and the potential for engine issues to rise. William Byron might be worth a look, but I wouldn’t make it a priority with his price tag.

He wasn’t mentioned, but Ryan Blaney is also a good play. He’ll more than likely run up front all day. Blaney’s accident prone racing and price tag is what kept him off the list for me.

I’m confident with the mid-tier and low-end picks. I think this is the best of what the bargain bin has to offer. Bubba Wallace, like Hamlin, should be in most line-ups. He has a if you’re not first your last mentality a lot of times when racing at superspeedways, but with a car that has the potential to compete at more than just Daytona and Talladega he may be more cautious come the end of the race.

Corey LaJoie and Daniel Suarez are my favorite cheap picks this week. Both received upgrades this year and have put up solid performances so far this week. I’d take advantage of their low price now. 

I put Ryan Preece high because of how he has performed so far, but honestly he’s a hit or miss prospect this week. I think his chances to win the race are solid, but I worry about his ability to close with running up front being so rare for him. This also applies to Kyle Larson, I would take advantage of his price tag being so low, but he’s a dangerous prospect, because we don’t know what to expect out of him yet.

The only one-off I’d consider is Jamie McMurray. He’s one of the better superspeedway racers of the last ten years and he’s been running well so far this week. David Ragan deserves consideration, but I would not make him a priority; only use him to make money work.

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