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Daytona 500 Preview

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For those of those us that were starving for any type of NASCAR action through a January with no testing, we sure had our cravings satisfied over the weekend with a wreck-filled Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 qualifying. Sure, we can all say we don’t like crashes and that only the feeble-minded are attracted to the sport because of it, but come on, we’ve been waiting for anything NASCAR for so long and they showed up with a literal bang.
What I learned the most over the weekend was that I didn’t need to learn that much because the cars ran almost exactly like last season. That was my biggest fear coming into the season without preseason testing -- the uncertainty. And while you can never be certain about any restrictor-plate racing because of the volatile nature, we can be certain there is nothing new that will throw us for a loop like tandem racing did a couple years ago.
We can almost say the racing is a continuation of 2014 and that was confirmed when we saw Joe Gibbs Racing finish first and third in the Sprint Unlimited and Hendrick Motorsports put two of their cars on the front row during Daytona 500 qualifying. Last season JGR won the Sprint Unlimited and both Budweiser Duel races as well as the first Talladega race while HMS won the Daytona 500 with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Despite having a good read on who has the competitive advantage, it stills means very little in the grand scheme of things because things happen so fast at Daytona where one lap you’re leading and the next lap you’re involved in a 14-car pile up.
Because of that volatile nature, you don’t want to go crazy with wagers. Yes, we’re excited because racing is back, but you also have to be realistic and play the percentages. Next week in Atlanta following practices, the odds are in your favor because the top drivers will hold more true to their rating where you’ll start with maybe eight drivers that present the best value at the beginning of the week, and then you‘ll narrow it down to maybe four or five after final practices and then have a great shot at showing a profit for the week. For Daytona, even though we’re all excited about it being the first real race of the year, you should be betting only half of what your normal weekly NASCAR bankroll is.
There will be 43 drivers starting in Sunday’s race and 35 of them have a legitimate shot to win. Next week in Atlanta, there are only 15 drivers that a legitimate case can be made for. Translation: Daytona odds favor the sportsbooks, which is why most are willing to give double-digit odds to win on all of them. You won’t see a favorite as high as 10/1 odds on any other non-restrictor plate track like Earnhardt Jr. is this week at the Westgate SuperBook.
This week, we get some kind of NASCAR racing almost every day up until Sunday. There will be two practices on Wednesday, a practice Thursday and then two Budweiser Duel qualifying races later that night, which wagering will also be offered. Friday there are two more practices then final practice Saturday and then the Great American Race on Sunday. That’s quite a bit of action to take in for one week after being starved for so long.
My betting strategy is pretty simple here. I’m not betting it like a normal race, but the wagers will be spread across a few of the Joe Gibbs drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski (12/1) in both matchups and odds to win. Because it’s Daytona, I’ll also throw in a couple of long shots like Greg Biffle at 35/1 and Paul Menard at 50/1. We’ve seen the likes of Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and Aric Almirola cash in a odds of 50/1 of higher at Daytona in recent years, so it’s not a bad idea to take a shot with one or two drivers with long odds.
A driver I have had some good luck picking against in Daytona matchups over the years has been Jimmie Johnson. I actually had him to win the 2006 Daytona 500 as my main driver, and I was burned by going against him in 2013 when he swept the season, but I've had more success on the track betting against the No. 48. He's finished 20th or worse in seven of his last 10 Daytona races -- including the summer 400 mile event. There aren't too many matchups in NASCAR plate races where you can say there is value, but Johnson has proven to be a good bet against.

(editor's note - 9:44pm ET - 2-21-15: Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch (leg) will miss the Daytona 500 due to a broken right leg suffering in the XFINITY Series race Saturday.)
Overall, I'm sticking with the Joe Gibbs drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski to win. To me, it just has a feel of being Keselowski's turn. He's in his prime right now, has a championship and knows how to run well with the plates on. He has three wins at Talladega, but has yet to win at Daytona, although he did have a career-best third-place in the 2014 Daytona 500. I wish I had something more concrete to state my case for Keselowski other than 'it just feels right' but that's kind of the guessing game you play when wagering the Daytona 500, which is why you shouldn't bet too much. It worked last year when I took Junior to win with my most weighted odds to win wager, and he hadn't won a plate race since 2004.  
The bottom line is that there is really no bad bet to win the race until it losses. It's a crap shoot and I'm just hoping my toss of the dice comes up snake eyes with the No. 2.   
Now the real key is finding a place to watch it with sound on. On Sunday, you’re going to have to state your case brilliantly to a sports book supervisor that the Super Bowl of NASCAR deserves to be on with sound more than the Cavaliers/Knicks NBA game or Ohio State/Michigan college hoops. It helps sway their opinion if several people ask showing that a large portion of the guests in the room want the race on with sound. It also helps if you show them some bet tickets on the race at their property.
For an event like this you don’t want to stay at home to watch it, you want to be around several others hootin’ and hollerin’ for your driver, but finding a spot was difficult so I just started going to the race itself with a few buddies. If I had to make a bet on the sports book most likely to have the race on with sound it would be at the Westgate SuperBook and South Point sports book. I won’t be at Daytona this year, so I might try my luck with those two places on Sunday.
Top-5 Daytona 500 Finish Prediction:

1) #2 Brad Keselowski (12/1)
2) #19 Carl Edwards (12/1)
3) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
5) #16 Greg Biffle (35/1)
Does Sprint Unlimited win equate to 500 win?

Since 1979, there have been only five occasions between four drivers that someone has won the Unlimited and Daytona 500 in the same year. The first to do it was Bobby Allsion in 1982, then Bill Elliott in 1987, Dale Jarrett in 1996 and Jeff Gordon the next year in 1997. Jarrett would do it again in 2000 and no has done it since.
Sprint Unlimited Quote of the Night

Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, who have a history on run-ins, had a late race incident and Harvick wasn’t too happy about Logano’s aggressive driving. “It was a helluva race but just really dumb driving there at the end. You’ve got to be aggressive but you’ve also got to use our head. You can’t just detach it lay it on the floor board.”

Does Duel win equate to 500 win?

You might think we’d have more drivers win one of the Budweiser Duels and Daytona 500 in the same year, but it’s only happened nine times since 1959. The last driver to accomplish the feat was Matt Kenseth in 2012. Before him it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004 and then Dale Earnhardt did it in 1998 -- the only year he ever won the Daytona 500. Cale Yarborough is the only driver ever to do it twice (1977 and 1984). The first driver to do it was Fireball Roberts in 1962. Others include Bill Elliott (1985), Bobby Allison (1988) and Sterling Marlin (1995).
Budweiser Duel Race No. 1 Finish Prediction:

1) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6/1)
2) #20 Matt Kenseth (6/1)
3) #27 Paul Menard (20/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
5) #1 Jamie McMurray (12/1)
Note: Jeff Gordon is on the Daytona 500 pole and has no need to mess around with his car and risk wrecking it by racing hard in this race. The same goes for Jimmie Johnson in the second race. Johnson will start on the front row along side Gordon on Sunday. If either wrecks and goes to a back-up car, they'll start from the rear. The only theory that makes Gordon a good play is that this is his last Budweiser Duel and he might want to let it all hang out. However, I'm thinking Gordon is bigger-picture thinking and is set on winning his first Daytona 500 since 2005 and he knows his chances will be diminished in a back-up. I don't think he'll win Sunday, but it would be a great story book ending and we've seen several instances of great stories somehow occuring in NASCAR.   
Budweiser Duel Race No. 2 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
2) #19 Carl Edwards (9/2)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
4) #3 Austin Dillon (12/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (10/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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