NASCAR fans will get a Valentine’s Day present this year with the Daytona 500. The first points event of the season is not the official kickoff to the season according to hardcore fans and bettors that will consider the Busch Clash and the Daytona Duels the start of the campaign, but this event has the largest purse of the season and is certainly one of the most interesting races of the year. The Great American Race begins at 2:30 p.m. ET, so you can watch the race and still make those Valentine’s Day dinner reservations. Or, well, you know, a candlelight dinner at home or whatever people are doing during the pandemic. We’ll take a look at the odds from our pals over at MyBookie Sportsbook and handicap the first of three races at Daytona International Speedway for this season.
Denny Hamlin +600
Joey Logano +800
Chase Elliott +900
Brad Keselowski +900
Ryan Blaney +900
Kevin Harvick +1200
Kyle Busch +1200
Kyle Larson +1400
Ricky Stenhouse Jr +1400
William Byron +1400
Kurt Busch +1600
Alex Bowman +1600
Martin Truex Jr +1600
Aric Almirola +1800
Austin Dillon +2000
Ross Chastain +2000
Darrell Wallace Jr +2500
Matt DiBenedetto +2500
Cole Custer +3300
Christopher Bell +3300
Tyler Reddick +3300
Chris Buescher +3300
Chase Briscoe +4000
Erik Jones +5000
Ryan Newman +5000
Michael McDowell +6600
Ryan Preece +8000
Daniel Suarez +8000
Ty Dillon +10000
Timmy Hill +10000
Brennan Poole +12500
Corey Lajoie +12500
Landon Cassill +15000
JJ Yeley +15000
Quin Houff +15000
Garrett Smithley +15000
Reed Sorenson +15000
James Davison +15000
BJ McLeod +15000
As always, the odds are extremely bunched up for the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin is a deserving +600 favorite, but you see a lot of drivers in that +600 to +900 range. The Daytona 500 is like throwing darts. The tapered spacer in the engine caps the horsepower of the cars for safety reasons and often creates a lot of tight racing. Hamlin is the two-time reigning champ. He won last year by 0.014 seconds in a race that had 23 lead changes among 13 different drivers. Back in 2019, only 19 cars out of 40 finished the race because of The Big One on lap 191 right before the end of the race. Hamlin’s win in 2016 was the closest race ever, as he won by 0.010 seconds. This year’s race marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt Jr. His memory and contributions to the sport will be honored prior to the race.

The DIS Double

Next week’s race will also be at Daytona International Speedway, but will be on the Road Course for the Go Bowling 235. We’ll be able to talk more about the road course next week, but the speedway oval checks in at 2.5 miles. There are four turns and a lot of opportunities to pass with the right racing line. The cars are bunched up because of modifications to the car for safety reasons because speeds can really get up there on the long straightaways with what is effectively a superspeedway track. The last three Daytona 500s have needed overtime. Austin Dillon won in Lap 207 in 2018 and Hamlin did the same in 2019. Last year’s race needed 209 laps.

The Field

There are some team changes and some crew chief changes that we wrote about earlier in the week, so check those out that so that you are properly prepared for those with regards to the race. The most notable one is that Kyle Larson is now running the #5 car, formerly the #88 of Alex Bowman, for Hendrick Motorsports. Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe will be full-time Cup Series drivers this season as well. Erik Jones is no longer with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s in the #43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports. Hamlin has won three of the last five of these things, but prior to that, we saw a lot of different winners. Dillon won in 2018. Kurt Busch in 2017. Joey Logano in 2015. Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. Jimmie Johnson in 2013. Matt Kenseth in 2012. Trevor Bayne in 2011. Jamie McMurray in 2010. Kenseth in 2009. A lot of different drivers win at Daytona because The Big One takes away a lot of contenders. Think back to last year. Ryan Newman could very well have won the race before one of the most horrific crashes we’ve ever seen. Newman missed a few races, but ultimately wound up okay, a testament to the safety modifications NASCAR has implemented.

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Daytona Difficulties

Consistently finishing well at Daytona is virtually impossible. Hamlin has three wins in his last five Daytona 500s and his average finish in 30 races on the track is 16.3. That is the best of the full-time drivers with a large sample size. Austin Dillon has an average finish of 15.5 in 15 races. Bubba Wallace has two top-five finishes in seven starts, but nobody is really looking at him as a viable contender here with a move to 23XI Racing. If you are looking for past success here, you aren’t going to consistently find it. If we look at the last 10 Daytona races, Hamlin has those three wins and two additional top-five finishes. His average finish is still just 13.1, which, again, speaks to the nature of this beast. Joey Logano, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch all have three top-five finishes in the last 10 races at Daytona. Hamlin, Logano, Buescher, and Newman all have five top-10 finishes in that span. Michael McDowell and Ryan Blaney have four. The hope is that you can isolate a driver likely to run at or near the front and have a chance, whether the Big One is behind them or in front of them.

Picks

Throw some darts. Spray them around the board here. He only has one win here, but in the last 10 races, Brad Keselowski is second in laps led with 193. That is 70 behind Hamlin, but his price is +900 instead of +600. Blaney is third in laps led with 148 and also +900. Shop around for the best lines like you always should, especially for a race like this. William Byron’s price is probably better than +1400 elsewhere, but he’s got a win here and ran well in the restricted races in the Xfinity Series as well. He does have a new crew chief, though, which could be a hard thing to overcome early in the season. Worse comes to worse, Ryan Newman at +5000 and Michael McDowell at +6600 are decent looks at big prices when a big crash will likely wipe out a large percentage of the field.

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