Race: Daytona 500 Predictions to Win
Date: Sunday, February 21, 2016
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 1 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Welcome back guys and gals! Daytona is FINALLY upon us once again after entirely too many days without racing in our lives! If you caught the commencement of NASCAR on Saturday night during the Sprint Unlimited, you saw Denny Hamlin take the checkers in a wreck-filled night at the superspeedway. Undoubtedly, that is no surprise. Perhaps the biggest losers of the night were the drivers in the Hendrick garage. All three entries including Earnhardt Jr., Kahne, and Johnson were involved in wrecks, eliminating their hopes of a win. Overall, the racing was good. It was better than previous years, in my opinion, with plenty of swapping for the lead throughout much of the race. Oddly enough, Stenhouse Jr. and Casey Mears maintained top 10 finishes, running as well as the top 5 throughout much of the night. Being that this is a superspeedway, it will be interesting to see if this momentum carries on beyond Daytona. Both drivers had some strong points last season, so we'll have to wait and see if they can build on that.
As we head into the Duels at Daytona this Thursday, the top 2 drivers from qualifying on Sunday will lead the charge. Chase Elliot, the youngest ever to win the pole at Daytona, will lead the field in the first Duel. Matt Kenseth takes charge of the second run. The results of the Duels will set the starting order for the rest of the field for Sunday's race. That being said, Elliot and Kenseth both have their positions locked, regardless of their finishes on Thursday. The only caveat to their starting positions would occur if they had to change cars for the main event for whatever reason. That leaves a fine line for these drivers to temper their aggression but still not remain overly cautious in an attempt to gain valuable information for the 500.
I want to take a minute and address a couple of significant changes in the 2016 season. Most notably, NASCAR implemented a charter system. Under this system, which is contracted for the next 9 years, 36 teams are guaranteed starting spots in the races under the pretense that they ran fulltime in the series between 2013-2015. The charter system also reduces the number of cars in the field from 43 to 40. Under this new system, there are several teams left without charters, including Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Blaney. That being said, charters are transferable and several of these teams purchased charters from agreements with defunct teams like MWR to ensure their stability in the organization for the years to come. In addition to the charter system, NASCAR changed the format of green-white-checkered finishes. Previously, there were 3 attempts allowed and then the race was called. The drivers had to take the green flag for the attempt to count. Under the new rules, there is now an overtime line, which each track has its own responsibility in setting. Once the leader crosses this particular line on the track, the restart is considered a valid attempt and no further attempts will be made. If the field does not make it to this line, the drivers are allowed as many attempts as needed to get to the overtime line in order to validate the race. These 2 changes are perhaps the most significant coming into the 2016 season.
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As we divulge that information and move onto our first race of the season, we are inevitably in for an excitement-filled Sunday. Daytona is an incredible track. Its history is second to none when it comes to NASCAR, and this is honestly a place where history is made. Daytona is a 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. There is 31 degree banking in the turns, 18 degrees in the tri-oval, and 2 degrees on the backstretch. The frontstretch is an incredible 3800 feet, while the backstretch is nothing to sneeze at with 3000 feet. To put that into perspective, Martinsville has a frontstretch and backstretch of only 800 feet. Daytona is a sight to behold, that's for sure. One of the biggest challenges that drivers face here is the draft. The draft is unique to the superspeedway, and we've seen it evolve into several different forms throughout the years. We've seen 2 car packs overtake big packs. It seems like we are back to the big packs working better than the 2 car sets at this point with these particular cars. During the Unlimited, we saw a "gaggle" (courtesy of Darrell Waltrip) throughout a good portion of the race. Drivers have no set friends during this race. Whatever cars are working best is who the drivers are going to hook up with to make a line move. There was no shortage of the outside line working during the Unlimited either. I wouldn't be surprised for that outside line to keep up pretty well this weekend because of the momentum coming out of the turns. Drivers rarely hit their brakes here, catching speeds off over 200 mph. It gets extremely dicey on the track, especially when we see pack racing as opposed to the 2 car packs.
Under these circumstances, Daytona proves to be one of the most unpredictable races of the season. We've seen instances where the knowledge from veterans on this track is of the utmost importance. We've also seen instances where the luck and adrenaline of being a solid rookie with no fear is all that is needed, as with Trevor Bayne. This year, we have another rookie on the pole, who I believe will be a strong contender. There are always our solid drivers we can never leave out. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano are solid in my books. My concern is whether Hamlin can continue his domination on a longer race than the Unlimited. He tends to get himself into trouble in the closing laps by being overly aggressive in these long races. If he can be patient, I think that he will definitely be one to watch. Harvick is carrying on a strong run from 2014 and 2015. He's certainly going to be out front at one point or another on Sunday. The Penske drivers of Logano and Keselowski should prevail this weekend, though. With the horsepower needed and both of their strong performances at the Unlimited, I see them helping each other to get up front and stay up front. Here are my picks to win this weekend heading into the Great American Race:
My Pick to Win: Joey Logano
Middle of the Road Pick: Kasey Kahne
Dark Horse Prediction: Chase Elliot
I have a tendency to go against the grain with some picks, but I'm feeling good about these. Kahne was actually having a very strong run in the Unlimited. With some more focus this year, he has the potential to climb back to his winning years. This could be a good start for him given the right circumstances. Joey Logano has the horsepower, the team, the experience, and the motivation to take the win this weekend. He will be reaching for Victory Lane this weekend. Finally, Chase Elliot could pull off what Trevor Bayne did a few years back. He is extremely talented and comes from a dad dedicated to his success. With Bill Elliot as your father, you've got quite the head start. Walking onto the #24 team is a privilege to say the least. I trust that he will make Jeff Gordon proud and carry on the legacy of the 24 team in his quest to make his own legacy starting this year.
This race is a hard prediction. There are always those teams that you can't count out. I didn't mention Matt Kenseth, but he's got the outside pole and a lot of success here to boot. He's looking to start his 2016 season off on the right foot just as he did last year. Kyle Busch is another driver to watch. Although he's not the best when it comes to superspeedways, he's still a darn good driver. After missing half of the season last year, including Daytona, you can rest assured that he is on a mission to win and repeat his Championship. The 500 is a race built on history, legacy, and heroes. To win this race is one of the greatest achievements in sports. Watch for these guys to stay packed around the track while trying to stay out of trouble for perhaps the most challenging 500 miles of the season. Stay tuned this Sunday as we embark on an exciting start to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season! Bet your Daytona picks at an online betting site where your credit card WILL work for deposits and where you'll receive a generous 50% bonus up to $250 in free cash! --> Bovada Sportsbook!
Daytona 500 Wagering Odds (Driver to Win)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5/1
Jimmie Johnson 8/1
Kevin Harvick 8/1
Joey Logano 10/1
Brad Keselowski 12/1
Kyle Busch 12/1
Matt Kenseth 12/1
Carl Edwards 14/1
Chase Elliott 14/1
Denny Hamlin 14/1
Kurt Busch 14/1
Martin Truex Jr. 16/1
Kasey Kahne 20/1
Kyle Larson 20/1
Jamie McMurray 25/1
Field (Any Other Driver) 30/1
Austin Dillon 40/1
Clint Bowyer 40/1
Greg Biffle 40/1
Ryan Blaney 40/1
Ryan Newman 40/1
Aric Almirola 50/1
Paul Menard 50/1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 50/1
Danica Patrick 60/1
Trevor Bayne 60/1
AJ Allmendinger 80/1
Casey Mears 80/1
Michael Waltrip 100/1
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