Stewart, Kurt Busch favored as NASCAR hits Daytona

Publish date:

Independence Day weekend is usually one filled with food, fun and fireworks. Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway should provide all that and more, especially the fireworks. While fans at the track and watching at home get to kick back with a cold one and enjoy the festivities, for the 43 drivers behind the wheel Saturday night is about anything but relaxing. It will be 400 miles of door-to-door, white knuckle action under the lights as they battle each other and the ever present threat of "The Big One". Add in the new double-file restart rule and the fireworks during the race might be just as hot and bright as the ones that will fly when someone survives the night to celebrate in victory lane.

For fantasy team owners, the four races on plate tracks can be just as unnerving. But just like the drivers behind the wheel need to know which lane to pick to go faster, owners behind the keyboard need to know which drivers to pick that will rocket them up their league standings. So which drivers will shine brightly on your team and which ones will be a dud? Read on to find out this week's favorites, sleepers and longshots.

Kurt Busch -- Only one driver has finished in the top 10 in each of the three Daytona races run with the new car configuration -- Kurt Busch. Currently fourth in the standings, Busch is rejuvenated this year. He has one win at Atlanta earlier this year but a second win would be a big bonus when the Chase field is set in two months. With top 10s in both plate races this year, Busch is quickly proving himself to be one of the best plate racers on the circuit.

By the numbers: Don't be discouraged if Busch doesn't qualify well Friday afternoon. He has come from 36th or worse twice at Daytona to finish in the top 5.

Tony Stewart -- During his career, Stewart has earned a reputation as a late bloomer. Running well early in the year, but not really turning up the heat until the second half of the season. This year, Stewart has bucked that trend. He enters this week's race as the point leader and has a series leading nine top 5s and 13 top 10 finishes. Stewart has a flair for the exciting and what better stage to grab his third victory at Daytona than under the lit up Fourth of July sky?

By the numbers: Both of Stewart's Daytona wins have come in July race and in the three CoT events, he has two top-10 finishes.

Matt Kenseth -- After opening the season with two straight victories, Kenseth has gone quiet. But look for him to make some noise this weekend as he tries to back up his Daytona 500 victory with the yearly sweep. Kenseth's 500 win may have caught some off guard, but he has come into his own at Daytona in recent years, posting top 10 finishes in five of the last eight races run there. Currently tenth in the standings, Kenseth has the extra motivation this weekend to work on keep his position in the Chase.

By the numbers: Kenseth has finished in the top 10 in the last four July Daytona races, including a third in this race last year.

Reed Sorenson -- If you're looking for someone outside the norm to round out your roster for Daytona, take a second look at Sorenson. The current car configuration has been run at three times at Daytona and in those three races, Sorenson has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 12. Don't worry about his starting position. In that same three race span his average finish is 26th, meaning he can stay out of trouble and get you the strong finish that you're looking for from a driver in Sorenson's position.

By the numbers: In seven career starts at Daytona, Sorenson has never failed to finish a race.

Brad Keselowski -- Part-time drivers can be a bang or bust for your fantasy team. In Keselowski's case, he's likely to bring a big bang. His unlikely win at Talladega was seen by many as a flash in the pan, but he's followed it up with two more top 10 finishes in his next two starts on the Sprint Cup side. Owner James Finch has a long history of bringing competitive equipment to the plate tracks and the young driver from Michigan has shown he knows how to get the best out of it.

By the numbers: In the Nationwide Series, Keselowski has three Daytona starts and an average finish of 14.3; including one top 5.

Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson -- Currently second and third in the point standings, Gordon and Johnson are two of the top contenders for the Chase this year. Both have visited victory lane this year and both are previous winners at Daytona. So why stay away from them at Daytona? In the three races held at DIS in the CoT both drivers have been shut out of the top 10. Gordon's average finish in those three races is 27.3 while Johnson's is just slightly higher at 27.0. Plus there are plenty of other tracks where these drivers are much more likely to score you a top 5 or win -- save them.

By the numbers: Johnson's best finish in the CoT at Daytona was a 27th place in February 2008, while Gordon's best is a 13th in this year's Daytona 500 to go with his two finishes of 39th and 30th.

Next up: The Sprint Cup Series pays a visit to the Windy City for the 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Looking for a new, exciting way to spend your race day? Head over to each race day for our live blog featuring live race reports and analysis, along with interactive fans polls and trackside news from some of your favorite Frontstretch columnists.

Join us this Sunday at 7: 30pm ET for a great addition to your race day experience!