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Daytona 500 Preview
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in action, the Joe Gibbs Toyotas look strong and Team Penske has the restrictor-plate momentum. Those are just some of the top storylines as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicks off its 2017 season Sunday with the 59th running of the Daytona 500.

So drop that green flag and let's get this party started, but first let's explore a few notes that can hopefully help assist before dropping a few bucks at the sports book.

DAYTONA 500 EDGE IS WITH BOOKS

Sure it's been a long off-season and sports books are offering dozens of Super Bowl style props, but don't get carried away and over extend yourself. It's only one race and the edge rests with the book as it does with all restrictor-plate races at Daytona at Talladega because it’s a crap shoot. Almost any of the 40 cars has a chance to win because the plates make them more equal than any of the other types of tracks.

You can look at all the past history of Daytona or Talladega to get a read on what drivers fare well, but the volatility of those tracks make it more possible for a driver you wagered on to get caught up in a massive random wreck. It's less likely to happen on a track like Las Vegas or Phoenix, and you also don't have the quality edge of reading relevant practice times like you would on those tracks.

Practices are usually the final equation to nailing down three of four drivers to win, but at Daytona the practices mean little and qualifying means little. Daytona qualifying is set with single lap times which don't equate to anything on race day and the practices are times captured within the draft which don't fully detail the true measure of individual car speeds like those at Phoenix.

Example: When looking at practice speeds and see someone like Paul Menard with the second fastest lap, you don't know if he's really that fast or if he's the product of being in the draft with Earnhardt Jr. or Kyle Busch.

All that uncertainty in the betting process gives the sports book the edge which is why I usually reduce my wagering bankroll with more emphasis placed on odds to win between five or six drivers and less on the matchups and props. However, while I say that, I often find myself getting caught up in the Daytona 500 hype and extend myself more than intended. It's not smart, but sometimes I like rolling the dice when the odds are stacked against me. It's more about being starved for NASCAR action after hibernating for two months.

REST OR RUST FOR JUNIOR?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has two Daytona 500 wins and is the active leader with 10 restrictor-plate wins over his career which is part of the reason why he's the favorite to win Sunday, where he starts on the front row alongside teammate Chase Elliott.

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But as a bettor, you have to wonder how the psyche of Junior will be after missing the final 18 races last season with a concussion and also missing Sunday's Clash. In baseball, when a pitcher comes off the disabled list he's usually a good bet-against. Earnhardt talked to the media about his approach going into the race.

“Of course I’m human, and I’m going to be concerned and worry and (take) precautions, and so forth,” he said. “But to be able to win the qualifying race, and to be able to win the Daytona 500, you’ve got to race with no fear. I know that when I get in the car, I can’t have any concerns. I can’t have any worry or fret, or I’ll drive completely different.

"I know what result I can get driving with no fear, and I know what kind of result I’ll get if I go out there with even a sliver of apprehension. I won’t be able to go out there and win the race. Once you second-guess yourself one time, it snowballs, and it just continues throughout the rest of the race."

William Hill sports books have his ‘over-under’ finish position at 6.5 (OV -135) which is the lowest number in the field.

ISSUES WITH THE CHAMP AND HENDRICK?

Reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson failed to finish the Clash at Daytona for the sixth straight season, which has me a little weary about wagering on the two-time Daytona 500 champ as well as his teammates. On two separate occasions Sunday he spun out and it was at the same spot.

“Just off of Turn 4," Johnson said after the race. "The sun certainly sits on that edge of the track a little bit harder than anywhere else. We will take some notes and learn from those mistakes and apply that to the 500 car.”

Hendrick teammate Earnhardt Jr. was in the broadcast booth calling the race and eluded that both he and teammate Elliott had the same problem with sticking around the turn in last season’s Daytona 500 where he finished 36th and Elliott finished 37th. So the question is whether or not the team can make the appropriate changes.

“I would have to assume that it’s relative to the height of the rear spoiler,” Johnson said. "When there is less air and the air is so turbulent back there, the spoiler is so small it’s real easy to get the pressure off of it, and then the back just rotates around. We can adjust rear shocks, rear ride height and try to get more pitch in the car in a sense to keep the spoiler up in the air longer.”

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has Earnhardt Jr. posted as the 5/1 favorite, Johnson at 10/1, Elliott at 12/1 and Kasey Kahne at 30/1 odds.

TOP MANUFACTURER

The effect of the Hendrick cars slipping and sliding makes the entire team less attractive, which in turn makes Chevrolet less attractive to win the race. William Hill sports books have Chevrolet as the +115 favorite over Ford (+220) and Toyota (+240) in the three-way prop to win the race. The pool of Chevy drivers has also been depleted with Stewart Haas Racing moving over to Ford this season.

Ford won three of the last four plate races last season and Logano won Sunday at the Clash. When adding in the quality SHR drivers who always fare well in plate races like Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer, the best value in this prop is definitely Ford.

However, I love the way all of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers fared during the final Clash practice Friday and also during the race. They we're 1-2-3-4 on the time charts in drafting practice and they stayed that way for most of the final 50 laps during the Clash. What was so impressive about them during the race is that they maintained such an edge on much older tires than eventual winner Logano and his Penske teammate Keselowski.

Chevrolet has 23 Daytona 500 wins followed by Ford with 14. Toyota had its only win last season.

PASSING DIFFICULT

The low line is where all the drivers want to be and it was on display in Sunday's clash where passing on the outside was almost impossible. Get out front and stay out front will be the goal for every driver. The cars this season are basically the same as the past two years. William Hill has posted a prop with number of drivers to lead a lap at 13.5. Last season there 20 lead changes among 15 different drivers with Hamlin leading four times for a Daytona 500 record 95 laps.

Also, there were six cautions last season and William Hill has the number set 9.5. The last nine races at Daytona, including the summer race, have stayed Under 9.5 cautions.

QUALITY LONGSHOT?

Being from Las Vegas, I always have a special allegiance to my Vegas guys and this year I get three of them in the Daytona 500 with Brendan Gaughan making the race on speed during qualifying to join Kurt and Kyle Busch. This is the only Cup race Gaughan will run all season, and he'll be driving the car that Michael McDowell finished 15th with in last season’s Daytona 500. He'll be using his regular Richard Childress Racing Xfinity Series pit crew.

"The only reason I said yes to driving the car was because of the plate racing phenomenon where anything can happen and also because of the huge motor -- that motor was a big factor, " Gaughan said Monday morning. "I'm looking to show everyone (the other drivers) on Thursday during the Twins how big of a motor the No. 75 has."

Gaughan is definitely going to need some help from the other drivers trusting to follow him during Sunday's race so he's going to try and make friends in the Thursday's Can-Am Duels where he starts 17th in the first race.

"We'll push some people (in the draft), and some of them will push me and others will hang me out to dry, but they need to know how big of a motor we have and that the 75 can help them out on Sunday," Gaughan said.

He's 250-to-1 to win the race, and while I'm biased, I also refer back to the 'anything can happen' theory in plate races where I've seen Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and Brad Keselowski all win with underfunded teams paying at long odds in the past eight years. If he survives a couple of the pile ups creating a reduced field, gets some help, and a little luck...why not?

DILLON CONSISTENCY

It's always awesome seeing the No. 3 in action at Daytona and Austin Dillon (30/1) has shown total respect for the car number history by being at his absolute best at Daytona. In his six Daytona races since the famed number was brought back in 2014 he's averaged an 8.5 average finish which is better than any other active driver. Earnhardt Jr is No. 2 with a 13.6 average in 34 starts.

WHERE TO WATCH IN LAS VEGAS

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the premiere sports viewing experience in town with its $10 million renovation project that was completed last season and they have informed me that they'll have the Daytona 500 displayed on one of their massive movie screens with the race featured as the main event with sound blaring throughout the book. There isn't a bad seat in the house.

MY ROLL OF THE DICE

After everything I've seen the past two seasons of plate racing and also last week’s Clash, I'm sticking with Joe Gibbs Racing to win this race with the best value offered being Denny Hamlin at 11/1 odds. He finally paid off for me at 12-to-1 in a dominating performance last season, so part of it is loyalty, but the other part is flat out consistency. In his last five Daytona 500's he finished first, fourth, second, 14th and fourth. I was also very impressed with how good he ran on old tires during the Clash and I also believe he has the best support among quality teammates within the Gibbs stable.

TOP 5 FINISH PREDICTION - Daytona 500:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (11/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (13/2)
4) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)

CAN-AM DUEL - RACE 1 PREDICTION:

1) #2 Brad Keselowski (4/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/1)
3) #20 Matt Kenseth (7/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (5/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)

CAN-AM DUEL - RACE 2 PREDICTION:

1) #14 Clint Bowyer (15/1)
2) #41 Kurt Busch (12/1)
3) #3 Austin Dillon (15/1)
4) #31 Ryan Newman (18/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (5/2)

Odds Subject to Change

  
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