Daytona 500 Race Preview and Picks to Win
Date: Sunday February 26th, 2017
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Time: 2 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
Boogity, boogity, boogity! Weíre BACK! Welcome to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Season. Thatís right. Sprint Cup is no more. Monster Energy is the new sponsor of the series. Along with the major sponsorship, there have been many changes to the rules made by NASCAR in the off-season. As we delve into a new year and a new season, we have new drivers as well, including rookie Daniel Suarez. He is fielding the #19 car, vacated suddenly by Carl Edwards at the end of last season. That was another surprise to the 2017 season. Edwards is out. Along with Tony Stewart taking his final laps in Miami, this is definitely a new era of NASCAR coming our way.
With all of the new changes taking place, NASCARís first challenge to the drivers was the Clash sponsored by Advance Auto Parts this past weekend. The field was only 17 drivers, but it was a nice exhibition race to see some of the changes in action and also to see how the teams would work together. There are numerous manufacturer changes that happened, leading many to wonder how different drivers (i.e. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick) would manage to work together on the track. Overall, there was a lot of brand loyalty during the race, but the competition remained fierce, with a last lap spin from Hamlin blocking Keselowski, ultimately leading to Penske teammate Logano taking the win. Several drivers had other incidents including Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. Overall, though, it was just hard and good racing.
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Qualifying also happened this past weekend. The unique thing about Daytona is that qualifying only locks in the front row. The rest of the drivers will have their starting positions chosen from the two Can-Am Duel races that will happen this Thursday. The starters of those packs will be the two drivers that are on the front row for the 500. The winner of the pole is none other than Chase Elliott. This is his second consecutive pole for the 500, clearly a type of race that runs in the blood. His front row counterpart is none other than Dale Jr. It is so nice to have Jr. back in the field after the uncertainty that plagued him after his concussion scare last year. Good for Jr. taking the precautions necessary to heal properly, but boy am I glad that heís back in the game. Those two drivers will control the start of the Duels. Their front row contenders are going to be Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer, respectively, who qualified third and fourth over the weekend.
Daytona is an awesome track to watch. Itís a solid driver track while also being a fan favorite. The history runs deep here, being one of NASCARís oldest venues. Opening in 1959, it was clear that the France family would have quite a sport on their hands at the completion of this project. This 2.5 mile asphalt tri-oval boasts 31 degree banking in the turns, 18 degrees in the tri-oval, and 2 degrees on the backstretch. The backstretch comes in at 3000 feet while the front stretch is whopping 3800 feet. To put that in perspective, I always like to compare to Martinsville where both the front and backstretches are a mere 800 feet long. You can fit nearly 5 Martinsville frontstretches on the frontstretch of Daytona. Thatís impressive. Drivers are well nto the 200 mph range at their fastest points. It can be dangerous not only because of the speeds but also because of the variables of pack racing, where there are large packs of cars racing literally within inches of each other. An interesting note, though, is that there werenít many complaints about tires during the exhibition race. I know that it was only a total of 75 laps, but the biggest concern was fuel mileage and the drivers strategizing to make it to the end. I suspect that will be the case for the 500 as well. When it comes to looking at the winners this weekend, Iíve said it before and Iíll say it again: Daytona is a crap shoot. We can always have our favorites and those we know who do well at this track, but it only takes one major wreck for every single favorite to be knocked out of contention. That being said, hereís one of the biggest rule changes that NASCAR has implemented in the name of ďsafetyĒ (those quotes are purposeful). According to the new policy, should a driver incur damage from an accident that requires his car to go to the garage, he is no longer eligible to come back to the track. While I get it to a certain degree because of those guys who couldnít maintain minimum speed, hasnít part of the novelty of Cup racing been seeing a team come together and make repairs to have a driver maintain their points? Having not seen how this rule will actually affect the season thus far, Iím not a fan at this point. That may change, but I really really really feel like NASCAR is starting to unfoil the integrity of what is stock car racing. Anyway, taking into consideration qualifying and the exhibition race so far as well as some of the previous stats, here are my picks to win this weekend:
My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: Daniel Suarez. Bet YOUR pick using your credit card and get a 50% bonus added to your account at MyBookie!
Thatís a really wacky group of drivers. I know. But, hey, this is Daytona! That being said, Keselowski (and Logano) both had amazing runs in the Clash. Keselowski had his name on the checkers until Hamlin helped ruin his chances in the last lap. His teammate, Logano, probably has just as equal a shot. The Penske garage has horsepower nailed. Thatís really what you need at this track. Bowyer was impressive during qualifying. Heís a B lister with, hopefully, a little more competition in his blood this year. Heís starting off on the right foot, but I think that this race will actually really show what heís got for the 2017 season. And Suarez, you might ask? Well, he was absolutely fantastic during the exhibition. He showed the speed, confidence, and skill of a veteran. Overall, this kid is talented. I think that heís quite the asset to the Cup series this year. Heís going to be one of the top guys to look for making big moves and really showing strength as a young driver.
Those are my picks. Take them or leave them. There are a lot of other very qualified drivers. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch just to name a fewÖthose guys are absolutely contenders. The front row drivers are certainly nothing to sneeze at either. With Elliottís skill demonstrated on the track and his familyís history, donít count him out. Jr. is the same. Heís excellent at Ďseeing the airíÖpossibly not quite as good as Sr., but Jr. still has a lot of expertise here. This weekend, the 500 will absolutely give us a great start to the 2017 season. There are a lot of changes with the points, but I will delve into that next weekend when we have something to work with and actually use to show an explanation. NASCAR has done a really good job at complicating that system as well. Stay tuned for a spectacular start to 2017 as the drivers battle it out at Daytona! Bet driver to win, head to head matchups, props and more at 5Dimes Sportsbook!
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