Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Daytona 500
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The Action Network: Three early 2021 Daytona 500 bets

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The new year is finally here, and while that means football season is coming to a close, it’s also a reminder that NASCAR’s season-opening race, the Daytona 500 (Feb. 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), is right around the corner.

Daytona 500 odds are available at most sportsbooks, so it’s time to turn our attention toward motorsports and start building betting cards for NASCAR’s biggest race.

With this in mind, here are three drivers I’m locking in right now for the Daytona 500.

Daytona 500 Picks

*Odds as of Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. ET

Denny Hamlin (+800)

In an event that can be very random, Hamlin has found a way to dominate the Great American Race in recent years.

The Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver has won back-to-back 500s and three of the last five. That’s pretty good.

And it’s not just Daytona that fits Denny’s superspeedway eye as of late, evidenced by finishes of fourth and first at Talladega last year as well. In fact, here were Hamlin’s finishes at the four superspeedway races last season: first, fourth, third and first, for an insane 2.3 average finish.

I’m typically in very little rush to bet Daytona 500 favorites this early, but I can’t find any reason to wait on Hamlin at 8-1 odds right now.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2000)

I just can’t quit you at superspeedways, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is the ultimate checkers-or-wreckers driver, a characteristic that often results in wadded-up race cars. Still, I’m not overly concerned about where he finishes because, as a bettor, if he ain’t first, he’s last.

Ricky’s two Cup Series victories came at Talladega at Daytona (both in 2017), and he’s shown the speed to win there throughout this career, including last season after switching from Roush Fenway Racing to JTG-Daugherty Racing.

Stenhouse won the pole and led the third-most laps in the 2020 Daytona 500, then followed it up with a runner-up at Talladega in June in which he crossed the finish line .007 seconds behind winner Ryan Blaney in a crazy finish.

At 20-1, this is a worthy price to add one of the series’ top superspeedway drivers, especially one who will not settle for anything less than a win.

Chris Buescher (+4000)

Part of being a successful bettor is understanding your flaws, especially the ones that bleed profit throughout the season. My New Year’s NASCAR betting resolution is to stop taking so many longshots at superspeedway races, especially the Daytona 500. Sure, anything can happen in these races and that’s what can be seductive with longshot prices, but the deep sleepers rarely ever take the checkered flag.

As a result, I’ll be looking more toward props for my favorite sleepers — follow me on Twitter (@PJWalsh24) for my Daytona 500 props — while avoiding them (hopefully) to win outright.

With that said, I’m taking a shot, and a fairly big one, on Chris Buescher at 40-1 odds.

Here are the top 10 drivers (sorted by driver rating at the four superspeedway races last season) and corresponding 2021 Daytona 500 betting odds via BetMGM.

  • Joey Logano (98.4 driver rating): +1000
  • Denny Hamlin (98.3): +800
  • Ryan Blaney (95.1): +1000
  • Brad Keselowski (89.3): +1400
  • William Byron (88.5): +1400
  • Chris Buescher (88.1): +4000
  • Alex Bowman (85.1): +1600
  • Chase Elliott (84.6): +1000
  • Kurt Busch (82.0): +2000
  • Erik Jones (80.2): +6600

The list above includes the six drivers with the best odds to win the Daytona 500 and seven drivers at 16-1 or shorter. Kurt Busch, the 2017 winner is next at 20-1, leaving just Buescher (40-1) and Jones (66-1) as the outliers. For those wondering, Jones, who was around 28-1 to win this race last year, switched from powerhouse team JGR to Richard Petty Motorsports in the offseason, explaining the significant drop in price.

That list alone illustrates why I’m willing to take a flier on Buescher, but looking at average finish makes this bet even more appetizing. Hamlin and Blaney were the only current Cup Series regulars who finished with better average finishes than Buescher at superspeedways in 2020.

In Buescher we’re getting a driver …

  • In very fast Roush Fenway Racing superspeedway equipment.
  • Who finished with the sixth-best driver rating at superspeedways in 2020.
  • Who had the third-best average finish at superspeedways (among current full-time drivers) in 2020.

Additionally, savvy bettors can get Buescher at an even better price by shopping the market and locking him in right now at William Hill at the unbeatable price of 50-1.