Last Updated Aug 25, 2022, 2:39 PM

NASCAR Daytona 500 Picks, Predictions, Odds

The 64th running of the Daytona 500 might be the freshest start to a season we’ve ever seen as NASCAR debuts the Next Gen car which adds more uncertainties than ever before to superspeedway races that already had the randomness of a craps shoot or a roulette wheel. The new car brings more equations to an already difficult process of handicapping the Daytona 500. My first question is how the new engine producing 670 horsepower runs in traffic. I saw a little bit of Tuesday’s practices and it looked like any other year with tandem racing being the quickest around the 2.5-mile high-banked layout.

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DAYTONA 500 PICKS & PREDICTIONS

The new car also has one hub instead of lugnuts so I imagine some strategy of pit stops has been taken away. Cars will be waiting for a full tank of gas while the crew watches the gasman finish for a few seconds. Do we say goodbye to the two-tire pit stop now?

And we also have the car number moved off the door and scrunched up near the front wheel to give more key advertising space on the door. I guess I’ll get used to it, but it does give the new car an identity we’ll remember for much longer than the winged spoiler of the Car of Tomorrow.

One of the selling points of the Next Gen car is that everyone has the same equipment so we could deduce that a bunch of new guys will be running up front on Sunday, right?.

“Temper expectations on that,” three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin said Wednesday. “The quote of level playing field is probably overused. Certainly, probably a tighter box from front to back but again it’s just teams find ways. If you look at single car runs yesterday, the same guys that have been on all of the poles (Hendrick Motorsports) have been the fastest.”
Denny Hamlin has won three of the last six Daytona 500 events. (AP)

So the driver is still going to mean as much as the old car, maybe more? 

“While technically you’re able to put the same parts off of his car on my car and my car on his car, what really has changed?” Hamlin asked. “Well, nothing really except maybe the motor is different and the body is different but they’re significantly faster. You’re still going to have the team’s resources to find a way to make the car faster than the teams that just bolt it together.”

In other words, those that are good on superspeedways, like Hamlin, are still going to be good. And those elite teams with all the money are still going to be elite and spend the money to stay elite with the new car.

DAYTONA 500 BETTING ANALYSIS

But if the racing is expected to be the same as it has then we still have to consider up to 30 of the 40 drivers as contenders to win the race. Michael McDowell won his first career race last season in the Daytona 500 paying out at 65-to-1 odds. 

I’ve got all kinds of new stuff to consider, but in the back of my mind I know who I’m betting and it was the same seven drivers I was thinking before Tuesday’s practices when I got my first glimpse of the teams drafting with the new cars. The Fords had an edge just because their bumpers in front and back line-up better in the draft. 

If you’ve been reading this space for the last 23 years, you know I’m a sucker for a great story. So I had to identify the best possible stories I could find and came up with a few to ponder. Such as Brad Keselowski in his first year as driver/part-owner of RFK Racing. He’ll drive the No. 6 Ford that Ryan Newman drove last season. Roush Fords were always a threat in plate races, but not many other tracks. First year, new team, former NASCAR Cup champion, and never won the Daytona 500.

“I’m excited to see this all come together and happy to get this journey going,” Keselowski said. “Daytona is obviously one of the most special places you will ever race, and for us it is a great opportunity to put our stake in the ground early and right out of the gate. For me, the 500 hasn’t always treated me with the best of luck despite bright moments along the way, so I have that fire now, more than ever, to add a Daytona 500 win to my career list of accomplishments, and can’t wait to get down to Florida soon to get the week started.”

Keselowski has a 2016 summer win at Daytona and six other wins at Talladega Superspeedway. Caesars offers him at 16-to-1 to win Sunday.

DAYTONA 500 BETTING RESOURCES

  • Date: Sunday, February 14, 2021
  • TV-Time: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Venue: Daytona International Speedway
  • Location: Daytona Beach, Florida

I also like the old guys angle as Kurt Busch starts his 23rd Cup season and has a new ride as Bubba Wallace’s new teammate. It seems like yesterday I was watching him win races on the Las Vegas bullring and now he’s on the edge of his career. He has 33 Cup wins and at least one win in each of the last eight seasons. His odds have dropped at Caesars from 20-to-1 down to 17-to-1.

Kevin Harvick enters his 22nd Cup season and is one of the old guys in the series. When he started his first Daytona 500 in 2002, he started against the fathers of three of the starters Sunday – Chase Elliott, Harrison Burton, and Ryan Blaney. He won the 2007 Daytona 500 and wants another as father time is ticking away. 

“The superspeedways, in general, are difficult to have everything line up to get a win out of the weekend,“ Harvick said. “For the Daytona 500, it’s our biggest race of the year, but it’s also the one race a year that you have months to prepare for. Every team in the garage has their most prepared car that shows up at the Daytona 500. On top of that, you have the most aggression and enthusiasm to try to take risks and do things that you normally wouldn’t do to win races because the Daytona 500 only comes once a year, and it can make a year and it can also make a career out of winning that race. I think as you look at the Daytona 500, it’s just different than any other race and it becomes difficult to win because of all the risk-taking that you don’t see on a weekly basis.”

Harvick has only two wins in 41 Daytona starts and is being offered at 18-to-1 odds to win by Caesars sportsbooks. He comes off a no-win season following a series-leading nine wins in 2020. My skepticism with him is that co-owner Tony Stewart stretched his time and money into other racing series and by coincidence, only Aric Almirola had a win among the four SHR Fords.

DAYTONA 500 CONTENDERS

  • Denny Hamlin +850
  • Chase Elliott +1000
  • Kyle Larson +1100
  • Ryan Blaney +1200
  • Joey Logano +1200
  • More NASCAR Futures
  • (Odds Subject to Change)

Kyle Busch winning would be a fantastic story I could buy, is this the year he finally wins the Daytona 500?

“I don’t know if this is the year or not, but we’ll all have to find out together.” Busch said. “It’s been a long time, obviously. I’ve been doing it for quite a while. It’s the last trophy to check off the box. I’ve certainly been close a few times and have been way far away at other times. I feel like the superspeedway thing has not been my knack over the last few years for whatever reason. I’ve been trying to learn on it and watch film and getting better at it in those situations. We had a fast car last year and we had a fast car for all the speedway races. We were up front and leading last year’s race with 15 or so laps to go and had an engine let go. It’s a mix of a lot of luck and some skill, as well. You can be leading going down the backstretch and have someone drill you from behind and crash you, so it’s never over till it’s over and you can get to the finish line and finally put our M&M’S Camry in victory lane there. Our friends at M&M’S have also been trying for years and I’m also hoping we can get it done for them, as well as for myself.” 

Caesars sportsbooks are offering Busch at 16-to-1 odds to win which isn’t too bad for a guy whose both career superspeedway wins came in 2008. And Busch did get to the front in three of the four races between Daytona and Talladega last season but it was only for 15 laps combined as he finished 14th or worse between the four. His last top-five on a superspeedway was second-place in the 2019 Daytona 500.

All those negatives against Busch and yet I could actually see him win his first Daytona 500, and it being a glorious moment.

And of course NASCAR has its own drivers they’d love to win for a marketing campaign. Chase Elliott winning his first Daytona 500 would be big business in attracting new younger viewers but Bubba Wallace winning NASCAR’s biggest race would be off the charts in attracting new fans to the sport.

Elliott was runner-up in the Daytona 500 last season and eighth in the summer race after leading 36 laps. His only superspeedway win was at talladega in the summer of 2019. Caesars has him at 10-to-1 odds tied for the second choice with Kyle Larson.

Larson, by the way, isn’t one of my drivers this week because superspeedways aren’t his thing. No top-fives in 29 starts between Talladega and Daytona. I would need at least 25-to-1 to take a shot.

There is no one Larson should be favored over Wallace in this race because Wallace has shown over his short Cup career that the only places he should be bet is Superspeedways and it all came together in the second half of last season when he was runner-up at Daytona in August and then won at Talladega. The Daytona 500 is the next race up and he’s 16-to-1 to win at Caesars. He is part of my Daytona 500 betting portfolio. 

A quick reminder before I forget: betting driver matchups and props for Daytona and Talladega are not recommended because every driver has a volatility tax attached to them – no one is too high or too low which is why most sportsbooks are offering Hamlin as the 9-to-1 favorite, Justin Haley is 40-to-1 and Greg Biffle is 50-to-1 because anything can happen. A wreck can happen at anytime to anyone. McDowell win last season and Trevor Bayne won in 2011. Hell, Haley won the 2019 fall race at Daytona and has the best average finish there with a 6.6 average finish in three starts. He also won two of the last three Xfinity Series race at Daytona. The best long shot of all might be rookie Harrison Burton at 75-to-1 in the same Wood Bros. Ford that Bayne won with in 2011. 

HANDICAPPING THE DAYTONA 500

Overall, I have to stick with my guys, the guys who have carried me as the best superspeedway drivers. I have to have Hamlin in my mix just because he’s won three of the last six Daytona 500s and has a unique approach to understanding the air and how to make his car faster. New car, means new tricks, but the same air.

Then it’s Joey Logano who has wrecked himself out of contention a few times, including last season when he wrecked teammate Keselowski. But like Hamlin, he understands how to get up front. The 2015 Daytona 500 champ also has three other wins at Talladega. Logano is 11-to-1 to win at Caesars.

How about Logano’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney who won the last race at Daytona in August. He’s won three superspeedway races in each of the last three seasons. He is 12-to-1 to win at Caesars.

William Byron is a new entry into my group of superspeedway guys and he’s 15-to-1 to win. He won the fall summer race at Daytona in 2020 for his only Cup win on a superspeedway. But I see certain skills from him on these tracks that I like. He’s cautious aggressive if that makes sense.

Both Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Christopher Bell are offered at 30-to-1. For Bell, it’s all about being with JGR and him being his best last season in the cars with 750 horsepower on the smaller tracks. The 670 HP package used all season might be better for him on the big tracks because of a better throttle response. Stenhouse’s only two wins came in superspeedway races back in 2017 with Roush Racing, but he knows how to get to the front so I still like him even though his aggressiveness gets him into trouble.

Austin Dillon should be in the mix as usual. He was third in the Daytona 500 last season and he won the 2018 Daytona 500 by punting leader Aric Almirola on the last lap. He’ll wreck his grandma for the win, which is good to know when betting on a driver to win. Caesars has him 25-to-1 to win. Along the same lines, Eric Jones could make some noise for Richard Petty in the No. 43 at 60-to-1 odds.

Drop that green flag and let’s get this party started!

DAYTONA 500
TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION

  • 1) #11 Denny Hamlin (9/1)
  • 2) #22 Joey Logano (11/1)
  • 3) #24 William Byron (15/1)
  • 4) #12 Ryan Blaney (12/1)
  • 5) #23 Bubba Wallace (16/1)

NASCAR CUP SERIES
WEEKLY PREDICTIONS

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