Time for racing at Daytona

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The green flag to the 62nd annual Daytona 500 drops Sunday to kick off the first of 36 races on the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign. There will 40 drivers starting the race and about 35 of them have a legitimate chance to win, including all three Las Vegas drivers: Brendan Gaughan, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Busch.

Gaughan, the son of South Point owner Michael Gaughan and grandson of Las Vegas gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan, made his Cup debut in the 2004 Daytona 500 and for the fourth straight season will be racing only the four Cup races at Daytona and Talladega. He’s been in the mix late upfront with the leaders at both Daytona and Talladega the last few years and should be again Sunday which is all you can ask for in these types of volatile races. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has him listed as part of the field at 40-1 odds.

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Kurt Busch (20-1) won the 2004 Cup Series Championship and captured his first win on any restrictor-plate race in the 2017 Daytona 500. He was known as the best plate driver without a win. He has 13 top-fives finishes in 37 career Daytona starts, including three-times being runner-up. Expect him to be within the top-10 late in the race.

Kyle Busch won his second Cup Series Championship last season and has won almost every race in the series except the Daytona 500. His lone Daytona win in 2008 came in the July race. Last season he had his best Daytona 500 finish with second-place behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.

After a while, it starts to weigh on drivers not winning NASCAR’s biggest race. Dale Earnhardt didn’t win it until the very end of his career in 1998, and some like Tony Stewart and Mark Martin never won it. The Daytona 500 is the only thing missing from Kyle’s trophy case.

I always root for the home teams and those three drivers are right up there on my list with UNLV and the Golden Knights, but I must confess I didn’t bet any of them to win on Sunday.

Let’s talk about some Daytona 500 betting strategies followed by a few drivers I like most among the 35 that have a legitimate chance to win.

Betting the 500

I wish I could offer a proven formula to win consistently in the Daytona 500. But because of the volatility of the high-banked 2.5-mile layout, the race is basically a crapshoot or like throwing darts. Some respected NASCAR bettors I know don’t even bet Daytona or Talladega because the volatility devalues a driver’s rating for the track. That element of an accident unsuspectedly finding a driver isn’t the same on the 32 other races on the season when a driver’s rating does hold true.

The oddsmakers know this as well which is why bettors can get such great odds on the usual favorites while not getting large prices on drivers that are usually 500-1 to win at regular tracks. Anyone can win is not just a saying, it’s for real at Daytona.

Also, I rarely bet driver match-ups at Daytona and Talladega due to the driver rating equality. There’s no edge unless getting occasionally baited by any driver getting +110 or higher.

One other betting note that is different this week from 32 other races is that start position or practice speed doesn’t matter. At Las Vegas next week, the final practices will mean about 40 percent of the entire betting speed. It’s a massive difference and hopefully explains some of the differences between Daytona and Talladega’s four races and all the rest.

What I like to do for the Daytona 500 is shop around for the best number on five or six drivers to win, maybe even seven if I can’t resist, and structure whatever allotted bankroll that may be. I usually take one or two of the favorites as an insurance policy or dump 50 percent of the money on someone like Hamlin to win.

Top candidates to win

So who wins Sunday? Here are my thoughts on the contenders, along with a few long shots to consider (odds are from the Westgate SuperBook):

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (10-1): The two-time Daytona 500 winner, and defending champ, just might be the best driver between Daytona and Talladega. He’s able to gain speed through the side-draft that most others can’t do which is why no matter where he is on the track he can always find his way to the front. And every driver knows it and becomes his friend on the track, regardless of manufacturer loyalty, so they can freight train together and get upfront.

No. 9 Chase Elliott (12-1): In eight career starts at Daytona he has no top-10’s and lots of bad luck, but it’s his destiny to win the Daytona 500 which is why I keep betting him each year to do so. I have action on him again which I felt more justified due to his Talladega win last spring. 

No. 22 Joey Logano (10-1): The 2015 Daytona 500 champ isn’t making any friends in the series — even his own teammates are irked — and that is essential for drafting at Daytona. However, he’s got a great car that can get to the front.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (10-1): He’s got the good stuff with Team Penske and looked to have one of the best cars in the Busch Clash last week until teammate Logano wrecked him. He has six wins between Daytona and Talladega but has had a rough two years on them finishing no better than 12th on them between eight races. He’s looking for his first Daytona 500 win, but I need more than 10-1 to bet him.

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (12-1): The 2007 Daytona 500 champ also won the summer race there in 2010. The only downside to betting him at such low odds is that he’s been 19th or worse in his last seven starts at Daytona, the last six coming after Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford. It’s more of an anomaly, but it’s an active trend.

No. 12 Ryan Blaney (14-1): He’s the third wheel of Team Penske, a house which got further divided in last week’s Busch Clash. But he’s also been the best among the three with this race package that debuted at Talladega last spring winning at Talladega during the playoffs. 

No. 10 Aric Almirola (25-1): The only two wins of his career have come at Daytona and Talladega. Last season, he had top-10s in all four races between Daytona and Talladega. I recommend throwing him into most betting equations.

No. 20 Eric Jones (30-1): He won the Busch Clash last week with a beat-up car aided by a push from teammate Hamlin. He was third in the Daytona 500 last season and won at Daytona in the 2018 July race. He’s got great Joe Gibbs Racing equipment making 30-1 kind of a steal.

No. 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (30-1): He’s sitting on the pole, but that doesn’t matter as it used to in the good old days. The last pole sitter to win the Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000. The reason to bet him is wins at Daytona and Talladega in 2017 and also his JGT Daugherty Racing Chevrolet is powered by Hendrick Motorsport Engines.

No. 6 Ryan Newman (30-1): He had a nice run in last week’s Busch Crash, I mean Clash. He’ll be good again Sunday for Roush-Fenway Racing..

No. 17 Chris Buescher (60-1): He takes over the Roush-Fenway Racing Ford that Stenhouse won with at Daytona and Talladega in 2017. Last season in lesser equipment, he was fifth in both Daytona races. He’s definitely the most live long shot of the race, worth at least a $5 wager if watching the race.

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