Coke Zero 400 Preview
July 2, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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It's too bad the USA soccer team didn't advance because that would have been one heck of a way to celebrate the Fourth of July with Americans waving flags throughout the weekend, but we still have our good old reliable American traditions with baseball and NASCAR. And unlike soccer where everyone around the world celebrates, both baseball and NASCAR are unique to the states. It's ours, an American tradition and I like it that way.
This weekend we have the second race of the season at Daytona International Speedway, and when including the early May race at Talladega, Saturday night's race will be the third of four races run on restrictor-plates during the season. This is where just about every driver starting has a legitimate chance at winning.
Okay, maybe only 38 of the 43 drivers have an opportunity at winning which makes the odds much more bunched together. Last week at Kentucky, the LVH Super Book had Jimmie Johnson at 4-to-1 odds. This week at Daytona, he's bunched together as the second choice to win with seven other drivers at 12-to-1.
On the same note, last week David Ragan was part of the 'Field' at 300-to-1. This week he's 75-to-1, which are extremely low odds only because he's proved himself twice on retsrtictor-plate tracks. The only two wins of his career have come on these type of tracks when the playing field is leveled.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 in February, his first plate win since 2004. We've already seen Junior win twice this season, the same amount he had won for Hendrick Motorsports from 2008-13. He's had nine top-5 finishes this season through 17 races and it's because of that overall success, along with his Daytona 500 win that he is the 10-to-1 favorite this week.
While I like Junior to have a great run on Saturday night, the driver I think presents the greatest value of all is Denny Hamlin, who is one of the eight drivers listed at 12-to-1.
Hamlin has dominated the plate season so far, which also includes the events during speedweeks prior to the Daytona 500. Hamlin came running at full speed when the first green flag dropped in the Shootout and then also won one of the two Duel qualifiers. He finished second to Earnhardt Jr. in the 500 and then won at Talladega. That's four competitive races (only two were point races) and three wins with the only race he didn't win being a runner-up.
Why should we expect anything to be different this week? The Joe Gibbs Racing program has been strong the past two seasons. Matt Kenseth led the most plate race laps in 2013 (didn't win any of those races, though) and now Hamlin has been cashing in big time.
Next to Hamlin, the other great value is Greg Biffle who finished eighth in the 500 and second to Hamlin at Talladega. Biffle actually led the most laps at Talladega in May and he also won the summer Daytona race in 2003. Roush Racing has been very strong in plate races over the past decade. It's where we've seen Jamie McMurray win a couple times, along with Ragan and Matt Kenseth.
Biffle is 20-to-1 this week, and while Carl Edwards (20/1) has never won in a plate race, he's been very good on them and a case could be made for him as well. Edwards never won on a road course until this season, either.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
2) #16 Greg Biffle (20/1)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (10/1)