For the final time this season, and in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Daytona International Speedway, as drivers are set to compete in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola.
The 2 1/2-mile tri-oval really needs no introduction at this point, as it remains NASCAR’s crown jewel. But while you always can bet on Daytona being entertaining, you should expect the unexpected when it comes to restrictor-plate races. Predicting who will succeed in this high-speed, intense race isn’t easy, which is where we come in.
Whether you need help picking an A-List driver who has a shot at winning or an up-and-coming C-List racer who could help steal you some points, we’ve got you covered. Here are the drivers you should give seats to, and the ones you shouldn’t, for Sunday’s race:
Must pick: Brad Keselowski
Keselowski only has one win at Daytona, but he has four wins and 10 top-10s in 17 career races at Talladega Superspeedway, the other restrictor-plate track on the schedule. A case easily could be made that he’s the best plate-race driver in the sport right now.
A lot of people are going with Joey Logano in this race, which makes sense, as he’s raced great here lately. But our money’s on the No. 2 visiting victory lane Saturday.
Stay away: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth’s had an up-and-down year, and we don’t expect this weekend’s race to be one of the high points of his season. In his last six starts at Daytona, Kenseth hasn’t finished in the top 10 once. Furthermore, he’s finished 20th or worse in five of those six races. Look for other A-List options Saturday.
Sleeper pick: Austin Dillon
Dillon’s started in seven Cup races at Daytona, and he’s finished in the top 15 in six of them. He’s been running well lately, and is a sneaky good play for Saturday’s race. We like him as our B-List option.
Value pick: Michael McDowell
If you want to go with rookie drivers Erik Jones or Daniel Suarez, we wouldn’t blame you. But don’t discount McDowell’s career performance at Daytona.
McDowell has cracked the top 15 in each of his last three starts at the track. Furthermore, he’s been a consistently strong performer at Talladega in recent seasons. We’re giving him the C-List nod this week, and you should too.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew O’Haren/USA TODAY Sports Images
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