Expect a Wild Finish in This Year’s Daytona 500

This Sunday’s 52nd running of the Daytona 500 is more wide open than ever before. The list of possible candidates to win runs deep into the 43 car field with legitimate cases being able to be made for about 25 different drivers.

Because the race is so wide open, the odds in Las Vegas sports books have been jumping everywhere on several drivers. For the fantasy NASCAR players, there aren’t likely to be too many lineups the same.

Most restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega are always a crap shoot, but this years became a little more interesting because of NASCAR mandating a change to widen the hole in the restrictor plate which now gives the drivers a lot more throttle response. With that instantaneous power, the drivers have responded giving the racing a different look, yet at the same time, some have been a bit tentative with the extra burst as they try to feel their car out more.

The drivers used the first of their Daytona 500 practice sessions last Friday for qualifying runs while the second session got rained out. When they came out Wednesday for the first time in race trim — getting the opportunity to draft with each other — it got real interesting to the tune of five cars having to use backup cars after being involved in crashes.

Thursday’s Gatorade Duel qualifying races were a little more subdued, but still involved some great racing while it looked like many were just trying to stay out of harms way and avoid not having to go to a back-up car.
Jimmie Johnson was already in a back-up car after being one of the five on Wednesday who wrecked their primary cars. However, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus played a little tire strategy at the end of their race which proved to be the winning move as the No. 48 beat Kevin Harvick by an inch.
It was surprising to see Johnson go all out for the win with older tires and possibly risk damaging their car, which turns out to be the car that finished second at Daytona last year in July. Johnson’s a good enough to driver to hold if he got too loose, but two things came to mind immediately with the Knaus’ move to take only two tires.
First, Knaus was trying to see what he could get away with by having less tries as a practice for the Daytona 500. Could they go the distance while everyone chasing the 48 down had fresh rubber? Safe to say, yes. It also put the thought into everyone else’s mind which is something we’ll be sure to see duplicated by other teams taking a shot at the win Sunday.
The second thought was the HBO 24/7 show who have been following Johnson and the Lowe’s team for the last five weeks. This week is the last week of filming ending with the Daytona 500 Sunday. Is it possible Knaus and Johnson wanted to make the HBO show extra special with a winning moment despite the possible risk involved?
Just a thought, but I can’t remember seeing HBO for the previous 47 Cup wins or four Cup Championships either, so let’s just say they are good whenever they want to be.
Johnson comes in as one of the favorites to win despite not having good runs at Daytona over the last three seasons. Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2006, Johnson has had only one top-10 finish, and of those, five of them were finishes of 23rd or higher.
Surprisingly, Johnson doesn’t have history with the Duel win on his side. Only eight times in NASCAR history has one of the two yearly Duel winners gone on to win the Daytona 500 with the last being Dale Earnhardt Jr in 2004. Both of these events have been going on since 1959.    
However, Johnson is still rated very high for this race. Despite all his recent poor finishes, he still ranks fourth in NASCAR’s loop data accumulated over the last 10 Daytona races. Between the chassis they are driving this week, how they ran in the Duel, and maybe even a little HBO magic to motivate the team, Johnson is going to be right there at the end as the white flag drops.
The driver that has looked the most impressive over the last week of practice and race time is the Daytona 500 favorite, Kyle Busch. The combination of the Joe Gibbs horsepower, how well his car is handling, and his driving ability in the draft give him the look of being able to do whatever he wants out on the track.
Busch has one career Daytona win in July of 2008, but probably believes he should have two Daytona 500 wins by now and a sweep of both races last season and not many could argue against. When factoring in his success at Talladega that includes a 2008 win as well, Busch isn’t a hard sell as a candidate to win.
Tony Stewart is the second choice to win at Las Vegas sports books and for a very good reason. He hasn’t won a Daytona 500 yet, but he claims three wins in the July events along with great success at Talladega. Not many see the air in the draft as well as Stewart. He is the top rated driver in NASCAR’s loop data for Daytona.
He’s won just about everything possible in his career except the two biggest races in each of the series he’s raced in, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. He drives car No. 14 in honor of his boyhood hero A.J. Foyt who won both of those races in his career. The Indy 500 is a long shot down the road for him, but he could easily get the big Daytona 500 win this Sunday.
This will be Stewart’s 12th season in NASCAR and he’s starting to get into that category of greats who took a long time to win Daytona while winning Championships and races everywhere else. Darrell Waltrip took 16 years to get his first win and Dale Earnhardt took 20 years to get his. In each of those instances, it was one of the classic moments in NASCAR history.
A driver rated higher than he’s ever been for Daytona this year is Matt Kenseth. It’s not just because he won the Daytona 500 last season, it’s more about the turnaround Jack Roush has had in the last three seasons of restrictor plate racing where all of his cars have run very well.
Kenseth’s win last season was Roush’s first Daytona 500 win ever. That win was sandwiched in between Jamie McMurray wins at Daytona in July of 2007 and Talladega last fall. Even the weakest link on the team, David Ragan, has had his best total success in plate races.
The Roush program used to go on for years appearing not to care much about winning plate races. His focal point was dominating the type of track that NASCAR had the most of, which he did with the cookie-cutter down force type of tracks, which in turn would lead to championships, which it did twice.
After winning at Daytona to start the year, the Roush organization only won two more races in 2009, once at California, and the other at Talladega.
It will be interesting to see how the Roush cars do at California and then Las Vegas in the next few weeks, but for this week, all indications are that all four cars will be good led by Kenseth who has been fast every time he puts his on the track.
If you’re thinking back to back, it’s possible, but it’s only been done three time with the last coming in 1995 when Sterling Marlin took the checkers. Richard Petty (73-74) and Cale Yarborough (83-84) are the others.
Kenseth’s win last season also gave hope for all the drivers starting in the back of the field as he won from the deepest start position, beginning in 39th.
Picks for the Daytona 500
My favorite to win: Kyle Busch
My 2nd Choice to win: Jimmie Johnson
My senses tell me to watch out for: Jeff Gordon
My possible longshot: Jamie McMurray
They won’t win, but will run well: David Ragan, Brad Keselowski, Robby Gordon  
NASCAR Takes Center Stage in Las Vegas Books Sunday

Just one week after the Super Bowl, Las Vegas sports books prepare for NASCAR’s Super Bowl, the Daytona 500. Betting on the NASCAR events pale in comparison to the NFL’s biggest game, but it still garners attention from quite a few. The South Point has taken note of the attention and is even having a Daytona 500 party in their showroom, Super Bowl style. 
Where exactly NASCAR stands against the other top sports is hard to gauge. There is only one betting event per week compared to the multiple daily wagering opportunities the other sports have, but if going for the top event of the day by the books handle, it rates very high.
“The Daytona 500 will be our biggest event posted of the weekend. Between the Daytona and Las Vegas races, they take center stage in our books handle wise, “ said MGM-Mirage Race and Sports Book Director Jay Rood.
“We write a lot to the NASCAR events. If was averaged out weekly, I’d say it was close or comparable to one Thursday night NFL game.”
The bulk of the wagering will come on the odds to win indexes where there are usually up to 33 drivers listed with a field wager, meaning all others not listed. The books do well with these because many have a built in 32% theoretic hold when calculating the odds given for each driver. On most occasions, the actual hold is higher when posted, especially if one of the favorites doesn’t win. 
The remainder of the action will come in the form of two-way and three-way propositions asking a variety of things like what car number or manufacturer will win. The two-way driver match-ups, putting one against another to finish better, are one of the popular NASCAR bets around town.
“So far from what I’ve seen out of the Gatordae Duel races and the early Daytona 500 write, it’s apparent that people are pretty excited about seeing NASCAR back.”
NASCAR bettors always have their favorites they bet, but they also are pretty educated with the happenings and what’s going on in practices and evidenced by some of the sharp plays on quality long shots.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of action on Brad Keselowski, who I dropped from 75 to 1 to 50 to 1, and have made a few moves lower on Kasey Kahne after the Duels, and also Dale Earnhardt Jr who we opened up at 30 to 1,” Rood said. “I’ve been shading Junior higher than most places over the last few seasons and have got away with it, but sooner of later it’ll catch up with me.”
Earnhardt Jr has always been a fan favorite with high ticket counts, but the volume decreased last year as he became less competitive on a weekly basis. You can be a fan all you want, but in betting, winning cashes tickets. Earnhardt Jr hasn’t won in 57 straight Cup races.
“By the way the public is betting on Junior, they must really feel this is the race he can turn it around. We now have him at 7 to 1 win after seeing lots of action on him, even before he sat on the front row from last weeks qualifying.“
“If there was ever a race where Junior could halt his losing streeak, Daytona would be it,” said Rood.
Rood is a fan himself and follows all the practice and qualifying with a keen eye and adjusts his odds accordingly. He’s got a few opinions on the Daytona 500 as well.
“I’ll be looking at the Hendrick drivers to do well, but I’m also looking at the Roush drivers along with Jamie McMurray who has stood out during Daytona Speedweeks.”
It sounds like pretty sound advice. Windows are open until the green flag drops at 10:19 am Sunday.

Danica-Mania Begins Saturday

This Saturday’s Nationwide race at Daytona can expect high ratings with lots of interested parties because that is where Indy Racing star Danica Patrick will make her official racing debut. Last week she finished sixth in the ARCA race at Daytona, the first time I have ever watched an entire an entire ARCA race on television from start to finish.
Patrick did well in that race and finished sixth. This week will be much more of challenge especially considering she’ll be racing against Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, and her boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr. She doesn’t have any lofty expectations of winning the race, but will utilize the chance to race against Stewart and Earnhardt Jr as a learning tool, both of whom have both taken Patrick under their wing with advice.
Her practice times jumped from the first session she ran at 26th to the final session where she clocked in fifth fastest, indicating she’s picking things up rapidly.
Station Casinos in Las Vegas opened her odds to win Saturday’s race as the longest shot at 50 to 1.
Television ratings won’t match Sunday’s Daytona 500 which is expected to grab close to 17 million viewers, or a 10.0 rating, but it should be one of the most watched Nationwide races just because of ESPN promoting the race non-stop as Patrick’s NASCAR debut.   
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of each driver of my top rated drivers to do well in the race based on the following criteria:
* Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
* Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team; good or bad
* Driver tendencies at certain tracks
* Recent history and Past history for each driver at each track
* Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car – bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas Books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Restrictor plate races are the most volatile and also the easiest to win at with not having the best car. The weekly drivers rating will hold the truest at all other tracks away from Daytona and Talladega. 
Roberts Top-10 Driver Rating
Daytona 500
Daytona International Speedway
Sunday, February 14, 2010 10:19 am (PT) TV:FOX

Rating – Driver – odds – Practice 3 – Practice 4       –        Duel – notes
 1. Kyle Busch 8/1            2nd                  2nd                3rd  –   Two plate wins with Joe Gibbs Racing, outstanding run in Duel race Thursday.
 2. Tony Stewart   12/1      16th               28th               2nd  –  3-time winner of July event, not many better in the draft
 3. Jimmie Johnson* 12/1   20th               17th              1st   –  2006 Daytona 500 winner, 2 career plate wins
 4. Matt Kenseth      25/1    1st                 6th                11th  –  2009 Daytona 500 winner, Roush Fords better than ever in plate races last three years.
 5. Kevin Harvick    20/1    9th                 31st                 2nd  –  2007 Daytona 500 winner, Bud Shootout winner last two years
 6. Mark Martin     12/1      19th                 23rd               21st  – Pole sitter; has never won at Daytona, two career plate wins
 7. Dale Earnhardt Jr 12/1  30th               32nd                21st   – Starts on front row, 2004 Daytona 500 winner
 8. Jamie McMurray 25/1  12th                 27th                 6th   –   Two career plate wins, runs well in the draft.
 9. Kurt Busch 12/1           24th                12th                 4th   –   Easily best driver in plate races without a win.
10. Jeff Gordon 12/1       22nd                 38th                10th  –  3-time Daytona 500 winner, 6 Total Daytona wins, 12 restrictor plate wins combined.
* Johnson wrecked primary car in Practice No. 4, raced backup in Duel (same car raced in Bud Shootout and finished 2nd at Daytona in July).
Micah Roberts, a former Las Vegas Sports Book Director, has betting setting NASCAR betting lines since 1995. He currently lives in Las Vegas writing for various sports publications covering all sports. He can reached at MM.Roberts7@Gmail.com.

Daytona 500 Tidbits

Compiled by NASCAR Media Services
* The 2010 edition will be the 52nd running of the Daytona 500.
* Although the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959, it has been the season-opener only since 1982.
* 510 drivers have competed in at least one Daytona 500; 300 in more than one.
* 33 drivers have won a Daytona 500.
* Eight drivers have won more than one Daytona 500, led by Richard Petty with seven victories.
* Fred Lorenzen posted a top-10 finish in eight of his nine Daytona 500s, the best percentage of drivers who have competed in more than two Daytona 500s.
* Dale Earnhardt finished in the top 10 in 16 of his 23 Daytona 500s.
* Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each had 16 top 10s in the Daytona 500, more than any other driver.
* Dale Earnhardt had 12 top fives in the Daytona 500, more than any other driver.
* Only 13 drivers have an average finish of 10th or better in the Daytona 500, six of those competed in the Daytona 500 only once.
* Kevin Harvick has a 12.9 average finish in eight appearances, the best of the active drivers who have competed in more than one Daytona 500.
* Other than Lee Petty, who won the inaugural Daytona 500, no driver has ever won in his first appearance.
* 27 of the 33 drivers who have won, participated in at least two Daytona 500s before visiting Victory Lane.
* Dale Earnhardt competed 19 times before winning his only Daytona 500 (1998), the longest span of any of the 33 race winners.
* Six drivers made 10 or more attempts before their first Daytona 500 victory: Dale Earnhardt (19), Buddy Baker (18), Darrell Waltrip (16), Bobby Allison (14), Michael Waltrip (14) and Sterling Marlin 12). Last year’s winner, Matt Kenseth, won it in his 10th try.
* The most Daytona 500s all-time without a victory was Dave Marcis (33 races).
* Mark Martin (25) leads active drivers without a victory. He will start on the pole for this year’s race.
* Six drivers posted their career-first victory with a win in the Daytona 500: Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994) and Michael Waltrip (2001).
* Three other drivers posted their career-first victory in (point-paying) qualifying races: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964) and Earl Balmer (1966).
* Only eight drivers have won the Daytona 500 more than once: Richard Petty (seven), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three), Dale Jarrett (three), Jeff Gordon (three), Bill Elliott (two), Sterling Marlin (two) and Michael Waltrip (two).
* A driver has won back-to-back Daytona 500s three times. Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95)
* Kevin Harvick’s 0.020-second margin of victory over Mark Martin in the 2007 Daytona 500 is the ninth-closest overall since the advent of electronic timing in 1993, and the closest in a Daytona 500.
* 26 of the 51 Daytona 500s have been won from a top-five starting position.
* Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 from the 39th starting position last year, the deepest a race winner has started.
* Nine have been won from the pole. The last to do so was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
* 15 Daytona 500s have been won from the front row.
Daytona History
* Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd.
* The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959.
* Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona.
* Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under lights ever since.
Daytona Notebook
There have been 125 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 51 have been 500 miles, 47 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races.
* Fireball Roberts won the inaugural pole at Daytona.
* Bob Welborn won the first race at Daytona, the 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500.
* Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.
* Fireball Roberts won the first 400-mile race at Daytona, the 1963 Firecracker 400.
* 52 drivers have posted poles at Daytona; 19 have more than one.
* Cale Yarborough leads all drivers with 12 poles at Daytona.
* Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with five poles at Daytona.
* 52 drivers have won at Daytona; 24 have won more than once.
* Richard Petty leads all drivers in victories at Daytona with 10.
* Jeff Gordon has six victories at Daytona, more than any other active driver.
* The Wood Brothers have won 14 races at Daytona, more than any other car owner.
* 16 full-length races at Daytona have been won from the pole, including last July’s Coke Zero 400, won by polesitter Tony Stewart.
* A driver has swept both races at Daytona only four times, most recently by Bobby Allison in 1982.
NASCAR in Florida

* There have been 162 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
* 156 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Florida.
* There have been nine race winners whose hometown is Florida in NASCAR’s three national series.
Daytona International Speedway Data
Race #: 1 of 36 (2-14-10)
Track Size: 2.5 miles
Race Length: 500 miles (200 laps)
Banking/Corners: 31 degrees
Banking/Straights: 3 degrees
Banking/Tri-Oval: 18 degrees
Driver Loop Rating at Daytona
Tony Stewart 108.2
Kyle Busch 101.0
Matt Kenseth 96.1
Jimmie Johnson 94.3
Kurt Busch 92.5
Jeff Gordon 91.9
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 87.3
Ryan Newman 85.9
Clint Bowyer 84.6
Jeff Burton 83.5
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2009 races (10 total) at Daytona.
Qualifying/Race Data
2009 pole winner: Martin Truex Jr. (188.001 mph, 47.872 seconds)
2009 race winner: Matt Kenseth (132.816 mph, 2-17-08)
Qualifying record: Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 42.783 secs., 2-9-87)
Race record: Buddy Baker (177.602 mph, 2-17-80)
Estimated Pit Window: 36-38 laps depending on fuel mileage

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