Dale Earnhardt Jr. among Daytona 500 betting favorites

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(OddsShark.com) — After a dominating Can Am Duel victory on Thursday earned him a second row start in Sunday’s Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has emerged as a favorite to claim his third career victory in NASCAR’s top race with +385 odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Earnhardt picked up his first Daytona 500 win back in 2004 and will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing performance in last year’s race, failing to maintain a lead he held for 30 laps and eventually finishing third.

The 41-year-old North Carolina native, who trails the favorites on the odds to win the Sprint Cup championship at 10/1, has finished in the top three at Daytona in each of the past four years, including a win in 2014, and will be starting from the first two rows for the seventh time in 17 appearances in The Great American Race.

Denny Hamlin had to settle for a fifth-place Can Am Duel finish on Thursday, but prepares for Sunday afternoon’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway trailing only Earnhardt on the odds at +750.

Hamlin is followed by two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who joins Kyle Busch at +975 despite being forced to start from the rear of the field in a backup car after being involved in a crash in the final lap of Thursday’s second Can Am Duel race.

Johnson last won the Daytona 500 in 2013 and recorded a fifth-place finish a year ago, en route to a disappointing 10th place finish in the Sprint Cup standings.

The 15-year NASCAR veteran is a 7/1 bet to claim a record-tying seventh career Sprint Cup championship, joining Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth and trailing only Kevin Harvick, who enters the week as 5/1 chalk to claim his second Sprint Cup crown in three years.

Harvick, hungry for a win after falling just one point short of a Sprint Cup championship repeat last season, enters at +1250 on the Daytona 500 odds, trailing Logano and Brad Keselowski, who are knotted at +1100, and Matt Kenseth at +1200.

Logano picked up his first career win at Daytona last year, while Keselowski completed just 160 laps in last year’s race after recording top-five appearances the previous two years. Kyle Busch, the man who edged out Harvick to finish atop the 2015 Sprint Cup standings, opens the NASCAR season with 8/1 odds of repeating as champion, followed by Keselowski at 9/1.

Video: Erik Jones hits staircase on racetrack during test lap

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Debris sometimes finds its way onto NASCAR tracks.

But a staircase on the racetrack? That’s certainly unusual.

Erik Jones was driving the NASCAR on NBC car for a test lap at Charlotte and hit a staircase that was left on the track as shown in the video above. NBC Sports NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton was also in the car during the accident that happened after Turn 4.

Both men are fine and did not report any injuries.

Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski Lead Odds to Win the 2017 Daytona 500

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Given the unpredictability of restrictor-plate races – remember barely 20-year-old Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 in his second start in 2011?? – studying up on teams can make the difference with picking a driver for the Great American Race.

Two-time champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., despite missing half of the 2016 season due to post-concussion symptoms, and Brad Keselowski are at +450 and +700, respectively, on the odds to win the 2017 Daytona 500 at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano, who’s listed at +900, have combined to capture four of the last eight restrictor-plate races.

Earnhardt’s deftness on drafting-heavy tracks such as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega explain why many fans believe he is capable of a comeback win. His Hendrick Motorsports team will also dominate the front row, with Chase Elliott (+1200) having the pole position for the second year in a row.

One concern with the Hendrick drivers, including seven-time season champion Jimmie Johnson (+1000), has been dealing with the high-banking Turn 4. Earnhardt and Elliott were vexed by it in the 2016 Daytona 500 and Johnson had two spin-outs during last week’s Clash at Daytona. Johnson enters the season second on the odds to win the NASCAR Cup championship.

Keselowski is seeking his first Daytona 500 win, which would complete a restrictor-plate grand slam since he has won the July race at the track and both Talladega events. With Logano already having a Daytona 500 victory to his name, it’s plausible Penske’s emphasis would be on having Keselowski win the Great American Race.

The Joe Gibbs Racing team has fared well at the track over the years. Defending champion Denny Hamlin (+1200) stands an excellent shot of being in contention near the end, having finished fourth or better in four of his last five Daytonas, so there’s a chance he’ll be around at the end. Teammates Kyle Busch (+1000) and Matt Kenseth (+1400), a two-time winner in his own right, should also be in the mix.

Martin Truex Jr. (+1400) is worth considering after finishing second to Hamlin by 0.01 second in the 2015 race. One longshot worth considering is Jamie McMurray (+2800) of Chip Ganassi Racing, who won the race back in 2010.