Daytona 500 Preview

It’s time to grab some dice, sharpen the darts, and dust off the roulette wheel because we have to somehow find a winner for Sunday’s 62nd running of the Daytona 500 where almost every driver has a chance of winning. It’s the type of randomness that also requires some luck to go along with statistical data of each driver’s history on the high-banked 2.5-mile layout.

So pin the tail on the donkey and hopefully, it’s a winner, or hopefully, the tail lands on the No. 11 who looked sharp in last week’s Busch Clash, which ended up being a crash-fest. Denny Hamlin helped push teammate Erik Jones to the win while both of their cars looked as if they were in a demolition derby.

“It was fun. I mean my car was so, so fast," said Hamlin who is a 10/1 co-favorite to win Sunday. "I’m proud of the effort by my FedEx team, and I’m glad we got a JGR team win, too. Our 500 car was fast in practice, too, so I feel good about how we can race on Sunday.”

Despite not winning his fourth Busch Clash, the two-time Daytona 500 winner learned some things that might help him Sunday.

“We just need to stay focused, be patient and make sure that we keep our car on the track and in the race, Hamlin said. “We did try staying out under a caution during the Clash, and lost a tire after some contact, so that will be in the back of our minds come Sunday.”

Watching what happened in last week’s Clash should be part of the equation when making wagers this week. Recent history at Daytona and Talladega should also be thrown into the mix and then narrowing it down to the last three races on those tracks last season should be put on a pedestal because it’s the same package with exception to Chevrolet having a new front end.

I had heard the change gave Chevrolet an advantage but didn’t really see it in play during the Clash as most of Chevrolet drivers were bunched in the back together before wrecking. Crew chief of the No. 88 car, Greg Ives explains the differences from last season.

“It gives me a better balance,” he said. “Basically, we focused on putting more air on the rear spoiler for the ability to free up the race car through the center of the corner.

“We’ll see how that plays out. But a lot of crew chiefs, drivers and engineers know how difficult it is to product rear downforce in these race cars and also continue to keep them turning. Everyone at GM and all the engineers and key partners did a great job of accomplishing that goal that we set out for them. We’ll see when the races start.”

One of the things I like most with Hamlin at Daytona, besides winning the 500 twice in the past four years for me, is how well he utilizes the draft to propel himself quickly through traffic so it doesn’t matter where he’s at. He’s the king of the side-draft. No one does it better. And then he’s got the past data showing his Daytona excellence with finishes of sixth or better in seven of his last 12 starts there and his 442 laps led are the most among active drivers.

So my first draft pick to win the Daytona 500 is Hamlin, but just on the possibility that Chevrolet does have some kind of edge, I should have a few of the guys in bowties on my betting team. They certainly were fast in qualifying with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the pole in his new No. 47 ride and Alex Bowman on the front row. It was the sixth straight year a Hendrick Motorsports engine won the Daytona 500 pole.

Stenhouse at 30/1 odds is in my betting mix based on the No. 47 running well last season with Ryan Preece at Daytona and Talladega and also the fact that Stenhouse’s only two career Cup wins came on those tracks in 2017. But when structuring my bankroll, he’ll be on the lower end of cash bet just because his aggressiveness works both ways for him, finishing well or causing a wreck.

My top draft pick from the Chevrolet camp will be Chase Elliott, NASCAR royalty who just seems destined to win the Daytona 500. It’s his time to win it, right?

“That’s certainly the goal, that’s why everyone goes,” Elliott said last week. “The list of winners of the 500 is pretty short; it’s a pretty rare thing to say you won it. It’s one of those events that I feel is kind of a stand-alone event by itself. You can’t let that race define your season by any means, but it would be great to win down there and start the year off really well.”

Elliott is posted at 12/1 odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook and he’s the driver I’ve put the second-most money on behind Hamlin. In the three races last season using a similar race package, he had no problem getting to the front in all three leading laps and grabbed a Talladega win as well.

Next up for me in my NASCAR betting draft is the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford that had top-10s in the three races using this race package between Daytona and Talladega and his only two career wins came on those tracks. Perhaps I took Aric Almirola at 25/1 odds because I liked the price, but it seems like his best races have come on these types, including almost winning the 2018 Daytona 500.

Team Penske has two of the 10/1 co-favorites to win with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and they both had speed last week in the Clash until Logano wrecked Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Logano won the 2015 Daytona 500 while Keselowski is looking for first, but combined they have 10 wins between Talladega and Daytona.

But I had to make a tough decision in my betting equation and left both out which could blow up my whole game plan. Instead, I took the other Penske driver Ryan Blaney at 14/1 odds because I liked how he ran with the race package last season which ended with a win at Talladega during the playoffs. He’s led laps in five of his last six Daytona races.

Erik Jones is 30/1 and belongs with Joe Gibbs Racing who has produced some great cars for Daytona. In addition to winning last week, he finished third in last year’s Daytona 500 and won his first career Cup race in the 2018 July race at Daytona.

Chris Buescher takes over the No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford that Stenhouse used to drive and I’m betting the car will be fast again. He’s sitting at 60/1 odds which I find attractive for a driver that finished fifth in both 2018 Daytona races.

Enjoy the crapshoot, and good luck.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
2) #9 Chase Elliott (12/1)
3) #10 Aric Almirola (25/1)
4) #12 Ryan Blaney (14/1)
5) #20 Erik Jones (30/1)