NASCAR Pick Sheet: Daytona 500

Who to bet on in this week's race

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Daytona is the first race of the season. Unfortunately for bettors looking to get off to a strong start, it is also the least predictable.

After a horrific crash in 1988 at Talladega Superspeedway that almost saw Bobby Allison breach the frontstretch fence and enter the grandstands, NASCAR has employed various mechanisms to slow the cars. Since they would naturally run faster than the restricted speed, that means that all 40 drivers this week will be racing in a tight pack. And if history is a judge, that means multi-car accidents will be the theme of the Daytona 500.

The ever-present danger of a 'Big One' crash changes how oddsmakers handicap this race. It should also change how bettors approach the event. No one doubts there is a ton of skill involved in racing on plate tracks. It takes nerves of steel and reflexes that lesser mortals cannot fathom – but none of that matters when a massive pileup occurs directly in front of the driver.

Once the 'Big One' gathers steam and several cars are involved, the track can easily be blocked. Remember that as you place your bets this week and later in the year at Talladega. Don’t overcommit resources and send positive vibes into the universe regarding your picks.

While nothing is truly predictive, the best tool at your disposal this week is a driver’s career records at Daytona and Talladega. The more top-fives a driver has compared to the number of times they have been involved in accidents signals who represents the least risk.

1. Denny Hamlin *****

($10,400 DraftKings | +800)

Hamlin is the only driver this week with odds under +1000. He achieved that distinction by winning the last two Daytona 500s and if he stays out of trouble, he will be in contention again this week. That is a big ‘if’, but the same thing is true of every driver listed below him this week.

2. Chase Elliott ***

($10,300 DraftKings | +1000)

Elliott’s odds this week as the second-favored driver as well as his salary cap at DraftKings suggests the algorithm used to set these numbers are heavily skewed by a driver’s recent record on all types of tracks. We say that because Elliott’s numbers at Daytona are terrible and he’s been in more accidents than he wants to count. He finished second to his teammate William Byron last summer, however, and was fifth at Talladega during the playoffs. We’re willing to bet he’s turned a corner and reversed his luck.

3. Ryan Blaney ***

($10,000 DraftKings | +1200)

Blaney and Elliott are close friends off the track, but their battle in the Busch Clash this week on the Daytona road course proves they are not willing to give ground to one another. Both drivers know that pushing and shoving in the draft is a recipe for disaster, however, so they should be best buds once more. Blaney learned that lesson all too well last year when he inadvertently sent Ryan Newman spinning into the frontstretch wall in a race to the checkers.

4. Alex Bowman ***

($9,200 DraftKings | +1800)

While speed is essentially meaningless on plate tracks, it is nice to have nevertheless. Bowman posted the fastest time in qualification Wednesday night and has a stout team with him on the track. If Bowman, Elliott, Byron, and Kyle Larson can get locked together, they could be hard to pass as a group.

5. Chris Buescher **

($6,900 DraftKings | +5000)

Your eyes are not deceiving you: We have actually handicapped Buescher in the top-five this week. Daytona is one of his better tracks, ranking eighth among 24 tracks where he has more than one start. Last year, he survived a lot of carnage to be part of the final battle for the checkers and he ended the day third after Newman’s wreck. If you think he is too much of a risk for the overall win, place a mid-sized bet for a top-three at +1200 or top-10 at +250.

6. Matt DiBenedetto **

($7,900 DraftKings | +3500)

DiBenedetto has spent every season trying to establish his credentials in order to get a long-term, full-time ride. He knows he has only one more year with the Wood Brothers because they are going to turn the No. 21 over to Austin Cindric in 2022. The best way to get noticed is through strong runs, but also by being a good teammate to Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Blaney, and Cindric. He might not charge for the win, but he could still make some money at +1000 for a top-three of +170 for a top-10.

7. Kyle Larson ***

($8,500 DraftKings | +1600)

Larson’s second chance at NASCAR begins this week in the best equipment of his career. Car owner Rick Hendrick is taking a risk that he will be marketable once more as soon as he starts accumulating top-fives. Plate tracks have not always been his best courses, but he does have a pair of top-10s in his last two attempts in the Daytona 500, so he rises to the occasion in big events.

8. Joey Logano ****

($9,900 DraftKings | +1200)

If points were awarded for Average Running Position or Driver Rating, Logano would be a favorite this week at Daytona. His raw numbers are excellent, but until he learns to temper his aggression he is not a good value for an outright win. We don’t think he will score a top-three either – and since his odds are -125 to score a top-10, there is not much you can do with him this week.

9. Bubba Wallace ***

($7,400 DraftKings | +2000)

Bettors want to avoid the temptation to take too many risks on dark horses on plate tracks and we’ve already showcased Buescher among the top-five. We could easily have put Wallace much higher on this list as well since he has a lot of incentive to run with the leaders. Driving for a new team with superstar Michael Jordan and Hamlin as owners, we have a few concerns that he might give in to nervousness at a critical stage of the race. It only takes one mistake to put a driver out of position for the win.

10. William Byron ***

($9,000 DraftKings | +1800)

All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers are listed in the top-10 this week because teamwork is important on plate tracks. There are several multi-car teams in the field this week, but these four tend to work better in a pack than Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, or Joe Gibbs Racing. Of course, that also means they can all be caught up in the same accident.

Others

Kevin Harvick **

($9,700 DraftKings | +1400)

Harvick has been involved in at least eight accidents in his last nine Daytona races. Last winter was the first time in a long while that he got to the finish line unscathed in the Daytona 500 and it’s his only top-five on this track since 2017.

Kyle Busch **

($9,300 DraftKings | +6000)

Busch is another driver with a tendency to be crash prone at Daytona – but the upside of starting him is greater than Harvick. In 2016, he swept the top-three at Daytona. He finished second in the 2019 edition of the 500 to his teammate Hamlin. In his last eight attempts on this course, he has one other top-15 – but every other result is outside the top-20.

David Ragan ***

($5,400 DraftKings | +4000)

Ragan locked into the Daytona 500 with a solid run in qualification. That was the first goal. He will most likely stay toward to back of the pack on Sunday and charge only in the closing laps. If there is a great deal of carnage, that could help him earn a top-10. His current odds of doing so are +350.

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