Daytona 500

There will have been 98 days between the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the green that will wave over Daytona International Speedway. There has been more time to study and prepare for this race than any on the calendar.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. Teams spend hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on finding speed for this single event. They have more practice time at their disposal than for another event.

Those two facts are important to the rank-and-file fan.

They don’t mean a thing for fantasy players. Restrictor-plate, superspeedway races are the most unpredictable during the year; nothing is predictive. While that is true, there are certain indicators that will allow fantasy players to make educated guesses. Drivers at the top and bottom of the order often have patterns that help in their handicaps.

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Welcome to 2017 and the DanBeaver.com Fantasy Magazine

During the off-season NASCAR tossed a couple of curveballs.

Carl Edwards’ unexpected retirement promoted Daniel Suarez to what now promises to be one of the best Rookie of the Year battles since 2006. That comes on the heels of last year’s introduction of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon joined the series four years ago and the number of Young Guns with limited Cup experience is going to make fantasy handicapping difficult.

A few weeks later, NASCAR announced a major restructuring of the points’ system that makes every lap of every race matter. Well, perhaps not every lap, but certainly enough to insure that no one rides around in the back of the pack for any amount of time. Segment points will likely play a role in who wins and loses their fantasy lineup.

More than ever, players need to do their homework.  The DanBeaver.com newsletter returns for its second year as a standalone piece, but many of you have been reading this since it began in 2004 with Yahoo! Fantasy Games.  A few have followed me since 2002, when I became NASCAR.com’s handicapper and that means we are going on our 16th season together.

Thanks to everyone who showed their support last year and I hope you return for another season. We’ve kept the pricing the same for 2017. You can renew your subscription here:  http://danbeaver.com/register/purchase/

Look for the Daytona 500 preview to be available on about the 21st. Until then, we are leaving the 2016 previews up. If you have not downloaded all of them, take a minute to do so because the charts and graphs will be helpful in creating a plan of attack.

Please contact me or Victoria if you have any issues. We are truly grateful to have you as readers.

Ford EcoBoost 400

This is it.

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 22: The Sprint Cup Series Championship trophy (C), XFINITY Series Championship trophy (R) and Camping World Truck Series Championship trophy are displayed at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The last race of the season either represents one final opportunity to overtake the competition or one final chance to have fun. If you were skillful enough to maneuver into a position where you have a legitimate chance to win, the decisions this week are critical.

NASCAR implemented the current knockout-style format in 2014 and since then the four Chase contenders have been predictable in the final race. The cast of characters changed, but a Chaser won and finished second in both races, a third finished either sixth or seventh, while the worst playoff contender finished 16th in 2014 and 12th last year.

Odds are good that the Ford EcoBoost 400 winner will be the champion—and that the second-place driver in the standings will finish between at least second and fifth. A third driver will finish in the top 10 and the fourth will hover around the top 15.

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Can-Am 500k

The rubber match of round three this week comes on one of NASCAR’s great venues. The one-mile flat tracks require a delicate balance of speed and skill. The straights are long enough to require exceptional horsepower and the corners are tight enough to necessitate strong brakes—and it takes a special driver to balance aggression and patience.

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 13: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Pennzoil Ford, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 13, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Twice the size of Martinsville, Phoenix International Raceway does not have the same challenges in regard to traffic, but there are still a lot of similarities. Drivers have to back up the corner and ease into the turn so they can maximize the exit. The difference between charging a turn or easing into it can be a matter of a few feet, but the momentum that either creates or destroys is felt all the way around the track. In NASCAR tenths of a second in clean air can make a huge difference in performance.

The Can-Am 500k is the third and final race during the Chase on a short, flat track, so fantasy owners have some recent records to consider. Look first to how drivers performed on the other one-miler of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. If a racer was strong there and at Martinsville two weeks ago, they should be highly regarded. Next, look to the fall Richmond International Raceway event and the rest of the short, flat track season on these four tracks. Then consider how well a driver performed in the Good Sam 500k this spring and their overall Phoenix record.

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AAA Texas 500

The AAA Texas 500 is the last of 10 races held on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season.

DALLAS, TEXAS - MARCH 30: The new Checkered Past beer is unveiled during the Texas Motor Speedway Media Day at Gilley's Dallas on March 30, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Homestead-Miami Speedway is also a 1.5-miler, but its unique shape often keeps it from getting lumped in with the other, so-called “cookie-cutter” courses. For purposes of handicapping, we normally look at Texas Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway as the doglegged or double-doglegged 1.5 milers/. We occasionally toss in the two-mile Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway for good measure.

Yes, yeah, yeah… Every track is unique, but that is a concern only for the drivers. These 1.5-milers are similar enough in terms of what they require from teams that the same cast of characters tends to dominate the front of the pack.

No one has swept the top 10 on this course type in 2016, but there are still some standouts. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have top-fives in more than half the first nine races, while a few others have top-10s in all but two events. These drivers are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch. Martin Truex Jr. has perfect record of top-15s on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks—as does the elder Busch brother.

On this track type, it pays dividends to top load with talent. Lightly-funded teams do not have the resources for hours of wind tunnel testing or complicated simulations. They have good, but not always the best, engineers and a little loss here and there combine for a big deficit.

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Goody’s Fast Relief 500

MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's 75th Anniversary Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Martinsville is one of the short, flat tracks. While they vary in length, Richmond International Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway all share a similarity. In order to go fast on these tracks, drivers have to ease into the turns and accelerate at the apex. That was true last month in the Bad Boy Off Road 300 in New Hampshire and it will be the case two weeks from now in Arizona.

With three short, flat track races in the Chase, skill on this course type is imperative to winning the Championship on par with the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Round three is significant because two of the short, flat track events can be found there—just as round two had a pair of “cookie-cutter” races. In between Martinsville and Phoenix, NASCAR visits the final similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track of Texas Motor Speedway. Despite being 1.5-miles in length, Homestead-Miami Speedway’s shape is unique and makes the Ford 400 inimitable.

Martinsville is also a short track. Along with Richmond, fantasy owners can look for inspiration to Bristol Motor Speedway. The high, progressively contoured banks on that track are certainly different than the 12 degrees of banking faced this week, but on both courses racers have to navigate heavy traffic.

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Hellmann’s 500

Simple math reveals that only 12.5 percent of this week’s field can earn a top-five; 37.5 percent will finish in the top 15 so the competition for those spots in intense.

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 01: Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 1, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Drivers will do almost anything to earn one of those positions. That includes trying to occupy the same piece of real estate as their competitor. Instead of mathematic, physics applies here: no two objects can occupy the same place at the same time. When they try, something catastrophic occurs. Since practically every car running on the track is in one big pack, the likelihood of an accident impacting one’s entire roster is in the 90 percent range.

On several occasions, an accident at Talladega has affected 50 percent or more of the active field, which means that unless one is incredibly lucky, half of one’s fantasy roster is going to sustain some damage.

There are steps that can be taken to minimize the destruction once a “Big One” erupts. Some drivers and teams have a knack for keeping their cars running with dented sheet metal, but races at Talladega and Daytona are really about luck and very little else.

These fantasy contests employ a strategy that does not get used elsewhere. Since a mid-priced driver has just as much likelihood of scoring the victory as the most expensive driver in the game, it does not make any sense to spend freely at the top. Kevin Harvick has one win at Talladega, but then again so does David Ragan.

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Hollywood Casino 400

They say you can’t go home again, but NASCAR has already been to Kansas Speedway this May. That race came on the heels of Talladega SuperSpeedway’s Geico 500 and two weeks after the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Hollywood Casino 400 comes in the wake of an extremely volatile Bank of America 500 and before what is certain to be an equally uncertain Alabama 500 at Talladega.

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 07:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Freight Toyota, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford, wreck during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 7, 2016 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Last week, the 12 current Chase contenders posted an average finish of 18.2. That was their worst performance as a group in their last 44 attempts dating back to 2011. Five Chasers finished outside the top 30 and it has been a long time since that happened. The problem is that Kansas has an even worse race in their history as a Chase venue.

In 2007, six Chasers in a 12-car field finished outside the top 30; one other finished 29th. The good news is that the biggest incident that week was cause by a driver who is no longer racing and w

as at the end of his career at the time. Michael Waltrip triggered a mid-race pileup on the backstretch late in the LifeLock 400 under dark and gloomy skies.

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Bank of America 500

The Bank of America 500 and next week’s Hollywood Casino 400 will be the eye of the coming storm for several drivers. Two of them are likely to win in the coming weeks, so they can head to Talladega SuperSpeedway without worrying about the seemingly inevitable Big One crash.

CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 29: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Toyota, takes the checkered flag during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

 

Of the eight drivers who will advance into round three, six of them will qualify on points. Anything can happen on the restrictor-plate, superspeedway. Drivers can only do the next best thing and that is run as well as possible on courses where skill instead of luck dictates the finish. Earning enough points at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway means that some of the pressure is off at Talladega. A 15- or 20-point cushion is not enough if eight or more Chasers survive the carnage, but it could be the difference between advancing or falling out of the playoffs if the number is anywhere south of the cutline.

Of course it does not always work out that way. Last year, Denny Hamlin finished fourth at Charlotte and second at Kansas, but he could not survive ‘Dega and was eliminated. Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick’s second-place finish at Charlotte an 16th at Kansas gave him just enough cushion that a 15th at Talladega was enough to advance to the next level. One must get all they can while they can.

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Citizen Soldier 400

 

DOVER, DE - MAY 15:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John's Chevrolet, and Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, take the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway on May 15, 2016 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Dover stands alone. There are no real comparatives for this track since Bristol Motor Speedway began monkeying with the top groove and added progressive banking.

 

Although it is not defined by them like Talladega SuperSpeedway, Dover is prone to “Big One” crashes with a narrow backstretch that can get clogged by an accident soon after a restart.

No one is absolutely safe except for Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick, and only three could finish worse than 15th and still breathe relatively easy. Kez, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth would need a combination of multiple bad factors to fall out—but wasn’t the same thing true of Jimmie Johnson last year before the AAA 400?

One minor mistake is all it will take and that does not have to come from the driver himself. If one of the spoilers pushes too hard trying to get a top-10 and clips a car exiting turn two, the resulting melee could move the Chase race to the garage as multiple playoff contenders battle to see who can repair their car the fastest to stay ahead of their stricken competitors. Meanwhile, McMurray and Austin Dillon are only five points out of contention and they could sail toward the front.

Suddenly NASCAR’s unique formula of having non-playoff drivers in the same event as the contenders makes a very big difference—not because they are more likely to make a mistake (which they are), but because of the separation they add between a 20th-place finish and another Chaser who scores a top-10.

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