Written by: Bryds
It’s hard to explain the Daytona 500 to anyone who doesn’t really love NASCAR. On the surface, it’s nonsensical. I can’t even come up with a good parallel. Maybe if the tennis season opened at the French Open, with no clay warm-ups, best-of-7 sets matches, and you were only allowed to use racquets made before the first 1980 Prince Graphite. Nothing you see at Daytona has anything to do with 90% of the rest of the season.
The NASCAR season’s first full official points race every year is its Super Bowl. The biggest single race of the year for interest, TV ratings, attendance and almost top speed. This wonderful race and its step-brother track at Talladega prepare you for literally none of the other races on the schedule. You run a unique car, spoiler and engine package that aren’t used in 32 of the next 35 races..
Daytona and Talladega have the most fluke winners and first time winners, you know, guys who most weeks aren’t in that Top 15 or so, drivers who the books say can win or have given you any reason to believe they can.
And, even if your preferred driver runs their race and pit stops perfectly, understand that this race puts cars at season-high speeds within inches of each other for long periods of time. So when you have wrecks you look at the post-race standings and realize you are lucky if 60% of the cars or more finish without being damaged.
Add on that this year the Cup Series has an entirely new generation car and you realize that making any sort of meaningful prediction about this race is very hard. That doesn’t even include mechanical attrition. The last 3-4 years have been the golden era of NASCAR Cup car reliability. A new car usually is the opposite of that.
Until practice starts Tuesday night and qualifying, we only have the past to go on. And we have very little idea how these new cars run in clean versus dirty air. The NASCAR rules crew is already tinkering with the nose on the Fords, under the auspices that the aero on the car is too good. Will they overcompensate?
Regardless, as awful as Ford was last year, the huge restrictor plate tracks like Daytona treated them well last year while Chevy dominated most of the other 32 weeks.
Practice and qualifying may not even teach us much, because, seriously, many teams don’t have one or more backup cars in case they wreck before the big event. Expect to see a lot of careful hanging out in the back of the field and praying nobody gets scuffed.
What do we know? Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are the only two long time drivers with a recent record of staying out of crash trouble here. Will Byron and Chase Elliott have looked very fast, but have gotten collected in late race incidents. Kyle Larson is human here. Kyle Busch is 0-16 in the Daytona 500 despite being one of the all-time greats. Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney feel like value right now this week, and Logano is underpriced for the season Cup prop bet (best price still out there is 1600, buy some).
The Cup exhibition race at the Los Angeles Coliseum taught us little that will be useful for Daytona other than that these cars can now rub in traffic without causing flat tires. Cool, cool. It will be a while before anyone can get a good rhythm in Cup this year.
The good news? Our template for Trucks & Xfinity from last year is unchanged. A few new faces arrive in both, but really looking forward to front-loading the weekend cards until Cup starts making sense.
Early reads in Cup:
Short Keselowski in most if not all matchups until we see something in practice or the qualifying Duals that changes our mind
Byron over Kurt Busch
Logano & Blaney as Top Fords in the +450 area
I like Dillon when you find him in Groups betting, and Reddick depending on the rest of the foursome
Both of those Childress Chevys were great at L.A. and love plate tracks
Buy Logano for season Cup Champ prop