Finally it's here again...The GREAT American Race...The DAYTONA 500! One of the shortest off-seasons in major sports is over, and everyone is back on track and locked in for another run at the championship. Like most off-seasons, there was plenty of change. Drivers moving to new teams, drivers getting promoted and demoted, new sponsors, new alliances, new charters etc. It takes about half the season to get used to, but the truth is there are a LOT of guys that have a legitimate shot at winning this race today.
Anyway onto what you came here for - MY PICKS! I'll preface this by saying that I am NOT a sharp in any sport. I think I have a knack for picking the opposite of the outcome for most sports - not great for a guy that has a gambling endorsement through his job...but I'd like to think that my NASCAR insight is a little more helpful than other sports.
Gambling is hardly an exact science in NASCAR, but Daytona is such a fun race to bet on because literally everyone has a chance to win. If you can avoid the big wrecks and be on the lead lap with 5 to go, you have just as good a shot as anyone regardless of who you drive for. I've broken my picks down into 3 categories: Favorites, Value Picks, Longshots. Plus a few head to head / side bets at the end. Keep in mind there are plenty of reasons to bet on all of the guys in the field. You can make a case for essentially any car in the field...this is just who I am rolling with today.
Favorites - Top Tier Guys That Always Have a Shot To Win
Denny Hamlin (+1200) - Superspeedways like Daytona are the only place where you will find one of the biggest favorites of the day to be available to bet at +1200 odds. That's what makes these races so fun to gamble on. I'm not really "rooting" for Denny here, but he has the unquestioned success at this track and in this race. 3 Daytona 500 wins under his belt already. I'd pick him as the "get my money back" option just so you have it.
Chase Elliot (+1200) - Rick Hendrick's team always shows up to Daytona with strong cars. 2 of their cars were the fastest in qualifying, meaning Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson will roll off on the front row today. Honestly any of this team's cars are solid picks. Chase was strong in the qualifying race Thursday - which might signal bad luck to someone who is superstitious. But in his eighth try, I think Chase Elliot will be hungry to get his first Daytona 500 Win.
Ryan Blaney (+1200) - We've seen this guy go up against all of the other greats at superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega and he's won at BOTH tracks. Team Penske runs really well here but seems to get caught up in the big one a lot. His teammate Austin Cindric is the defending champion of this race - definitely a shock last season. If he can stay out of trouble you'll see his neon colored #12 up front at the end for sure. He's also the only team Penske guy I root for.
Kevin Harvick (+2500) - A lifetime ago, Kevin Harvick won this race. But that was 2007 - and he has not had too much success here in recent years. The main reason I have him slotted in here today is the fact that this is (maybe probably) his last try at the Daytona 500. He announced that he will retire from full time racing after this season, so I think he might have a more reckless attitude with some of these crown jewel races. One more run in the 500 for Happy Harvick - let's see how aggressive he will be.
Value Picks - Drivers That Have A Legit Shot To Win With Great Odds
Martin Truex Jr (+2500) - Every time I think that Truex has lost it for good, he has a career resurgence that puts him right up there with the best of the best. Martin Truex Jr. Lost this race by 0.01 seconds in years past, and he's actually finished in the top 10 at tracks like Daytona 16 times in his career. He's a NASCAR series champion, and it would be cool to see him stay out of trouble and finally get a win on one of the big time tracks like this.
*PICK OF THE DAY*
Michael McDowell (+3300) - I have been cheering for this guy for a LONG time. He always showed up and raced well on these big tracks, and he FINALLY broke through and won the Daytona 500 in 2021. Personal bias aside, this team knows it can make things happen here. He has 2 teammates locked into this race, which is important when it comes time to make a late race push. If he can avoid the big one, I really think that LOVES car will be up front at the end. People might not cut him as much slack since he already had his big win here though. We shall see.
Eric Jones (+3300) - This guy has bounced around in his career, but I think he is the best driver the 43 car has had in quite some time. Richard Petty has teamed up with Jimmie Johnson and GMS to create a brand new identity for his race team - the Legacy Motor Club. Sounds luxurious right? The best part of it all is that Eric isn't a lone wolf out there anymore. He has 2 teammates alongside him - Noah Gragson.....and oh yeah the legend Jimmie Johnson. Having teammates is so damn important and hopefully that team has a great run out of the gate.
Justin Haley/AJ Allmendinger (+4000) - Justin Haley has won a Cup race at Daytona before. It was a total fluke due to a strategic pit call before rain ended a race, but hey they all count don't they?
Aj Allmendinger is a great story. A strong racer that had chances in the cup series with bad teams. He struggles professionally and personally. Took time away, reinvented himself. Busted back onto the Xfinity scene with Kaulig and was dominant at times. He won a cup race on the road course last year and he's back to full time racing on Sunday. I love rooting for AJ
Kaulig Racing was an upstart juggernaut in the Xfinity series recently, and they have now shifted their best drivers to the cup series full time. Granted cup success might not come as easy to the team, but they have a team motto of "TROPHY HUNTING" and I know they are hungry to make a mark with a win here.
Long Shots - Guys You Should Sprinkle Money On With A Shot To Win BIG
Noah Gragson (+4000) - This is a straight up fandom pick. I have always liked Noah Gragson as he came through the Xfinity Series. He was dominant driving for Dale Jr, and now he gets a shot at a full time cup ride. The brand new Legacy Motor Club has a strong group of drivers in this race, and I hope Noah has the confidence to make strong moves and run with the big guns today. Plus I love that Wendy's is back in NASCAR - Worth a sprinkle.
Corey Lajoie (+8000) - Corey doesn't run for a strong team, but he always seems to be in the mix in superspeedway races. His biggest problem is that he never seems to have any help when he needs it at the end. At any rate, chaos could be his friend. If he avoids it, he's a guy that can pull something out late.
Travis Pastrana - (+10000) - You need to put this on your bet slip....you just need to. I mean how CAN'T you! Travis is a legendary action sports athlete. He's not a stranger to NASCAR - running full time in the Xfinity series for a season and dabbling in the truck series as well. This is his first taste of the BIG show at Daytona. He made his way into the race on speed. He's running in great equipment for 23XI racing. He's very proud to be here and wants to be respectful of the full time guys. But I hope he can run a smart race, hang around and take his best shot late.
Other Bets I Like
AJ Allmendinger to finish ahead of Jimmie Johnson (-1115)
Michael McDowell to finish ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-115)
Christopher Bell to finish ahead of Chase Briscoe (-115)
Martin Truex Jr to finish ahead of Brad Keselowski (-110)
Top 5 Finish:
Aric Almirola (+450)
Michael McDowell (+450)
Noah Gragson (+550)
Zane Smith (+1100)