Formula 1 has Monaco, IndyCar has Indianapolis, and NASCAR has Daytona.
The Daytona 500, known as “The Great American Race” and the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing,” is back this Sunday. Five hundred miles of excitement, unexpected turns and photo finishes. It’s a race that has eluded many of the best, and even Hall of Fame drivers such as Tony Stewart, Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte have never reached victory lane. It took seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt 20 years before he got his first Daytona 500 victory back in 1998. Rookie Trevor Bayne, in only his second cup start, won the race in 2011, and he has never won another one since. The Daytona 500 Speedway has been a favorite for some drivers, a curse to others, but all in all, it's most certainly ‘THE’ race for NASCAR fans. Now, without further adieu, let's take a look below at some overall betting strategy, driver values and more for Sunday:
Can Denny Hamlin 3-Peat?
Joe Gibbs driver Denny Hamlin is trying to accomplish something that has never been done before and become the first driver ever to win three Daytona 500’s in a row. Just to clarify, I am only speaking about the Daytona 500 race, and I am not talking about the other Daytona race that takes place later in the calendar year. Drivers have won this race multiple times, with Richard Petty winning the most at 7.
Hamlin is a three-time overall winner - a very impressive accomplishment - but to win three in a row, and four overall, would simply rewrite NASCAR history. Three drivers have won back-to-back races along with Hamlin - Sterling Marlin (94-95), Cale Yarborough (83-84) and Richard Petty (73-74) - and out of those three, Petty was the only one to actually finish the race when going for his third straight win. Hamlin’s stats are very impressive of late, as he has first place finishes in 2020, 2019 and 2016. A second place finish in 2014, third place in 2018, fourth in 2015 and 17th in 2017, his worst finish in the last 7 years.
Believe it or not, having just an "average" finish at a track where most drivers do not even finish the race is quite an accomplishment in itself. Looking at Hamlin’s last three finishes at Talledega, another 500 mile superspeedway, he is on point with first, fourth and third place finishes. The largest growth measure in Hamlin is also how he won the Daytona 500 in 2020. In an interview after the race, he explained how he was able achieve victory. On the final lap, he allowed Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney to pass him. But why let two drivers pass you on the final lap? He was seemingly a sitting duck, and both of the Ryan’s were locked bumper to bumper while "drafting" each other. Two drafting cars are much faster than one single car, and after both Ryan’s passed him, Hamlin was then able to move into third and draft Ryan Blaney down the front stretch. From said drafting, he was able get enough momentum, find an opening, side draft Ryan Blaney and get the victory by mere inches. Hamlin has retained his whole team from last year except for the fuel man. I’m not saying that he’s an automatic win this year - or even top five finisher, for that matter - because a lot can happen on superspeedways that are out of the driver’s control. Given Hamlin's history, however, he would simply be hard to pass up on any DFS team or top-5 finisher bet on Sunday.
How to Avoid the "Big One"
The “Big One” is a term used in racing describing a crash involving five or more cars. We see these types of wrecks mostly at superspeedways like Daytona. And if anyone had the right answer on how to avoid the big one, you’d be making big money working for a top racing organization. There is not a right or wrong answer here. Staying up front the whole race could mean less chance of wrecking when everyone is driving like a madman towards the end, and Ryan Newman was leading last year’s race upon exiting the last turn.
How did Newman fare? He ended up crossing the finish line on the roof of his car in a horrific crash. What's the other potential solution here then? Well, you can hang in the back and when the cars start wrecking, just slow down, swerve and miss them. That would be nice if you’re traveling 30 MPH, but at speeds averaging a little above 200 mph, it’s tough to make those type of split-second decisions. In the last four Daytona races (out of a 40-car field), a little over 16 cars make it to the end. That’s not saying all of the cars get caught up in crashes though. Some cars can experience engine or mechanical problems that result in retiring from the race early. You will see different strategies to avoid getting caught up in the wrecks, and some drivers will try to favor the bottom of the track because most wrecks will start at the bottom and work their way up. Being on the bottom lane gives a driver more runoff area (going below the yellow line).
Last year, all three Joe Gibbs cars hung a 1/2 lap back from the leaders so as to not get caught in any stage one wrecks (there was one). This has also become a popular method - hang in the back and take it easy, and when it gets closer to the end of the race, then you turn it on. But even if a driver makes all the right moves, getting caught up in the big one can be out of their control. Again, there is no right or wrong here.
Drivers to Look Out For
Joey Logano - Team Penske always has a strong showing at superspeedways, and Logano has to be their strongest consideration. While he was in an accident last year, he does have impressive finishes of 4th, 4th, 6th, 6th, and 1st from '15-'19. His aggressive driving and drafting will have him up in the front all day.
Ryan Newman - A veteran of the sport, Newman has had two top 10 finishes over the past three Daytona 500's. Expect him to be in the front early and then hang in the back towards the middle of the race to avoid the big one. The #6 car will be making a late charge to try and capture his second Daytona 500 victory.
Ryan Blaney - Another Penske driver that has done well as of late. Blaney came in 2nd place last year by about three feet. While he was caught up in a wreck in 2019, he does have a seventh place finish in 2018 and a second place finish in 2017. Another thing to consider is that he has two victories at Talladega (similar track). A good bump drafter, he will find allies early and drivers from other teams to work with.
Denny Hamlin -Read paragraph 2 above
*Bonus Driver Value*
Bubba Wallace - If anyone watched qualifying on Wednesday night or Duel Race #2 on Thursday night, it was Wallace who showed a lot of speed. Wallace qualified fourth overall and finished second in the Duel race, and he was leading the Duel on the final lap until Austin Dillon made a last second pass to secure the win. Wallace does have a second place Daytona 500 finish from 2018 here as well. His new equipment showed a lot of speed on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, and he is primed to impress here again.