For the NASCAR bettor, there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing fair odds listed by a sportsbook on a race with a theoretic hold of less than 30% -- well, maybe actually winning is better, but the fair odds treatment gets my juices flowing before the event even starts. That’s why I was beaming on Tuesday when I saw the odds released by the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book for this week’s race at Daytona; no driver was listed at lower than 10/1.
The three co-favorites this week at 10/ 1 are Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and Kevin Harvick with four others listed at 12/1, and then three others at 15/1 before getting into the 20 to 1 range. There is a lot of value this week, but unlike most of the non-restrictor plate races this season, it truly is a crap shoot which is why the generous odds are plentiful.
What a transition we have seen in restrictor plate races in just a mere two seasons. For almost a decade, the restrictor plate races offered some of the lowest odds on the favorites because they became so predictable -- almost more so than road course races with Jeff Gordon when he was dominating. Between the run DEI had with Dale Earnhardt Jr and Michael Waltrip and Hendrick Motorsports with Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and even Brian Vickers, it was fairly easy to predict which led to the odds being very short.
You could pretty much just pick a Chevy to win at Daytona and be in good shape because from the fall of 1992 to the Daytona 500 of 2007, a Chevy had won 22 of 30 races at Daytona. Beginning in the fall of 2007, we saw a massive switch in power that began the trend of uncertainty and led to such fair odds being given by the sports books for restrictor plate races. In the six races run since then, we have seen two different Fords and Toyotas win, a Dodge, and a Chevy win. The Chevrolet drought ended this year with Jamie McMurray winning this year’s Daytona 500.
McMurray is listed at 15/1 this week and is the only driver in the last six Daytona races to have won twice, having done so in Roush Ford and a DEI Chevy. If mixing in Talladega, where McMurray won last year in a Ford, you could argue that McMurray currently is the best restrictor plate driver in the series now. Following up his Daytona 500 victory this year, McMurray went to Talladega this year and nearly won, but settled for runner-up.
Dale Earnhardt Jr hasn’t won a race in over two years and even then, that Michigan race he won with fumes, a race he basically stole, could be considered a marginal win. We’d have to go back to 2006 to find a quality win for Earnhardt Jr. It’s hard to forget the past with Junior though, especially in plate races where he won seven times on the combined tracks of Talladega and Daytona. No one sees the air in the draft quite like Junior. It’s almost like he has that gene passed down from his father who was arguably the greatest restrictor-plate driver of all time, even though he repeatedly said he hated racing with the plates on.
This week, Junior comes in with his best streak of the season as he makes a steady climb into the top-12. He’s only three points out of 12th-place. Junior has had the three best consecutive runs of the season coming in and now gets to race on a track that has his only top-five run of the season. During the season opening Daytona 500, Junior made a late charge and finished second. He’s listed at 12/1 odds this week and based on what we saw earlier this season, he looks like a good play.
I know it’s hard to bet on a driver who has only one win in four years, but this looks like his time shine. For the first time since Daytona, Junior finally seems to have the mindset and body language of being focused and somewhat rejuvenated because of his teams’ recent success. He’s no longer the “aww geez, shucks, I don’t know happened” Junior, He’s the positive vibe Junior looking to make the Chase.
Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart have won two restrictor plate races each since 2008, one each at Daytona and Talladega. Stewart won this race last year with his new team while winning at Talladega driving for Joe Gibbs. Over his career, Stewart has won three times in the July Daytona race while never winning the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch has had the best combined race set-up for each of the plate races since he’s been with Joe Gibbs beginning in 2008. He’s had a lot of bad luck in between the wins, including his aggressive run-in with Stewart just before the finish line that sent him into the wall.
Kevin Harvick is currently the leader in points, but the name of the game once the Chase starts is beginning with the most wins. Currently, Harvick only has one win and would see his lead evaporate once the Chase starts. He‘d be behind Denny Hamlin and Johnson who have five wins each and the Busch brothers who each have two wins. His motivation this week should be that this is likely his best opportunity to get a win of the nine races remaining because he has always been so good in plate races. He won the 2007 Daytona 500 and won at Talladega earlier this season.
Jeff Gordon is six time winner at Daytona but hasn’t had a top-five finish since this race in 2007 when he was fifth. In four of his last five Daytona starts, Gordon has finished 26th or worse which is hardly the type of results we expect from someone, and a team, that had been so dominant in plate races over the last decade.
Jimmie Johnson rode the Hendrick gravy-train while things were good within their plate program that included getting two plate wins in 2006. Since that win in 2006, it’s been all down hill for Johnson as he’s only had one top-five in the eight Daytona races since. The lone Daytona bright spot was collecting a runner-up finish in this race last year, a favorable finish position considering it was Kyle Busch who crashed himself out of a second-place finish.
A driver that may have some value this week is one that has never won a plate race. Kurt Busch has come close several times and is regarded as the best driver in NASCAR to never have won a plate race. He always seems to lead laps and be one of the few trusted drivers that others feel confident drafting with. He’s had four straight top-five finishes in the Firecracker and sooner or later, he is finally going to break through with that big win. 15 to 1 odds for a driver that always seem to be around the lead pack makes him someone that should be a part of most betting equations for Saturday night’s race.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (12/1)
2) #29 Kevin Harvick (10/1)
3) #1 Jamie McMurray (15/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
5) #2 Kurt Busch (15/1)