NASCAR Daytona 500 Betting News, Match-Ups and Trends
Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Saturday 2/13/21
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Daytona 500 Picks
Date: Sunday, February 14, 2021
TV-Time: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Daytona International Speedway
Location: Daytona Beach, Florida
Handicapping NASCAR at Daytona
In the previous 62 Daytona 500s, no driver has won three straight of NASCAR’s most prestigious race and we haven’t seen anyone get the opportunity since Sterling Marlin tried in the 1996 event. But 2021 gives us a chance to watch history as Denny Hamlin will try to win his third straight Daytona 500 on Sunday and he’s fully aware of what is at stake.
"I hope that I'm around (don't wreck early), that I give myself a chance to make history because ultimately, that's what I'm here for," Hamlin said. "Making history, doing something that no one else has ever done, that's what motivates me to want to get this one."
He also will be shooting for his fourth Daytona 500 which would tie him with Cale Yarborough for second-most behind Richard Petty’s seven wins. He has a chance to make history and that’s the main theme coming into the 63rd running of the race.
There are only five active drivers other than Hamlin to win a Daytona 500 and all of them have one win each. Some of the best superspeedway drivers, or those from the restrictor-plate era, have retired and taken their secrets of manipulating the air in the draft. But the 40-year-old Hamlin learned in his younger years by watching the greats and finally won a superspeedway race in his ninth season racing on them at Talladega in 2014.
Now he’s got five superspeedway wins, winning two of four last season -- top-four in all four -- closing out with a Talladega win. He led laps in all four superspeedway races last season and used different strategies in all. He’d either get upfront and lead to keep the ‘Big One’ behind him or fall behind to keep an eye in front of him with enough room to avoid the inevitable pile up that always happens on superspeedways. He’s been successful at both.
He’s also got Joe Gibbs Racing equipment which has worked hard to be competitive in the opener at Daytona. Matt Kenseth led a bunch of laps on superspeedways for JGR, Erik Jones got a summer Daytona win in 2018, and Kyle Busch has the top Daytona rating (91.1) among all drivers since NASCAR's Loop Data started keeping track in 2005. Hamlin is rated No. 2 (88.7) over that span.
In Wednesday morning’s first practice before qualifying, JGR equipment posted the top-five speeds with the new 2021 entry, Bubba Wallace, fastest with his Michael Jordan-Hamlin-owned No. 23.
The point is that it hasn’t all been Hamlin, but he’s been the one to use his skills the best and get out front lately. He uses the side-draft better than anyone and he blocks while leading better than anyone which is why we’re talking about him possibly winning for the third straight season. The car rules and race packages are the same as 2020, although Hamlin’s winning Daytona 500 car from last season is on display at Daytona USA.
NASCAR Cup Odds - Daytona
Denny Hamlin +800
Chase Elliott +1000
Joey Logano +1000
Ryan Blaney +1000
Brad Keselowski +1400
William Byron +1400
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(Odds Subject to Change)
William Hill sportsbooks have him listed as the 8-to-1 favorite while Circa Sports updated numbers Wednesday have him favored at 11-to-1 odds, the best number in the world.
I’ve been saying for years to be careful and be smart wagering every time there’s a superspeedway race. It’s repetitive but I feel it’s important to remind you all that the volatility of these two tracks changes the true driver rating for each driver because they’re more susceptible to being caught up in a wreck at no fault of their than other tracks.
That’s why I say ditch the props and driver match-ups, but spend some more than usual on odds to win mixing in weighted amounts on a couple of favorites like Hamlin or Ryan Blaney (14/1), middle of the board drivers like Kyle Busch (19/1), Wallace (28/1), Chris Buescher (51/1), and a long shot like Jones (60/1) or Ryan Newman (60/1).
The sportsbooks know this as well which is why they don’t offer any huge odds on the long shots but offer big odds on the favorites. It’s the randomness, the crapshoot of it all where any driver can win. As the wrecks start happening, you start throwing bet tickets away, but for the final five laps, you may have three of the 10 drivers in the lead pack and have just as good of a shot as any.
Last season I had tickets on Hamlin and Newman in that situation and I got lucky, but I believed in Newman and the Roush equipment for superspeedways. I still do to an extent with Newman and Buescher, who finished third in the Daytona 500.
Let’s talk about some contenders to derail Hamlin’s quest for history beginning with his new employee Wallace who William Hill is offering at 28-to-1 odds.
Daytona 500 Contenders
The Toyota’s have the least amount of friends and the drivers always choose manufacturers of their own to draft with which is all the more reason to be astounded by Hamlin’s success. The Fords and Chevrolets all have more cars on the track than Toyota. But Hamlin just got a new wingman with Wallace in case Martin Truex, Jr., Busch, or Christopher Bell aren’t around to push him.
Wallace had three top-fives in his three seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports and two of them came at Daytona, including a runner-up as a rookie in 2018. It’s the only type of racing he had success with continuously where he could find his way to the front. But now he has basically a JGR car with Michael Jordan money attached and crew chief Mike Wheeler who was chief for Hamlin in the 2016 Daytona 500 win. This car is going to be fast and contending for the win while also pushing or being pushed by Hamlin.
I instantly thought of the 2001 Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt, just before he passed, was blocking for his two DEI cars driven by Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and gave up his chance to win -- he had a fast RCR No. 3 that day -- to let his two cars battle it out. He had never given anybody anything like that in his career.
That scenario won’t play out here because Hamlin is going for three straight, but I’m sure at some point we’ll see Hamlin have a hand at helping Wallace gets his first career Cup win, and if I could bet where it’ll happen I would say on one of the four superspeedway races.
Team Penske has a great superspeedway package but only Joey Logano has a Daytona 500 win (2015). Brad Keselowski has a 2016 win at Daytona in the summer race and five other wins at Talladega.
Ryan Blaney has won at Talladega in each of the last two seasons and was runner-up in the Daytona 500 last season. They all have fast cars and all are also very good at understanding how the draft works. They also have friends from Roush, Front Row Motorsports, Wood Brothers, and Stewart-Haas Racing that drives Fords and can help in the draft.
The Chevy camp comes loaded with speed and young talent. Chevrolet has won the Daytona 500 pole the last eight seasons, and a Hendrick engine has won the last six, five of which were by a Hendrick driver.
William Byron (16/1) won last summer at Daytona for his first career Cup win. He’s a nice pick to take his next logical step into NASCAR stardom in a year that just saw Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson,, and Clint Bowyer retire.
Chase Elliott (14/1) comes off his first championship season and NASCAR is hoping for more to come -- see seven road courses on the 2021 schedule. But he’s never won at Daytona in a points-paying race. This would be a great place for the champ to bust out and gain an even bigger audience of young fans. Chase just has a quiet coolness about him and is hard not to like.
Back to only five active drivers that have Daytona 500 wins other than Hamlin. Earnhardt went almost an entire career racing and dominating all races at Daytona until finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1998. Tony Stewart never won one. Kyle Busch starts his 17th Daytona 500 searching for his first win. Keselowski is also still searching for his trophy, so is Truex, and so is Elliott -- all Cup champions.
As always, I’ll go for the historical moment to happen and I supported Hamlin through the betting window, along with a few other guys I mentioned in this piece. Here are my top-5 selections using odds from Circa Sports Las Vegas:
Top-5 Finish Prediction
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (11/1)
2) #12 Ryan Blaney (14/1)
3) #10 Aric Almirola (24/1)
4) #47 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (26/1)
5) #24 William Byron (16/1)
What to watch for in the 2021 Daytona 500
Welcome to Daytona 500 weekend.
The 63rd Daytona 500 begins at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday (Fox) as Denny Hamlin tries to do what no other NASCAR driver has done before.
If Hamlin wins on Sunday he'll be the first driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive Daytona 500s. With his last-lap win in the 2020 Daytona 500, Hamlin joined Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin as the only men to win back-to-back Daytona 500s. A third straight win for Hamlin would be his fourth in six years and tie him with Yarborough for the second-most Daytona 500 wins ever behind Petty.
“This is a big opportunity for us and my team and myself personally, it's just I never would have imagined that we'd be in this position by any means, especially five years ago when we didn't have any," Hamlin said earlier in the month. "I always think about — in these situations and anytime you get asked, I think about all the ones that slipped away that I had in control and didn't make the right decision at the end to finish it off. It would be by far my biggest victory of my career and one that I probably wouldn't exchange for anything.”
Sunday's race is also Hamlin's first as a team owner. Bubba Wallace will drive his first official race for Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI Racing in the Daytona 500. Hamlin formed the team with the NBA icon this fall as Wallace's star exploded over the summer.
Here's what else you should keep an eye on in the Daytona 500.
While Hamlin has three Daytona 500 wins to his name, there are numerous Cup Series champions still looking to win their first 500. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have never won the Daytona 500 and neither have Martin Truex Jr. or defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
"I feel like I’ve made some mistakes in that race, no doubt, but the last few years specifically I’ve ran really, really strong races and just didn’t have the ability to dictate my own fate," Keselowski said of his recent crashes in the Daytona 500. "I think that’s what you want. You want the ability to know that when you drive a race car you’re making a difference and that it matters, and that hasn’t played out the last few years, which is frustrating, but I know eventually it will and when that moment happens we need to capitalize.”
While Keselowski and Busch have won the summer race at Daytona and Elliott has won at Talladega, Truex is looking for his first win at either Daytona or Talladega in 64 Cup Series starts, though he lost to Hamlin by inches in a photo finish at the end of the 2016 Daytona 500.
"We’ve been really close," Truex said. "I think for us, trying how to be better at speedway racing is something in general that we’ve worked on over the last handful of years.I feel like we have made some gains there for sure, but still not getting the results that we want. Still working hard on it, and I think for us, the biggest thing is trying to figure out a way to get to the end of the race, and that’s the biggest thing. I feel like every time we make it to the end of one of these speedway races, we’re in the hunt and we have a chance."
Will there be an underdog story?
A big-name driver has tended to win the Daytona 500 in recent years. None of the winners since Trevor Bayne’s shocking win in 2011 have been surprises. But the race has produced the best finish of the season for underdog drivers and teams lately. And there's no reason to think that will change in 2021.
Who will that underdog be? There are a lot of options. Ryan Preece, who finished 8th in his first Daytona 500 in 2019, has a fast car and is only driving part-time in 2021 for JTG-Daugherty Racing. Daniel Suarez also seemingly has a speedy car. He could be in position to score the best finish of the season for his new Trackhouse Racing team.
Don't bet against a car from Front Row Motorsports getting a top-10 either. A driver in a FRM-prepared car has finished in the top 10 of the Daytona 500 in each of the past three seasons. That's an impressive run given that Front Row's drivers have just 12 top 10s over the past three seasons.
The best offense is good defense
You have to drive aggressively to win the Daytona 500. You're not getting the win in NASCAR's most famous race without making a few bold moves. But you have to defend aggressively too. The best drivers at Daytona and Talladega are the ones who are the most proficient blockers.
Cars pass each other at Daytona thanks to the aerodynamic effects of the draft. A car behind another car can go faster because there's less air resistance ahead thanks to the spoiler from the car ahead. That means cars quickly close in on each other.
A driver has to anticipate when those runs are happening both to him and against him. And he has to be proactive regarding the runs against him. If a driver waits to see a car closing quickly from behind him to react, he'll get himself wrecked.
That anticipation is going to be key over the final laps of the race. Thursday night's qualifying races showed that the driver in the lead in the late laps was vulnerable to a huge run and a potential pass from the cars in second and third. Aric Almirola was able to play defense enough to stay in the lead in the first qualifying race while Wallace passed and then got passed over the final half lap of the second race.
Wallace had an opportunity to play some last-ditch defense on Austin Dillon as they headed to the checkered flag. He could have swung down dramatically to try to cut Dillon's car off. He didn't, knowing full well that he could have caused a big crash.
That was the smart move on Thursday night. It was just a qualifying race. But if that type of scenario unfolds again on Sunday don't expect Wallace — or whoever is in that position —to be that pragmatic with a Daytona 500 on the line