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It seems like an eternity since the 2016 NASCAR season ended in late November, but the top series – now renamed the Monster Energy Series, will be in action this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with the Clash on Saturday night and 500 qualifying Sunday.

The Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona is a 75-lap non-points race featuring drivers that participated in last season’s playoffs or either won a pole, a past Clash or have been former Daytona pole winners. There are 20 eligible drivers with the field set at 17 because Greg Biffle no longer has a ride and the retirement of Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

NASCAR has been running some version of this race prior to the Daytona 500 since 1979. It used to be called the Busch Clash and later was changed to the Bud Shootout. For the past few seasons it’s been known as the Sprint Unlimited.

The race will be split into two segments with a mandatory pit stop after 25-laps. With it being the first real race of the season (no points involved), the field is limited to the best drivers. The race being so short, the action is always action packed. I can’t wait!

The racing we’ll see during the entire Daytona Speedweeks will be similar to what we’ve seen on restrictor-plate tracks the past two seasons. The race package is the same, so it serves well to see what happened last season at the four races between Daytona and Talladega as well as what happened in this exhibition event that Denny Hamlin won.

William Hill’s sportsbooks posted odds for the Clash last Thursday and opened Brad Keselowski as the 9-to-2 favorite, and for a very good reason. Last season he led a series-high 252 laps between the four plate races, including his first career Daytona win in July and fourth career win at Talladega in May. His teammate, Joey Logano (13/2), ended up winning the October Talladega race for the second straight year. The only negative for the Team Penske duo is history. A Ford last won the Clash in 2004 with Dale Jarrett.

One of the big stories this season is Stewart Haas Racing switching from Chevrolet to Ford. Seeing how well Logano and Keselowski did last season should give reason for optimism that Kevin Harvick (17/2) and Kurt Busch (15/1) will be very competitive at Daytona over the next two weeks.

Harvick is a three-time Clash winner and Busch won in 2011. Clint Bowyer takes over the No. 14 for Stewart, but won’t be racing this week. Danica Patrick (60/1) is still in the No. 10 and racing on Saturday, but one of her sponsors pulled back on a $15 million commitment, meaning she might only be racing for a portion of the 2017 season if no one else steps up.

Reigning seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (7/1) last won the Clash in 2005, which started a run of six-straight Chevy wins, but the last three seasons have seen Toyota come out on top. The leader of the pack has been Hamlin, who won as a rookie in 2006 and then again in 2014 and last season.

It could be argued Hamlin deserves to be the favorite in this race just because of his recent success at Daytona. He was dominant during Speedweeks last season leading a race-high 39 laps in the Clash and a race-high 95 laps en route to winning his first Daytona 500. It was the sixth time in NASCAR history a driver won both races in the same season.

I was very high on Hamlin during Speedweeks last year and was able to fetch 15-1 odds in this race and then 12-1 in the Daytona 500. He’s only getting 8-1 this week, but William Hill has him listed at chunky 11-1 odds to win the 500. I still think there’s value with him in both races.

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