We’ll go Friday and Saturday this week in the stock car racing world with the Xfinity Series on July 5 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on July 6. The MENCS race is the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and we’ll be looking at a plate race down at Daytona International Speedway.
Last week’s race was the first on the NBC family of networks and this will be the first to draw network TV billing on NBC. The next will be the final race of the regular season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Odds for this weekend’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 are on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers as we survey the 18th race of the regular season.
Alex Bowman was already in position for the playoffs, but he solidified his spot in the NASCAR postseason with last week’s win at Chicagoland. Will somebody else do the same this week? Erik Jones did that last year with his victory in this race. Crazy things can happen in these plate races, as we all know. After all, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. swiped a playoff spot two years ago and Aric Almirola won back in 2014.
Each of the last six races has required NASCAR Overtime to determine a winner. In fact, since 2008, only two races have finished in the scheduled 160 laps. That happens when you can’t create a lot of separation and this should be a very exciting race because of that. It could also mean a big day for somebody on the outside looking in for the playoff chase or somebody without a win.
Stack ‘Em Up
Well, we’ll look at how they’re stacked up heading into this race, but stack ‘em up could also be a reference to how these plate races are run. In any event, Joey Logano was third last week and opened up an 18-point lead over Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are tied for third with 610 points. Martin Truex Jr. has 581 points and sits in fifth.
Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and Ryan Blaney round out the top 10. Aric Almirola, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, and Clint Bowyer make up the rest of the top 16 and those are the guys that would be in the playoffs if those started today. Larson and Johnson are coming off of their best finishes of the season with a second and a fourth, respectively, at Chicagoland.
Erik Jones is 15 points below the cut line. Ryan Newman is 20 points back. None of the other drivers are really within striking distance right now, so they’ll have to win to get in. Jones and Newman could get in on points, but a win would obviously be the easiest way to get in.
This is such a hard race to handicap. It’s a hard race to run. This is a huge 2.5-mile track that is made smaller by the restrictor plate element. It bunches up the cars and leads to a lot of competitive racing. That is good for fans, but this race can obviously be a real struggle for the drivers and the pit crews with a lot of rubbing, tire wear, and stress on the car.
Of course, it’s also July in Florida, so rain is almost always in the forecast and if it does rain, it is hot, humid, and miserable.
As far as getting to the finish line and tying everything together, Denny Hamlin has been good at that at DIS. He won the Daytona 500 in 2016 and 2019 and has four additional top-five finishes in that race. He’s had considerably less success in this race, though. He has zero wins and his top finish was third in 2015 and 2009. He’s still tied for the third favorite at +1100.
Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski share the favorite billing at +880. Keep in mind that NASCAR race favorites are typically in the +300 to +400 range, so that gives you an idea of what we’re working with here. Logano gets a lot of love at plate tracks and it’s fair to wonder if it’s deserved. He did win the Daytona 500 in 2015 and won at Talladega last year, but he hasn’t had much success in this race, finishing third in 2011 and fourth in 2012 and 2016. He was fourth the last two years in the Daytona 500 as well.
Keselowski is a four-time winner at Talladega. He won this race back in 2016. He’s probably a better bet than Logano, who seems to have this plate race reputation that isn’t wholly justified. This has been one of Ford’s better races in the Toyota era as well.
Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott are the others at +1100. Busch finished second and won the first stage at Daytona earlier this year. He was runner-up in this race back in 2016. His only win at Daytona came all the way back in 2011 and he last won at Talladega in 2008. In head-to-head matchups, take Elliott, who has twice had the pole for the Daytona 500 and won earlier this year at Talladega. In fact, of the short prices, he’s not a bad look.
This 4th of July weekend race always seems to have a lot of fireworks. You definitely want to take some longer shots here as far as I can tell. While Keselowski and Elliott are good bets among the short prices, there’s a reason why Jones, Almirola, Stenhouse, and even David Ragan have won this race in recent years.
The obvious problem is that guys that are 20 or 25/1 are 17 or 18/1 this week. Jones, even with last year’s win, is only +3000. He isn’t a big price, but Ryan Blaney at +1450 isn’t a bad grab. He won the second stage in the Daytona 500 this year and led the most laps last year en route to finishing seventh. This race hasn’t been a strong one for him, but he’s run well here before and even finished second in 2017 for Wood Brothers Racing.
So, who do we actually take when it’s possible to make a case for like 20 different drivers because of the nature of this race. Even matchups are risky with the mechanical issues and the tight racing. I’ll be on Keselowski, Elliott, and Blaney as outrights and will look to play those guys in matchups as well.
Matchups are likely a better way to play this race anyways, so guys will be crashing out throughout the afternoon and some good fortune there should get those tickets to the window.