Fantasy Racing: Daytona Wrap-Up
When Jamie McMurray got the second win of his career Saturday night, he did it in thrilling fashion. He edged Kyle Busch by 0.005 seconds, the second-closest finish since NASCAR began using electronic scoring in 1993. McMurray's victory was even more impressive when you consider he was black-flagged 30 laps into the race for going below the yellow line. He rallied from 35th place to end a streak of 166 races without a win.
McMurray now resides in 13th place in the Nextel Cup standings, and there's no reason to believe he can't build on Saturday night's victory. It has been an up-and-down year for McMurray, yet he has looked very good at times. The win could give him the boost he needs to be more consistent in the next eight races as he vies for a spot in the Chase for the Cup field. McMurray sits only 49 points behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who occupies the precious 12th-place slot.
McMurray has delivered seven top-10 finishes this season, including three top-5s. From the third race of the season at Las Vegas to the ninth at Talladega, McMurray finished in the top 15 in six of seven races. He also took the pole at Sonoma. After a very disappointing 2006, McMurray has put the exclamation point on a rebound year with his Saturday night victory. His fantasy owners should have a lot of confidence in him going forward. Drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin anchor fantasy championship contenders. McMurray is a great supporting driver who ultimately can boost your team to the top.
After his win at Loudon, Hamlin seemed primed for another strong run at Daytona. He was able to start in second after qualifying was rained out, and he led for 10 laps early on. Any hopes he had of earning a second consecutive victory disappeared by Lap 15, though. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart bumped Hamlin from behind, igniting a multicar wreck that sent both drivers to the garage. Hamlin clearly had a contending car Saturday. His 43rd-place showing was the worst of his Nextel Cup career. Look for him to bounce back with a strong outing at Chicagoland next week.
Stewart, who somehow blamed Hamlin for the incident, finished 38th. Although Stewart was a favorite to win the Pepsi 400, frustration continues to mount for him and for his fantasy owners. He has crashed in both Daytona races this year and is still searching for his first victory of the season. Stop hoping for the overdue win and take any top-10 finishes you can get from Stewart the rest of the way.
The list of first-time winners in 2007 soon should include Clint Bowyer. He had one of the best cars on the track Saturday night and led for 55 laps. On Lap 78, Bowyer cost himself a chance to dominate the field for longer when he supposedly hit an ignition switch. He quickly dropped back to 19th place but was able to recover without falling any further in the field. Bowyer finished seventh, his ninth top-10 finish of 2007.
An early crash involving Kasey Kahne and Jeff Green brought out the first caution flag of the race. It also appeared it would ruin yet another day for Kahne, who has been the most disappointing driver in fantasy racing this season. Surprisingly, Kahne dusted himself off and came through with one of his best finishes of the year. Kahne's ninth-place showing was only his second top-10 finish, with both coming at Daytona. He also managed a 12th-place finish at Talladega, the other restrictor-plate track on the circuit. There's no reason to think Kahne will turn things around suddenly after the second Daytona event, but he sure looks good for the next plate race, at Talladega in October.
Mark Martin's surge was one of the top stories in the first few weeks, but he has not been a serious contender to win races in his most recent attempts. His inconsistent scheduling hasn't helped his performance. Martin finished in the top 10 in his first five races of 2007, but he has only a pair of top-10 finishes in the past eight races (with no top-5s in that span). In addition, he has led only one lap in the past six races. Martin finished 17th at Daytona on Saturday night after nearly earning a victory at the site in the season opener. The early luster has worn off, but Martin remains a very good driver and should rebound with some strong outings in the weeks ahead.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.