It’s kind of hard to believe it, but we’re officially closing in on the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, as the Daytona 500 is exactly one month away from today. The first race of the season is always an interesting one for NASCAR Fantasy players, as Daytona (along with Talladega) is typically the least predictable tracks on the circuit–which either causes making picks to be a nuisance or very fun, depending on your attitude.
Who are your favorite underdogs for the Daytona 500 this year? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page!
Now, the fun part about the Daytona 500 is that it allows you to roll the dice with your fantasy teams. Looking back at the last race we had here in July of 2019, Justin Haley got the win in his #77 Chevrolet–thanks in major part to rain–which ended up being the only top 20 finish for that team all year (and one just four results better than 30th). My point? Literally any driver in the field is fair game at Daytona and Talladega.
So let’s take a look at some of the underdog drivers for this year’s Daytona 500, particularly the ones that could end up finishing up front in the 2020 Great American Race. After all, we do still have a month until the big day, so might as well talk about something, right?
3 Underdog Drivers to Watch in the 2020 Daytona 500
Corey LaJoie – This guy has to make this list for the simple fact that he drove a race car with his damn face on the hood, Ricky Bobby style…right? Well, here’s the thing: Corey LaJoie was also one of the most valuable Fantasy NASCAR plays on the superspeedway tracks last season. Over the four points-paying races at Daytona and Talladega in 2019, LaJoie posted an average finish of 10.5, which was 3rd-best in the entire series. Perhaps the most impressive thing with that statistic, though, is that he did it with zero top 5s. In other words, he consistently finished well in the wildcard races, including a career-best 6th here at Daytona in the July race that Haley won. Another fun statistic: Corey LaJoie averaged the most DraftKings points per race (56.9) last season, which makes sense since the #32 Ford tends to qualify near the back every week, and a major piece of DraftKings scoring is place differential.
Matt DiBenedetto – New faces in new places… Matt DiBenedetto heads to Wood Brothers Racing this year after getting dumped by Leavine Family Racing (thanks Christopher Bell…) but, honestly, this could turn out well for him. Remember, Paul Menard had some very respectable runs in this #21 Ford last season but was often the victim of weird things happening, such as flat tires and other odd mechanical issues. But while I’m not getting too over-hyped about DiBenedetto heading into the 2020 season, I am excited to see how he does at Daytona and Talladega. Wood Brothers Racing always brings some of the strongest cars to these big superspeedway tracks, and, over the last few years, DiBenedetto has had some awesome performances here at Daytona; in addition to three top 10s in the last six races at this track, don’t forget that Matt led the most laps in the 2019 Daytona 500. With a very strong car and a little luck, this #21 team could legitimately challenge for the win in February. Also, for you stat guys (like me): DiBenedetto had an average running position of 15.3 in the four races at Daytona and Talladega last season, with an average finish of 24.3–a difference of negative 9.0 spots. Only three drivers were worse in that category, which is a great indicator of bad luck but a strong car at these tracks.
Ty Dillon – Mr. Stays Out of Trouble. The more talented Dillon brother is one of those guys that week in and week out is going to avoid the wrecks, and unless he has some major mechanical issue, is going to be good for about a 20th-to-25th-place finish. At tracks like Daytona and Talladega, this type of ability to stay out of trouble is a major advantage, and was a big reason why Ty Dillon had the 2nd-best average finish over the four races at this track in 2019. His 9.3 average was just behind Ryan Newman’s series-leading 7.0 average result. Really, it shouldn’t have been too surprising, though, as Ty Dillon has been running well at Daytona for the last few years. In fact, only two drivers have three top 10s in all four points-paying races at Daytona since the start of 2018: Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman. Over at Talladega, Ty finished 17th and 10th last season.