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.