Busch Clash at Daytona

For eight weeks after Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Championship, I had been thoroughly enjoying my vacation away from covering the series. It always starts to be a grind for me right about the time football starts as I’m pulled in several directions covering other sports. But recently I started to get that itch again and now I’m absolutely dying for the green flag to drop in Sunday’s Busch Clash.

I’ll be watching Saturday’s 50-minute practice session not because I want to get some more data and see who looks fast, but rather just to see side-by-side racing at 200 mph and hear the thunder which psychologically triggers my senses of the sweet smell of burnt rubber and fuel. Yes, I’ve missed just about everything NASCAR has to offer including the little nuances such as the customary prayer, national anthem, and flyovers with rows of drivers and crew members all standing at attention proud.

And of course, I’ve missed setting up my game plan for betting each race. Most of all, I’ve missed the winning, especially after a rough Super Bowl. I bet other sports but don’t play a lot of futures so it’s only in NASCAR that I can bag a score at 40/1 or 25/1 odds. In last season’s Clash, I got lucky with Jimmie Johnson winning at 25/1 odds which improved a betting bankroll that got abused when the Rams lost the Super Bowl.

Maybe I should just stop betting the Super Bowl. However, I do bet more on a weekly basis with NASCAR than I do in the Super Bowl. In Sunday’s 75-lap non-points Clash, I don’t play any driver matchups just as is the case for all races at Daytona and Talladega, so the amount I bet is less. The volatility of the two big high banked tracks with cars all bunched together take away value on matchups because every driver is more likely to wreck than at other tracks. Odds to win is another story because that volatility can work in your favor if taking longer shots just like Johnson’s Clash win last season.

So the strategy this week, and to a degree, next week as well is to find four of five drivers with varying odds on the betting board and use the wager amount to dictate who you want to win the most money with. Stagger the wagers with one of the favorites, a middle of the road driver or two and a legitimate longshot, or a driver at 20/1 odds or higher.

It’s a short race and will go by extremely fast and there will be a wreck eventually which could chop half the field of only 18 drivers. We’re going to need a little luck, but that’s what racing at Daytona is always about.

My strategy to start with is understanding that there are no changes in the race package. It’s the same package that was used at both Talladega races and also the July Daytona race. The old restrictor-plate package was used in last season’s Clash and Daytona 500.

I’m looking for drivers that had success in the three races using the new package last season while also mixing in a few drivers that are traditionally good at Daytona and Talladega who understand the draft. Some drivers like Denny Hamlin have the ability to quickly move through the field propelling themselves off of other drivers' wind.

Hamlin has three Clash wins, the first coming as a rookie, and last season he won his second Daytona 500. At 10/1 odds, he has to be in almost every betting strategy this week.

As a refresher, part-time Cup driver Justin Haley won the July Daytona race and Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney won each of the Talladega races. It was the first time all three had won a points race at either Daytona or Talladega.

For a driver like Blaney, it was a long time coming because he has been leading lots of races at both tracks since joining Team Penske. He led laps in all three races using the new race package.

His Penske teammates, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have 10 wins between them at Daytona and Talladega. Logano also won the Clash in 2017 and Keselowski won it in 2018. But Keselowski has been in a major slump in all points and non-points races at Daytona and Talladega since winning the Clash finishing 12th or worse in his last 11 starts on them. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has the duo each listed as 8/1 favorites to win Sunday.

Aric Almirola has only two wins in his career, one each at Daytona and Talladega, and he probably should have won the 2018 Daytona 500. But what I was most impressed with him this week besides his 16/1 odds, was how well he performed with the new package last season getting a ninth, seventh, and four between the three races.

William Byron is also posted at 16/1 odds and the pressure is mounting for him to win in his third season. He’s got Chad Knaus as crew chief for the second straight season and one of the races he was good enough win last season was the July Daytona race when he was runner-up.

Ryan Newman has only won race, non-points and points, in the past six years but I’ve got my eye (and money) on him this week at 25/1 odds.

“Any time you turn the first laps of the season at Daytona it is sure to be exciting,” Newman said. “The Clash is a great way to start off Speedweeks. It allows us to get a feel for the car and take some chances we would not otherwise take. We are looking forward to kicking off 2020 in a big way and excited to have Koch Industries on board with us at the World Center of Racing.”

The 2008 Daytona 500 Champion has never won the Clash, but I’ve liked the cars Roush Fenway Racing have produced the last few years at Daytona and Talladega such as former teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning at both in 2017. But Newman’s performance with the new race package last season was impressive. He got better each time racing it starting with seventh at Talladega in April, fifth at Daytona in July and runner-up by a nose at Talladega in October. Hello, Newman!

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #6 Ryan Newman (25/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
4) #24 William Byron (16/1)
5) #12 Ryan Blaney (10/1)