A new edition of The Great American Race comes your way on Sunday February 16, as the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season officially gets underway with the Daytona 500. Our preview is going out a little bit early, as the starting grid will be set with Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels, but we know how this race tends to play out.
Wrecks. Wrecks. More wrecks. Lots of cautions. The restrictor plate element bunches the cars up and makes for some very exciting racing, but vehicles always become casualties at Daytona International Speedway. Sometimes the winner simply takes down the title by having a car that works long enough to get across the finish line. So, the starting grid is certainly important, but things can get out of whack in short order.
We’re happy to be back previewing the NASCAR races with you once again this season at BangTheBook.com. We’ll rely on odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook to help break down the field.
Before we get into the particulars of the race, here are the odds for the 2020 Daytona 500:
|Martin Truex Jr||+1540|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||+2750|
|Darrell Wallace Jr||+6600|
|John Hunter Nemechek||+11000|
Denny Hamlin is the favorite coming off of last year’s win, which was his second in four years. Hamlin was also third in 2018, fourth in 2015, second in 2014, and fourth in 2012, so he’s been very strong at Daytona, at least in this race.
More on the other drivers later…
The best reference we’ve got to the NASCAR rule changes for this season is to go and check out the preview from last week’s Busch Clash. The most important rule changes for this race are that the stage lengths have been changed and that the traditional restrictor plate is no longer in use.
NASCAR officials are going with a tapered spacer. They have been in use since 2015 and the spacers were used at several tracks last year, including the summer race at Daytona and the races at Talladega. We didn’t get a great frame of reference as to the spacer at Daytona in last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 because there was a lot of rain. Justin Haley won that rain-shortened event and there were all sorts of cautions, including one stemming from a wreck that took out the frontrunners of the field.
The Stage lengths this year will be 65-65-70 laps. Last year’s race was 60-60-80.
Pit crew sizes are also down from 12 to 10, so more efficiency will be asked of the remaining members. We could see that have an impact in this race, but it may affect a lot of teams.
Wrecks and Effects
You notice this isn’t spelled like the ‘90s new jack swing group that did Rump Shaker. No, this about the effects of crashes. We know that they are going to happen. They are inevitable and we have no way of knowing which drivers will get caught up in those shenanigans. The best we can do is keep in the mind that this race can get very unpredictable.
Austin Dillon won this race at 40/1 in 2018. Shorter price Denny Hamlin won it at +950 last year. Hamlin is the favorite this year at +950. Generally speaking, we see the favorites in these NASCAR races in the +350 to +450 range. Hamlin’s price is more than double that. If you needed any indication that this is a tough race to handicap, you’ve got it.
These are prices reserved for the fourth or fifth favorites in a traditional race. What happens here is that the middle tier gets bunched up. In order to achieve the right theoretical hold percentage, prices on mid-range guys are condensed. That’s why we have eight drivers between 10/1 and 18/1. That’s why the “long” shots are in the 20/1 to 30/1 range.
You may have to get a little bit creative here.
Handicapping the Field
As mentioned, Hamlin is a deserving favorite here with a great record of success in the Daytona 500, but it is worth noting that he doesn’t run nearly as well in the summer for some reason. His best finish there is third twice in 2015 and 2009. Remember that the race formerly held July 4 weekend is now the last race of the regular season in late August.
Joey Logano has the one Daytona 500 win back in 2015, but he also has back-to-back fourth-place finishes. That is one reason why he is listed as the third favorite at +1100. His best superspeedway track is actually Talladega, but he gets the carryover respect at Daytona.
Kyle Busch is the second favorite at 10/1. He is obviously a threat everywhere and finished second last year with a Stage 1 win. He has actually never won this race and his only Daytona win came all the way back in 2008. He’s had sporadic top-five finishes here, but Toyota only has two wins at Daytona. Both belong to Hamlin. I think it’s a little tough to take him, since this track rewards patience and good fortune more than aggression. Busch typically wins with aggression.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are obviously guys that can win anywhere, but Harvick last won this race in 2007. He has a couple top-five finishes and the most laps led within the last five years, but he isn’t really thought of as a good racer on these tracks. Keselowski has finished outside the top 10 five straight years.
One of my picks this week is Ryan Blaney at +1760. Blaney won Stage 2 here last year and led the most laps in 2018 en route to finishing seventh. He was second in 2017. That is a pretty consistent string of performances at a tough track. His overall finishes aren’t stellar here, but he broke through at Talladega for last year’s playoff win and this price is too high on a guy that seems to like this format more than others.
Obviously you always have to consider Chase Elliott at +1540 at Daytona. He hasn’t gotten that win, but he has had three pole positions in Daytona races and also had a win and a pole win at Talladega last year. Now that this race will run more like Talladega without the traditional restrictor plate, that could be the break that Elliott needs. He’s also on my card at +1540.
One more driver and this one is a long shot. Tyler Reddick is +6600. This is Reddick’s first full season running in the Cup Series, but he has a Daytona win, a Talladega win, and an additional pole win in the Xfinity Series. He was 27th in his first Daytona 500 last year. You clearly don’t have to bet a lot here on him, but I think he’s worthwhile at 66/1 for a long shot price.
Coverage of the 2020 Daytona 500 will be on Fox with a start time of 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday February 16.