NASCAR is back this weekend at Daytona International Speedway with a 75-lap non-points race called the Busch Clash featuring 18 drivers who became eligible by either winning a pole last season, winning a past Daytona 500 or Clash or participated in the 2019 Playoffs.
It’s an appetizer for next week’s Daytona 500, a tutorial and refresher course for the fans and bettors. What we see in Sunday’s race will give us all a better idea of who to bet on next week when there are 40 cars racing each other in the first official race of 2020.
But there’s absolutely no reason not to bet this race. It’s a short non-points race, but every driver wants to win to get some momentum heading into the Daytona 500. All 18 eligible drivers have a legitimate shot to win.
Before I attempt to make a case for a couple of drivers to win, let’s talk about the race packages for 2020 and what changes have been made. The race package NASCAR will use the next two weeks at Daytona is what they used at both Talladega races last season and the July Daytona race, so reviewing those three races would be a good idea before finalizing some selections.
The race package with engines producing 550 horsepower used on most 1.5-mile tracks will remain the same. The package using engines with 750 horsepower on the shorter tracks will be almost identical to what was used on those in 2018 with the spoiler being severely reduced below three inches which will reduce the downforce by almost half what it was in 2019.
Jimmie Johnson won the Busch Clash last season paying out at 25-1 odds. It was his first Clash win since 2005. Sunday’s Clash will be his last as he’s set to retire at the end of the season. The seven-time Cup Champion could break a tie with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for most championships if he wins the title this season. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has Johnson posted at 40-1 to win the title.
I’ll be rooting for Johnson, but I won’t have many bets made on him this season, or at least until he has a better showing than he did the past two seasons when he didn’t win a race and had only five top-fives combined. He’s been stuck on 83 career Cup wins for a long time.
The drivers I’ll have action on are those that have done well in this short format, drivers that did well in the three races using this race package last season, and then a long shot to throw in the mix and make the race more exciting.
A driver I’m excited about this week is Ryan Newman who hasn’t won the past two seasons and has just one win in his last six seasons. The 2008 Daytona 500 winner had his best Clash finish of runner-up in 2005, but I’m taking a chance on him this week due to what he did in the three races using this race package.
The last time he raced it in October he got beat by a nose at Talladega by Ryan Blaney. In his previous race using it he was fifth at Daytona and then seventh at April’s Talladega race.
These are the only tracks that Roush-Fenway Racing has been competitive the past few years and it’s where the team last won with former teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who won at Daytona and Talladega in 2017. Newman knows he’s got a short list of races where he has a legitimate chance to win and they’re all at Daytona and Talladega. He’ll race hard to get the win like it was for the championship.
Team Penske has a trio of Fords that will contend for the win led by 2017 Clash winner Joey Logano and 2018 Clash winner Brad Keselowski. In points-paying races, Logano has four wins between Daytona and Talladega and Keselowski has six wins. Blaney added to the team’s excellent resume on these tracks last fall with a win at Talladega.
Denny Hamlin’s first win in the Cup Series was the 2006 Busch Clash as a rookie. He’d win it again in 2014 and 2016. He likes the format, likes the style of racing, knows the draft well, and he certainly loves racing at Daytona in February where he won the 2016 and 2019 Daytona 500.
William Byron begins his third Cup season and makes his Clash debut. Last season he led laps in all four races between Daytona and Talladega which included a career-best runner-up at Daytona in July. He also won the Daytona 500 pole last season. He’s got teammate Johnson’s former crew chief Chad Knaus who engineered all 83 of Johnson’s wins. Byron came close to winning last season, but he’s got to get a win or two this season. Expectations are high. Winning the Busch Clash would be a nice splash.
The SuperBook has Newman as the longest odds on the board at 25-1 and they have Byron at 16-1. So let’s get this 2020 party started.