By KFFL Staff on February 26, 2011
Trevor Bayne has been the talk of the NASCAR world following his victory in the Daytona 500, and rightfully so. However, Bayne wasn't the only driver to surprise in the season opener. How many people expected David Gilliland and Bobby Labonte to finish in the top-five? Did anyone have Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte in the top-15? Lost in Bayne's record-setting win was the harsh lesson taught to anybody that plays fantasy NASCAR games that feature restrictions on the number of starts for each driver. If you chose to use big names at Daytona, you are making a mistake.
Most weeks, a lineup of Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth would be next to unstoppable. Last weekend, that lineup didn't record a single top-20 finish. Plain and simple, the track is too unpredictable to waste a start from one of the elite drivers in the series. If you want to win a league that limits the number of times you can use each driver, you have to maximize your results from the top tier guys. Getting a top-10 finish from Johnson is essentially a failure. The man has averaged seven wins and more than 15 top-five finishes in each of the past five seasons. You should be getting at least a top-five out of him every single start.
That's not to say that any driver is a sure thing at any track, but your odds of getting a top-five finish out of one the big names in NASCAR are at their worst at Daytona. It isn't exactly true that anyone can run well at Daytona, but it's pretty darn close. Prior to the 2011 opener, Terry Labonte's last top-15 finish came back in 2006. Gilliland's Front Row Motorsports three-car organization failed to record a single top-10 last season, but he showed up in the top-five last Sunday. If NASCAR really wanted to level the playing field for the smaller teams, it should run every race at Daytona.
I'm not suggesting that fantasy owners load up on the most obscure drivers possible whenever the series heads to Daytona either. There are plenty of household names that most owners won't use for all of their allowed starts that can be plugged into fantasy lineups. Guys like Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, David Ragan and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all solid drivers, but you aren't going to be upset if they leave a start or two on table for any of them.
No matter what lineup combination you chose to use at Daytona, there is a good chance it is going to end badly. Everyone will be digging out of a hole, but the fantasy owners that save guys like Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick for another day are going to have a leg up on the competition. You shouldn't be upset that you missed out on Trevor Bayne at Daytona, but you should be kicking yourself if you wasted a start from Jimmie Johnson.