Get ready for slower cars this season

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NASCAR is back and it all starts this weekend at Daytona with an 80-minute practice session Saturday and then Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, a 75-lap non-points race.

It’s the best of the best racing this weekend with only 20 drivers who became eligible to participate by winning a pole last season, making the playoffs or winning a past Daytona 500. These guys will race nearly every week all the way to Thanksgiving.

The name of this race has changed over the years from the Busch Clash, the Budweiser Shootout, and the Sprint Unlimited, but it’s always been one of my favorites simply because I’m usually starving for NASCAR racing after a cold winter. It also usually meant vacation time for me. The Super Bowl is over and I can now take a vacation from the sportsbook. Why not Daytona? I convinced my friends it was a good idea and we did the annual road trip starting in New Orleans.

What this exhibition race always does is essentially give a sneak peek to what is going to happen in next week’s Daytona 500. And this season there are so many question marks with a completely new car and rules package. Passing is going to be hard. What we saw last season can be thrown out the window.

Last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 13 teams tested the new Cup Series cars and they were slow. The horsepower has dropped from 750 horsepower to 550 horsepower. Most drivers quietly hate it although they’re not talking bad about the brand.

But yeah, they hate it. It takes away their individual skill and makes everyone too equal. At Las Vegas last week, drivers didn’t let up on the throttle for an entire 1.5-mile lap. That’s unheard of in the series at LVMS. The Xfinity Series cars actually ran faster laps than the Cup series.

NASCAR also wants its drivers safer, so slowing them down has always been a priority which is why they initially started using restrictor plates at huge tracks like Daytona and Talladega.

Anyway, we’ll talk more about the changes after the Daytona 500. Our priority right now is figuring out how to make some money on Sunday’s race. The main variable is the unknown. Ford has been the best at plate races the past few years with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, but they’ve got a new Ford Mustang GT now. Their sweet Ford Fusions had an edge and now they’re gone.

What I have done is look at drivers that have always been good in the draft at several different junctures when NASCAR has made car changes. The top teams should still be good, but these cars are all equal so anyone has a legitimate to win which is why the sportsbooks don’t offer chunky odds on long shots.

Driver Matt DiBenedetto has never won a Cup race and won’t race this week, but he tweeted out his Daytona 500 odds at 200-to-1 and felt insulted. He was seventh at Daytona in July.

Drivers that stand out to me this week that I would recommend a bet on and what odds the Westgate Superbook is offering: 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin (10-1) always finds a way to the front and Las Vegas Kurt Busch (16-1) has 13 top-five finishes at Daytona, including his 2017 Daytona 500 win. He’s also got a new ride as he takes over the No. 1 car Jamie McMurray used to drive. Jimmie Johnson (25-1) is a three-time winner at Daytona and has a new sponsor and new crew chief.

Because of the new Mustang and not knowing the aerodynamics, I’m willing to bet they won’t be as good and because most of their drivers – specifically Team Penske – have such low odds, I’ll pass on them. That could change after I see the Mustang race this week, but right out the gate, I’m on a Chevrolet or Toyota to win.

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