We’re nearing the season opener for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET/FOX/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will contest on Sunday for the 61st time. With 61 years running, there are plenty of storylines surrounding this year’s race.
Here’s the complete breakdown for Sunday’s race.
Normally, the “Big 3” of Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing are the ones to beat in Daytona Speedweeks. Over the past 14 years, they’ve won 71-percent of the Cup Series races during Speedweeks.
In fact, since 2013, these trio of organizations have won 21 of 25 combined races. Two of the races they didn’t win though were the last two Daytona 500’s.
While these were the teams to beat all Speedweeks long last year and even in the ‘500 itself too, Austin Dillon found victory lane instead. In 2017, Kurt Busch did.
The top cars don’t always win the Daytona 500. In fact, the top cars lately end up on a tow truck.
Winning at Daytona has been more about survival to the end rather than all out speed. In order to win, you have to have more luck avoiding the crashes than having the best car.
This year, will we see another upset?
If so, look no further than Dillon again. He’s +3300 and has six top 10 finishes in his last 10 Daytona starts. What about a guy like Paul Menard? He’s +2800 and has three top six finishes in his last four Daytona starts. He dominated the Clash last Sunday too. Then there’s Ryan Newman (+4000). He has three straight top eight finishes at Daytona and is now driving a Ford. Darrell Wallace Jr. has the same odds as Newman was was runner-up in this very race a year ago. He hasn’t finished worse than 15th in his career at Daytona. Another driver to watch is Michael McDowell (+6600). He has five top 15 finishes including ninth in last year’s Daytona 500 in his last six tries. Finally, don’t sleep on Chris Buescher. He has the third worst odds (+8000) and has three straight top 10 finishes at Daytona including fifth in both races a year ago. Now, he has Hendrick Motorsports engines in his car.
Last Lap Pass/Carnage?
The last three Daytona 500’s have seen a last lap pass for the win. Denny Hamlin stormed through the pack and passed his teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead in Turn 4 of the final lap in 2016 and held off a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. for the win.
In 2017, Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson in Turn 2 on the final lap.
Last year, Austin Dillon crashed Aric Almirola on the backstretch going for the win.
Will we see another last lap pass for the win on Sunday? Trends say, yes. So does the recent history of the end of these plate races.
The Clash had a last lap battle for the win. The second Duel had a last lap pass for the win too.
The new package will likely promote a last lap crash as the second place car will have to make a daring move to win.
Will Chaos Ensue?
The last two years of Cup races at Daytona have had mayhem. In the 2017 Daytona 500, 34 of the 40 cars that started were involved in some kind of wreck throughout the afternoon. The 2018 Daytona 500 saw 31 of 40 cars crash. The July race last year had 34 of 40. The Clash last Sunday saw 17 of the 20 cars leave with damage.
Will Sunday produce as much carnage?
I think so.
Unfortunately, it could happen early and often again.
In last year’s race, we saw a nine car pileup at the end of the first stage. Then, on Lap 97, we saw another seven cars taken out. All those crashes involved heavy hitters.
In the July race a year ago, 28 cars were involved in a Lap 55 crash. 11 laps later, four more heavy hitters were taken out.
With stage racing and how every point matters, especially with a new aero package for the rest of the season causing uncertainty, expect this year’s race to be treacherous again.
Leading The Most Laps Doesn’t Equate To Victory
The driver who has led the most laps in the Daytona 500 has only won two of the last five races (Denny Hamlin in 2016 and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014). Twice in that time, a driver has led only the last lap for victory – Austin Dillon in 2018 and Kurt Busch in 2017.
Ryan Blaney’s 118 laps led last year was the most prolific time out front in the race since Davey Allison led 127 laps en route to the 1992 winner’s trophy. Since then, Blaney is the only driver to lead 100 laps or more since Tony Stewart led 107 laps in 2005. Both Blaney and Stewart finished seventh in those races.
In between those 100-lap efforts, the Busch brothers led 80 or more laps and did not win a race. Kyle Busch led 88 laps in 2009 and 86 laps in 2008. His older brother Kurt led 95 laps in 2007.
In fact, since 1993 a driver has led 100 or more laps only six times. Only twice did that result in a Daytona 500 win. Dale Earnhardt led 107 laps en route to his historic 1998 victory and Sterling Marlin led 105 laps en route to his 1995 win.
Restrictor Plate Package Doesn’t Allow For Side By Side Racing
It seems like every year we’re questioning the racing in the Clash and every year we wonder if that will translate over to the Daytona 500 a week later. While it typically doesn’t, some drivers that ran in the Clash on Sunday are thinking that what we saw in the Clash could potentially be a precursor to what we see in the ‘500 too.
There are a few reasons as to why.
The first is the weather. Last year, the Clash saw much cooler temperatures than the Daytona 500 itself. While both were sunny days, the Daytona 500 was raced in warmer conditions. This year’s forecast has similar temperatures forecasted. Hopefully it’s not as rainy on Sunday, but temps are supposed to be in the 60’s, just like it was for the Clash.
The drivers said that if the temperatures were hotter for the ‘500, it would make Daytona’s 2.5-mile racing surface hotter and slicker which would promote more side-by-side racing. It would make the track treacherous and allow cars to slip and slide more.
The Clash saw max grip levels even when the cars were trimmed out, which is a big part of why we saw cars running in single file.
The next season is due to the aerodynamic package. The top two finishers in Sunday’s Clash said the high line is the way to go around Daytona and the drivers learned the side force only works when drafting off the right quarter panel. Well, how can you draft off someone’s right quarter panel when they’re running the high line around the banking?
“I wish I knew,” said Kurt Busch on why the racing was single file. “That would be the golden ticket, to create the better racing and the stability of the cars side by side. If I had a magic wand, I would wave it. We’re all smart guys. That’s why we’re running the high groove. The cars don’t side draft as well off the left side. The right side is too vulnerable. And so when you draft off somebody on the right, you dump a lot more air on to their rear spoiler and you take away their sideforce on the right side of the cars. We’ve an at oval – we’re turning left. The right side is very important.
“So if we can get the cars less dependable on the sideforce, that’s what I would try to explain to the fans, and that’s what I thought the cars were more of when I first started racing.”
Clash winner Jimmie Johnson agreed. He did say with double the amount of cars in the Daytona 500 that maybe that will change the racing, but if not, this package is to blame.
“Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of opportunities to pass, but when the line is around the top, you get runs and you just — you can’t pull out,” Johnson said. “There’s a line 20 cars long that you’ll never get back in, and that was just today. In the 500 it’ll be 40 cars long. It’s circumstantial to what’s going on, and this rules package has kind of trended towards the middle of the race track or the high lane, just the cars stay wound up and you’re at higher RPM and the engines pull better. The bottom lane it’s easy to really stop that car with a side draft and get their RPM too low to where the engine doesn’t pull.
“So we’re all kind of fighting for the outside in general. Restarts, the outside lane seems to be the lane you want to be in, and that just kind of takes you forward. And then when it gets to single file on the top, I mean, you’re just waiting. That’s all we did at — every time we got 5 or 10 laps in, it went single file at the top, and everybody is just waiting for that chance that it’s safe to make a pass or you think that you’re coming to the checkered or something like that.”
Does that make it sound like the Daytona 500 will be any different?
That’s been the turn that caused so much carnage lately. That 28 car pile up in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last year, occurred entering Turn 3. The Lap 66 accident? Same turn.
The Lap 60 and 97 crashes in last year’s Daytona 500?
The last lap crash with Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon?
You guessed it, entering Turn 3.
The Clash? 17 of the 20 cars crashed in Turn 3.
Heck, even the 2017 Daytona 500 saw a five car crash on Lap 105 in Turn 3, a 14 car pileup in Turn 3 and an 11 car crash in the same turn.
For some reason, Turn 3 has been the problem turn at Daytona lately. Will it be that way on Sunday again?
Ford’s Strength But New Car
There’s no doubt about it, Ford has been the manufacturer to beat on restrictor plate tracks as of late. Since 2014, they’ve won 13 of 18 points paying Cup races. Last year, they were 2-for-4 but the year prior, they won all four trips. The year prior to that, they were 3-for-4.
This year though, they have a new car, the Mustang. Will this body style race and draft as well as the Fusion? After the Clash, all signs points to yes. The drivers have noticed, but can they stay out of trouble?
The horsepower is there, but will the car allow it to glide through the air with as much speed as in the last five years? Can they be there in the end?
If so, Joey Logano (+800) is your man. He won this race in 2015 which sparked four straight Daytona 500’s with a top six finish. The only thing going against him is that a reigning series champion hasn’t won the Daytona 500 the next year since 2000. It’s only happened twice since 1978.
Another strong one to watch is Aric Almirola. He has a Ford and was a 1/2 lap away from winning last year’s race. He finished fourth in 2017. He’s +1200.
Ryan Blaney is another Ford. He led the most laps (118) last year and has finished second and seventh respectiely the last two years.
Will Hendrick Get It Right This Year
Hendrick Motorsports has now won five straight Daytona 500 poles. Unfortunately, they don’t have any wins to show for it. The once kings of restrictor plates have found troubles with the handling of their cars in the races themselves.
When it’s running by themselves, HMS cars are fast. In the draft, they’ve been out of control. This year, they said that they have fixed those past problems.
So far, it looks true. Sunday will tell us more.
HMS struggled in 2018. It was so bad Rick Hendrick was voiced his frustrations by it. 2019 would be a great start if they can cap Spedweeks with a win in the Great American Race.
Bad Luck For Front Row Starters
This doesn’t bode well for the point above, but the last time a pole winner won the Daytona 500, William Byron was two years old (2000). Furthermore, the last time the pole winner even finished in the top five was 2002 (Bill Elliott). In fact, 14 of the last 17 races have seen the pole winner finish outside of the top 10. He’s +2000 on Sunday.
What about the outside front row starting spot. The last win came in 1993 (Dale Jarrett). They have only finished in the top 10 just four times since 2006. Alex Bowman rolls off second this weekend but is only +2000 too.
Byron and Alex Bowman hope to reverse these trends.
Clash Winner Doesn’t Mean Daytona 500 Win
This doesn’t bode well for the last few points. Jimmie Johnson (+2000) won the Clash but only six times has the Clash winner won the Daytona 500. The last time was Denny Hamlin in 2016. Before him, it hasn’t happened since 1998.
Repeat Winner Not Likely
Austin Dillon (+3300) is hoping to become just the fourth driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500’s. Richard Petty did it in 1973 and 1974. Cale Yarborough did it in 1983 and 1984. Sterling Marlin was the last to do so in 1994 and again in 1995. The odds don’t look favorable for Dillon to repeat on Sunday.
Logano Has Great Stats At Daytona But Recent Champions Don’t Have Daytona 500 Success
Logano (+800) won his first career Cup Series championship last November. That mixed with him driving a Ford and he having four straight top six finishes in the Daytona 500 itself, bodes well for his confidence level on Sunday. But, what if I told you that only five times has the reigning series champion won the Daytona 500 the next year and the last time that it happened was 2000. Its only happened twice since 1978.
Favorites Not Very Favorable
Brad Keselowski (+700) has the best odds but he has four straight finishes of 27th or worse at Daytona. In fact, since July 2014, the Penske driver has eight finishes of 18th or worse in his last nine Daytona tries.
Clint Bowyer (+800) has just one top five finish at Daytona since 2014.
Kevin Harvick (+1000) has finished six of his last nine Daytona starts 19th or worse.
Kyle Busch (+1200) has finished 20th or worse in his last four Daytona starts and has just two top 10 finishes on the 2.5-mile track since 2014.
Chase Elliott (+1200) has finished 30th or worse in four of his last six Daytona 500 starts. His best finish is 14th.
So Who To Pick?
Denny Hamlin (+1000) is a good value sine he has four top four finishes in his last five Daytona 500 starts including a win in 2016.
Almirola (+1200) is another good one for the reasons listed above.
Blaney (+1400) is also going to be a factor for his reasons above.
Martin Truex Jr. (+1400) has been snakebitten lately but was in the top five in the final laps the last two years.
Kurt Busch (+1600) is a past winner of this race (2017) and has finished in the top five in both of his starts this Speedweeks (2nd Clash, 5th Duel).
Erik Jones (+2200) won at Daytona in July and has two top 10 finishes in as many tries in the night race. If he can stay out of trouble of Sunday, he has value.
Menard (+2800) because of his stats above.
Newman (+4000), Wallace Jr. (+4000), McDowell (+6600) and Buescher (+8000) because of what I said about them above too.