2011 NASCAR Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway, Daytona, FL
2.5 mile Tri-oval, restrictor plate track
Sunday, February 20, 2011, 1:00 pm Eastern, TV: FOX
Defending Champion: Jamie McMurray
Unlike other sporting organizations, NASCAR starts out its season with its biggest event the Daytona 500. This year, the track has been repaved for the first time in over 30 years. That along with improvements to the cars, have led to speeds of over 200 miles even with the restrictor plate in use at this track. The unusual thing so far in four races at Daytona in the last week is that the drivers have to partner up with another car to draft. If you try to go it alone you will get passed pretty easily. Three car drafts don’t work with the new set-up either, so you will see a lot of two car trains that are stuck to each other like glue. NASCAR tried to change the set-up of the cars after last week’s Bud Shootout to prevent this from occuring, by changing the radiator so that it would overheat more if air did not circulate through it, and by decreasing the hole size for the restrictor plate. It did not appear to work during the qualifying races Thursday or even at the Nationwide Race Saturday. You still saw tons of the two car drafts that make for boring racing. now no one knows if the drivers have the stamina to draft like that for 500 miles or 200 laps, but it should be interesting. Here is a list of some of the contenders and their odds to win the Daytona 500 courtesy of bodog.
1. Kevin Harvick (8/1) Harvick loves this track. He has two wins here including in the July race last year along with 5 top fives and 8 top ten finishes in his career. Harvick had 3 wins last and was the leader heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Harvick qualified 7th for this race. He is definitely worth a play here, but recently the favorites ahven’t done well at this track.
2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (9/1) Earnhardt must feel a little snake-bitten. Last week he qualified for the pole, but crashed during practice and must start at the back of the field now. Earnhardt, long NASCAR’s most popular driver by a wide margin has not won in 93 races, dating back to 2008. This will be a very emotional weekend for Earnhardt (and everyone else in NASCAR of course) as his father Dale, Sr. was killed 10 years ago in this race. I would love to see Dale, Jr end his winless skid but I jsut don’t see it happening this week.
3. Kurt Busch (10/1) Kurt is trying to do something no one has ever done before. He won the Bud Shootout last week, and then won the first of the Gatorade Duels on Thursday. With Earnhardt starting from the back of the field, Busch will effectively be the pole sitter for Daytona. No one has ever won the Shootout, a qualifying Duel race and Daytona in the same year. Though Busch has never won a points race at Daytona, he has 11 career top 10’s and 9 top 5’s. I think Kurt has a good shot of making history here.
4. Kyle Busch (10/1) Younger brother Kyle is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR. He also isn’t afraid to make enemies. He has a win at this track in 2008. He qualified 10th for this race. Kyle has the talent to win every week, if he can control his temper. I think both busch brothers could be worth a play.
5. Tony Stewart (10/1) “Smoke” has 3 career wins at this track. Though Stewart didn’t qualify well, starting from the 25th position, he can move up quickly. Never count him out, but I just don’t think it is his week.
6. Jeff Gordon (11/1) Gordon has 6 wins at Daytona in his career but none since 2005. He is starting the race in second. Gordon did finish third in the July race last year at Daytona. Gordon has a new sponsor and would love to take them to victory lane at Daytona.
7. Clint Bowyer (12/1) Though Boyer doesn’t have a win at Daytona, he does have 2 top fives and 6 top tens. Bowyer could be a nice pick in this race.
8. Jamie McMurray (12/1) McMurray won this race last year. He has two career wins at Daytona. He has the talent to repeat, but the new surface has made Daytona wide open. McMurray will start in 14th position.
9. Jeff Burton (12/1) Burton won the second Gatorade duel last week and will start in 4th. Burton has one career win at this track but that was way back in 2000. I don’t think Burton will contend this week.
10. Jimmie Johnson (14/1) The 5 time defending Sprint Cup Champion hasn’t had much luck at Daytona though he did win the 500 in 2006. He has finished 30th or worse in 3 straight races at Daytona. I don’t see his luck changing this week.
Here is a list of some of he other contenders and their odds: Denny Hamlin (14/1), Carl Edwards (16/1), Greg Biffle (22/1), Joey Logano (30/1), Juan Pablo Montoya (25/1), Kasey Kahne (22/1), Mark Martin (30/1), Martin Truex, Jr. (40/1), Brad Keselowski (40/1), Matt Kenseth (25/1), Michael Waltrip, (35/1), Ryan Newman 30/1), and Trevor Bayne (60/1).
This race is wide open as we don’t know how the drivers are going to react to the two car drafts. My pick is Kyle Busch but any of the drivers I listed have a great shot at winning.