Skip to main content

Fantasy NASCAR: 2021 O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 Driver Rankings

SI Fantasy NASCAR analyst Brian Polking delivers his power rankings for this weekend's O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 from Daytona.

The NASCAR Cup Series is back at Daytona International Speedway for race No. 2 of the 2021 season, but Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 will be a far cry from last weekend's seasoning opening Daytona 500. Instead of using the traditional 2.5-mile oval, the Daytona road course will host the action this around.

The Daytona Roval made its series debut last season, and the same course was used for the Busch Clash when Speedweeks kicked off last week. The wreck-filled, chaotic action that dominated the Daytona 500 will be replaced by pit strategy and well-timed passes. Still, road racing is a unique skill set that benefits certain drivers, and fantasy owners can take advantage to utilize some unconventional lineups.

For anyone playing NASCAR Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, it is never too early to start budgeting your starts and saving your allocations from the top options. A road course shifts the driver hierarchy that we typically see at the non-drafting ovals, which means Sunday's race is a golden opportunity to save some starts while maximizing the value of some mid-tier and sleeper options.

1. Chase Elliott: Elliott has reeled off four straight road course wins, taking the checkered flag in the inaugural race at the Daytona Roval last season. He has five wins and seven finishes of sixth or better in the last eight road course events, leading at leading at least 27 laps in all five victories. Starting from the pole, Elliott is the top option in all fantasy formats this weekend.

2. Martin Truex Jr: He has become one of the top performers at road courses in recent years, finishing seventh or better in eight of his last nine starts. Truex has three wins during that span, and he has finished third or better six times. He spun while leading at the Busch Clash at the Daytona Roval to open the year, and he should be right back in the mix for the win Sunday. A mid-pack starting spot makes him an excellent play in DFS contests and Slingshot.

3. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin led 16 laps in a runner-up effort at the Daytona Roval last year, and he has cracked the Top 5 in three of the last five road course events. He also led a race-high 21 laps at the Daytona Roval during the Busch Clash last week. Hamlin will start in the Top 5 Sunday, and he should be a frontrunner all afternoon.

4. Kyle Busch: He has had some terrible luck at the road courses recently, but he owns four road course wins in his career, and he continues to show plenty of speed. Busch picked up a win at the Daytona road course during the Busch Clash last Tuesday, and at the very least, he should have a Top 5 car Sunday.

5. Ryan Blaney: He has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the top road course drivers, logging seven Top 10s in the last races. Blaney has four Top 5s in the last six road races, picking up a win at the Charlotte Roval in 2018. He had one of the best cars in the Busch Clash at the Daytona Roval last week, and with his Daytona 500 wreck forcing him to start deep in the field Sunday, Blaney is a no-brainer play in Slingshot and should be heavily owned in DFS contests.

6. William Byron: Byron has excelled at the Rovals, finishing sixth, eighth and third in the last three events and leading more than 20 laps in two of those starts. Set to start outside the Top 20, I'll be all over him for cash contests at the DFS sites.

7. Kurt Busch: He has been a steady performer at road courses throughout his career, and he has seven Top 10s in the last 10 races. Busch finished 14th and fourth in the two Roval races last year, and I fully expect him in the Top 10 mix Sunday. Dial him up in any of the season-long contests.

8. Brad Keselowski: While his final results don't jump off the page, Keselowski has been competitive at the road courses. He ranks seventh in points scored over the last 10 events, and he has led laps in all three races at the Charlotte Roval. I wouldn't use up a start from Keselowski in Fantasy Live or the Driver Group Game, but don't be surprised if he is running towards the front this weekend.

9. Alex Bowman: He has been the model of consistency at the road courses since joining Hendrick Motorsports, cracking the Top 15 in all eight of his starts while posting a 9.6 average finish. Bowman has three Top 10s in four starts at the Rovals, logging a pair of Top 5s at the Charlotte road course.

10. A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger is a former road course winner at the Cup level, and he has nine Top 10s in 21 starts, including a seventh-place finish in his most recent start in 2018 at the Charrlotte Roval. He has spent the last couple years dominating road courses at the XFINITY level, logging four wins and nine Top 5s in 11 starts. He will team up with Kaulig Racing this weekend, and I am going to have a ton of exposure to Allmendinger in all formats.

11. Joey Logano: His overall road course numbers have been hit and miss, but Logano has been much steadier at the Rovals, cracking the Top 10 in all four starts and posting a 7.75 average finish. History says he won't lead a bunch of laps or contend for the win, which limits the fantasy appeal of a driver of his caliber, but you can expect a solid final result.

12. Kevin Harvick: Harvick doesn't dominate at road courses, not even close, but he still has seven Top 10s and an 8.3 average finish in the last 10 races. I'm not going to be using a start from him in the Driver Group Game or Fantasy Live, but he should be a Top 10 contender.

13. Kyle Larson: He missed the road course races last season, but across six starts since 2018, he managed five Top 15s, including three Top 10s. Larson also led a combined 52 laps in two starts at the Charlotte Roval. Don't sleep on Larson as a Top 10 threat on Sunday.

14. Michael McDowell: Fresh off his upset win in the Daytona 500, McDowell could keep the momentum going this weekend. After all, road racing is his bread and butter, and he has finished 18th or better in seven of the last 10 events. McDowell has finished 16th or better in three of the last four road races, finishing 12th at the Charlotte Roval in 2019 and 10th in the inaugural race at the Daytona Roval. Starting on the front row, this is a great spot to use McDowell as a sleeper in Fantasy Live and the DGG.

15. Chase Briscoe: Stewart-Haas Racing's road course program has left a lot to be desired in recent years, but Briscoe logged seven Top 10s, including two wins, in 10 road races at the XFINITY level. Keep him in mind as a sleeper this weekend, especially for GPP contests at the DFS sites.

16. Matt DiBenedetto: After flexing some serious muscle at the road courses in 2019, DiBenedetto slipped a bit last year, finishing 15th at Daytona and 22nd at Charlotte. I think he should be able to battle for a Top 15, and since he has to start outside the Top 30, he needs to be on your radar for Slingshot Fantasy Auto and DFS contests.

17. Erik Jones: Jones put together solid numbers at road courses in his tenure with Joe Gibbs Racing. Granted, it remains to be seen what his ceiling will be with the No. 43 team, but starting at the back of the pack, he is well worth the gamble as a DFS sleeper.

18. Chris Buescher: Over the last 10 road course events, Buescher has quietly amassed a 15.1 average finish while cracking the Top 20 in every race. In fact, he delivered a surprise Top 5 at the Daytona Roval last year. From the 30th starting spot, Buescher could be a real X-factor for DFS lineups.

19. Aric Almirola: Almirola hasn't been terrible at the road courses, and in eight starts with Stewart-Haas Racing, he has five finishes of 16th or better. However, his best finish in that stretch is eighth, and he hasn't shown much muscle at the Rovals. I'm expecting a forgettable, mid-pack effort from him Sunday.

20. Tyler Reddick: For not being overly successful by his standards at road courses in lower series, Reddick held his own as a Cup rookie, finishing 18th and 12th, respectively, at the Daytona and Charlotte Rovals. Armed with Top 20 potential and a starting spot outside the Top 25, there's some potential DFS value with Reddick this weekend.

21. Christopher Bell: He had some success at the road courses at the XFINITY level, but in his rookie year in the Cup Series, Bell finished 21st and 24th in two road races. A year of experience and a move to Joe Gibbs Racing should help matters, but I'd recommend taking a wait-and-see approach.

22. Cole Custer: Custer finished 22nd in his road course debut at the Cup level last year, but he finished ninth at the Charlotte Roval in his second start. Per Motorsports Analytics, his crew chief is one of the best in the business at gaining track position at road courses, which could make Custer a sneaky GPP play at DraftKings.

23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: He isn't known as a road racing ace by any means, but you have to give Stenhouse some credit. He has finished 17th or better in the last four events, which includes three Roval races. Stenhouse could challenge for a Top 20 this weekend.

24. Ryan Newman: Newman has had some solid runs at road course races throughout his career, but his numbers have been trending in the wrong direction. In fact, he has finished 32nd, 19th and 31st in the three Roval events. I won't be using him in Fantasy Live, but a starting spot outside the Top 30 gives him some DFS appeal.

25. Austin Dillon: He missed the inaugural race at the Daytona Roval while dealing with COVID-19, but Dillon's overall road course record leaves a lot to be desired. He has a 24.1 average finish in 15 total starts, and he is still searching for his first Top 15. Throw in a Top 5 starting spot, and Dillon can be avoided this weekend.

26. Ross Chastain: Chastain will make his first Cup start at a road course in solid equipment, but his road racing resume in lower series is pedestrian, at best. The move to the No. 42 team should boost his ceiling, but I don't plan to start him. Instead, I'm using Sunday's race as a chance to scout him for the remaining road course events.

27. Ryan Preece: He hasn't been spectacular at the road courses by any means, but Preece has finished 21st, 23rd and 14th in three starts between the Charlotte and Daytona Rovals. He could flirt with a Top 20 Sunday, but a solid starting spot kills his fantasy appeal in any format that includes place differential.

28. Bubba Wallace: The move to 23XI Racing will give Wallace more speed than he has ever had at the Cup level, but I am not sold on his road course skills. The equipment upgrade could cause a major boost in his performance, but I am taking a wait-and-see approach.

29. Ty Dillon: He finished 20th at the Daytona road course last year, and he has finished 23rd or better in all four of his Roval starts. However, his offseason move to Gaunt Brothers Racing is a downgrade in equipment, making a Top 25 the best-case scenario. A horrible starting spot gives him some DFS potential, but Dillon is a GPP flier.

30. Daniel Suarez: Suarez has had some solid road course results, but he finished 27th and 25th in the two races last year for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Driving for a startup team again in 2021, he will be no more than a DFS punt option Sunday.