The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season looks a lot different this year. There will be a dirt race at Bristol, more road course races, including Road America on Fourth of July Weekend and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and new stops in Nashville and Austin.
One thing remains a constant. The season starts at Daytona International Speedway with the Daytona 500. The race with the biggest prize pool of the year is also annually the toughest to handicap because everybody watches with bated breath hoping that their drivers don’t fall victim to The Big One.
That race-changing crash is guaranteed to come at some point and the hope would be that you pick drivers that are able to navigate the carnage and finish on the last lap with a chance to win.
As we know, engine modifications curtail speeds on the superspeedway track, which bunches up the drivers and makes for a lot of tight racing. Reigning champion Denny Hamlin won last year’s race by 0.014 seconds. The only race that ended closer? Hamlin’s 2016 win by 0.010 seconds.
Checking in with the odds at BetMGM Sportsbook, it is Hamlin who is the +800 favorite. Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney are all +1000, with Brad Keselowski and William Byron at +1400 to round out the top five plus ties on the betting board. Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson make up a quintet of drivers at +1600.
|D. Hamlin||+800||E. Jones||+6600|
|C. Elliott||+1000||J. H. Nemechek||+6600|
|J. Logano||+1000||M. McDowell||+6600|
|R. Blaney||+1000||R. Preece||+8000|
|B. Keselowski||+1000||J. Haley||+10000|
|Ky. Busch||+1400||K. Grala||+10000|
|A. Bowman||+1600||L. Cassill||+15000|
|A. Almirola||+1600||B. Poole||+20000|
|K. Larson||+1600||C. Lajoie||+20000|
|W. Byron||+1800||D. Suarez||+20000|
|M. Truex Jr.||+1800||T. Dillon||+20000|
|B. Wallace||+2000||Derrike Cope||+20000|
|Ku. Busch||+2000||BJ McLeod||+50000|
|R. Chastain||+2000||C. Ware||+50000|
|R. Stenhouse Jr||+2000||G. Smithley||+50000|
|A. Dillon||+2500||J. Davison||+50000|
|C. Bell||+3000||JJ Yeley||+50000|
|M. DiBenedetto||+3000||J. Gase||+50000|
|C. Buescher||+4000||J. Bilicki||+50000|
|C. Custer||+4000||Q. Houff||+50000|
|C. Briscoe||+4000||R. Sorenson||+50000|
|T. Reddick||+4000||T. Hill||+50000|
|A. Cindric||+4000||N. Gragson||+50000|
|R. Newman||+5000||A. Alfredo||+50000|
Larson is back and now a member of Hendrick Motorsports after uttering a racial slur last year on a NASCAR livestream during the heart of the COVID-19 shutdown. That is one of a handful of driver changes. Alex Bowman has assumed the #48 car of Jimmie Johnson and Larson slides into the #88, which has been renumbered as the #5.
You’ll see Erik Jones, who is +6600, in the #43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports as he left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of last year. Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain are now full-time drivers. Johnson and Clint Bowyer retired from the sport. Things certainly look a bit different at the start of the year.
Daytona success is hard to achieve and even harder to consistently achieve. Hamlin has three wins in the last five years, but his average finishing position over the last 10 Daytona races is just 13.1. His five top-five finishes are tied for the most and his three wins make him the only driver with multiple wins in the last 10 Daytona races.
Of the guys that have started all 10 races, Michael McDowell is actually the one with the highest average finish in 12.5th place. That would be a nice +6600 cash, eh?
Ryan Newman is +5000. He could very well have won this race last year before suffering one of the scariest crashes in recent memory. Lots of uncertainty became lots of relief when it was announced that Newman was mostly okay and he even returned to racing a few weeks later. Newman has actually averaged a finish of 13.5 over the last 10 races and that would have been closer to Hamlin’s 13.1 had he not finished seventh on the roof of his car last year.
Austin Dillon is +3000 with a win here recently and some pretty good runs in plate races. A lot of people like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at +2000 for that reason. He does have a win in the last 10 Daytona races, but only two top-five finishes.
This is such a hard handicap in so many ways. You have to basically throw some darts and hope that they stick in the board. Brad Keselowski is one of those darts for me at +1400. Keselowski only has four lead lap finishes in the last 10 starts, but he has a win and another top-10 finish when he has made it through the chaos. He is second in laps led with 193 over the last 10 races. Only Hamlin has more.
Otherwise, we’ll have to just think about spraying some bets around. Consider that Justin Haley, who is +10000, won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last year. That speaks to the craziness of Daytona races. Dillon at +3000 isn’t a bad look. Tyler Reddick at +4000 is a pretty good big-track racer as well. The price isn’t great, but that comes with the territory in a race like this.