Fantasy NASCAR: Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona Road Course Driver Rankings

Brian Polking

With the schedule shakeups caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cup Series has yet to have a road course event in 2020. Not only will that change this weekend, but NASCAR’s top series will race on the road course at Daytona International Speedway for the first time.

The 3.57-mile course is very similar to the one IMSA uses for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona event, and while a few drivers have participated in other forms of racing at the track, Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 is going to be a unique experience for most of the field.

From a fantasy standpoint, we obviously have no past results to go one for this particular track. However, we do have plenty of data from the other road courses that are typically on the schedule. The Cup Series has been making stops at Sonoma and Watkins Glen for decades, and the last two seasons, the Charlotte Roval has also been added to the mix.

Certain drivers just seem to excel at road racing, and I expect these same drivers to be tough to beat this weekend. Fortunately, there are several middle-tier drivers who know how to get the job done at a road course, so this should be a good opportunity to save some starts from some of the bigger names in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group.

In fact, I think it is going to be a good idea to shy away from the elite fantasy options. For one, a any new track is going to have an element of unpredictability, and between drivers going off the track on their own and wild restarts, things can really get messy at a road course. We also have to deal with pit strategy causing stage points to be dispersed unexpected ways. Don’t be surprised if a lot of the frontrunners short pit before the end of Stage 1 and potentially Stage 2, forfeiting stage points in favor of track position.

It is great to get a Top 5 finish out of someone like Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. or Denny Hamlin, but if that Top 5 finish comes without any stage points, you really didn’t maximize the value of that start. Don’t be afraid to load up on the mid-tier drivers who happen to be road course studs.

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1. Martin Truex Jr.

Truex has developed into an elite road racer, and over the last 10 road races, he ranks first or is tied for first in wins, Top 5s, Top 10s and laps led. He posted a 3.3 average finish in the three road events last year, picking up a win at Sonoma to give him four road course wins for his career.

2. Chase Elliott

Had he not suffered an engine failure at Sonoma, Elliott may have swept all three road course races in 2019. He settled for wins at Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval, giving Elliott three wins and five finishes of sixth or better in the last six road course events. He should be an elite option in all fantasy formats this weekend.

3. Denny Hamlin

He has a series-best 7.3 average finish over the last 10 road races, scoring the second most points of any driver in that span. Hamlin is tied for the series lead with six Top 5s in that same stretch, cracking the Top 5 in two of the three races last year. As fast as he has been in 2020, I'll be shocked if he doesn't have a Top 5 car this weekend.

4. Kevin Harvick

Harvick is up to a series-leading six wins after his sweep of the Michigan doubleheader last weekend, and while his last road course win came in 2017, he is currently riding a streak of six straight Top 10s in road racing events. Harvick finished seventh or better in all three races last year, and although I don't recommend using him as your Group A pick in the Driver Group Game, I fully expect him to battle for a Top 5.

5. Ryan Blaney

He has quietly been one of the stronger road course performers the last couple of years, posting four straight finishes of eighth or better and notching three Top 5s in that stretch. Blaney has seven finishes of 12th or better in the last eight road races, so he has a solid floor to go with plenty of upside.

6. Kyle Busch

A crash at the Charlotte Roval in 2018 and a mechanical failure at the same track last year big down his recent road course numbers a bit, but Busch still has seven Top 10s in the last 10 road races, including a runner-up effort at Sonoma last season. He is also a four-time road course winner for his career, and while he has been lacking elite speed, his raw talent behind the wheel should shine through at a road course, especially one that is new to the schedule. I expect him to battle for a Top 5.

7. Brad Keselowski

Although he doesn’t have the road course resume of some of the other big names, Keselowski can certainly hold his own. He ranks fourth in points scored over the last 10 road races, posting a 12.9 average finish and notching seven Top 15s in that span. Last year, Keselowski cracked the Top 10 in two of the three road course events. With NASCAR’s new qualifying format, he could be particularly useful for the Slingshot game this weekend because of his wreck last Sunday at Michigan.

8. Clint Bowyer

Bowyer knows how to wheel a car around a road course, and he has really been locked in since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He has finished 11th or better in seven of his eight road races in the No. 14, notching five Top 5 finishes. This should be a great spot to use Bowyer in both the Driver Group Game and Fantasy Live.

9. Kurt Busch

He has been one of the steadiest performers at road courses throughout his career, and Busch owns a 9.7 average finish in the last 10 road races. He has seven Top 10s in that span and just one finish outside the Top 15. He’s a high-floor fantasy option this weekend, and I really like the idea of using him at Fantasy Live.

10. Erik Jones

He’s wasted no time showing off his potential as a road racer, logging five Top 10s in eight career starts and notching back-to-back Top 5s at Watkins Glen. The upside is undeniable, and after a mechanical failure late in Sunday’s race at Michigan, he is going to have to start deeper in the field. Jones should be an excellent option for Slingshot Fantasy Auto and for DFS contests on Sunday.

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11. Matt DiBenedetto

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have huge expectations for DiBenedetto this weekend. After all, he was one of the best at the road courses last year, finishing fourth, sixth and 11th in the three events. He’s in even stronger equipment in 2020, so it is easy to understand my optimism. I have him locked in as one of my Group B picks for the Driver Group Game, and I may even start him in Fantasy Live.

12. Joey Logano

Logano has been in a bit of a slump at the road courses in recent years. His last Top 5 came at Watkins Glen in 2016, and he hasn’t finished better than 10th in his last eight road course starts. You can never completely count out a driver of his caliber, but I don’t expect to use Logano much this weekend.

13. Alex Bowman

While he has been underachieving for much of the 2020 season, Bowman’s road course resume is tough to ignore. He has a 9.5 average finish in six starts in the No. 88, cracking the Top 15 in all of them and logging a pair of Top 5s. Coming off a rough weekend at Michigan, Bowman will have a poor starting spot Sunday. I like his upside at the DFS sites and for Slingshot Fantasy Auto.

14. Aric Almirola

His road course numbers have improved since moving to Stewart-Haas Racing, but he still has a limited ceiling. He has a 14.0 average finish in six starts in the No. 10, and he cracked the Top 15 in all three road course events last year. It isn’t out of the question that he sneaks into the Top 10 Sunday, but I think this is a good spot to leave Almirola on the bench in season-long contests.

15. Jimmie Johnson

He has six finishes of 13th or better in six of the last 10 road course events, including three in his last four starts. On the flip side, his last Top 5 at a road course came back in 2012, so make sure to keep your expectations reasonable. Johnson isn’t going to put a fantasy lineup over the top this weekend, but he should have a respectable run.

16. William Byron

It is hard to know what to expect out of Byron this weekend. He gobbled up stage points and scored the ninth-most points overall in the three road course events last year, but how much of that was based on starting on the front row in all three races? A wait-and-see approach is probably the smartest strategy with Byron this weekend.

17. Michael McDowell

He has a background in road racing, and it shows up on the track. McDowell has managed to provide decent results at the road courses despite mediocre equipment. He has cracked the Top 20 in seven of the last nine races, finishing 16th or better in two of the three races last year. He's my top Group C option in the Driver Group Game this weekend.

18. Chris Buescher

While he isn't a road racing ace, Buescher has reeled off eight straight Top 20s. picking up three Top 15s in that stretch. There is value in his consistency, and since he is scheduled to start in the middle of the pack, Buescher could be a useful low-priced play at the DFS sites.

19. Ryan Newman

Newman’s road course numbers have been trending in the wrong direction, and in addition to just two Top 10s in his last 10 starts, he has finished 19th or worse in five of his last seven road races. Newman should land in or around the Top 20, but I don’t see much upside here.

20. Christopher Bell

Bell downplayed his road course ability while he was in the XFINITY Series, but he had a win and two second-place finishes in the four races last year. Granted, this will be his first Cup start at a road course, but he has plenty of natural talent and a decent starting spot for once. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bell end up in the Top 15.

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21. Tyler Reddick

After pedestrian results at the road courses at the XFINITY level in 2018, Reddick logged Top 5s in all four events in the series last year, posting a 3.5 average finish. I still have modest expectations for the rookie in his first Cup start at a road course, but a Top 20 finish certainly isn’t far-fetched.

22. Cole Custer

He wasn’t a road course ringer in the lower series, but Custer was remarkably consistent. He finished in the Top 10 in all three road races in the Truck Series, and he had nine Top 10s in 11 starts at the XFINITY level. I think Custer will avoid mistakes and challenge for a Top 20.

23. Matt Kenseth

While he had an occasionally strong run at a road course during his prime, the discipline was never Kenseth’s specialty. I don’t see that changing while he is struggling to find a rhythm with the current rules package. I think Kenseth will be looking to keep his nose clean and come away with a mid-pack finish Sunday.

24. Austin Dillon

Dillon has been a useful fantasy option at times this season, but I don’t recommend relying on him Sunday. He has a 24.5 average finish in 14 career road course starts, and he has never even cracked the Top 15. Dillon has actually finished 23rd or worse in his last five road races.

25. John Hunter Nemechek

I’m not sure if Nemechek will make it the finish Sunday, but his attacking style on the track should give him a higher ceiling that a lot of the lower-tier options. He is a former road course winner in the Truck Series, and since he should start deeper in the field, Nemechek could be a sneaky GPP plays for DFS contests.

26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

To his credit, Stenhouse has made small gains at the road courses over the years, but he is still a Top 20 option, at best. He has never had a Top 10 in 16 career road course starts, posting a 24.8 average finish. You won’t want to rely on Stenhouse this weekend.

27. Ty Dillon

He managed a 15th-place finish at the Roval last year, but Dillon finished outside the Top 25 in the other two road course events in 2020, and he has just two Top 20s in eight starts overall. Throw in the fact that he will start in the Top 25, and I don’t see using him lineups this weekend.

28. Bubba Wallace

Wallace has made strides on the track this year, but I still have low expectations for him this weekend. He owns an ugly 28.0 average finish in six career road course starts, finishing 24th or worse in all six races. Slated to start in the Top 20, I can’t even justify using him in DFS contests.

29. Ryan Preece

His rookie year brought lackluster results at the road courses for Preece. He did finish 21st at the Roval, but he ran 29th at Sonoma and had a mechanical issue at Watkins Glen. There’s just not enough upside to take a chance on him in fantasy contests.

30. Daniel Suarez

He has held his own on the road courses, posting a 15.9 average finish in eight starts and finishing 17th or better six times. Of course, all those starts came in elite equipment, something Suarez no longer has at his disposal. However, he does have plenty of place differential points available, making him a potential shot-in-the-dark option for DFS contest.

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