It’s already been an exciting week at Daytona, and there’s a lot more to come. Today’s schedule is full, with two NASCAR Cup practice sessions, Xfinity qualifying, and two races – ARCA and Xfinity, all on FS1 and FS2. Check your cable provider for times and channel.
The action started on Tuesday with the Busch Clash, run for the first time on the Daytona road course. There was one change to the course used by the Rolex 24, a chicane added to the front tri-oval, just before the start/finish line. This chicane would become hugely significant on the last lap. Coming to the checker, leader Ryan Blaney and challenger Chase Elliott come into the chicane side by side, and contact sent Blaney into the wall and slowed Elliott enough that third-place Kyle Bush passed him to take the win. Fortunately, Blaney and Elliott are still friends.
Hendrick Racing dominated Wednesday’s qualifying with Alex Bowman and William Byron qualifying on the front row, locking themselves in for the Daytona 500 start. Unfortunately, Thursday’s Duel races changed all that, as a late-race wreck in Duel 2 will put Byron into a backup car and to the rear of the pack for the 500 start. And Bowman suffered a vibration in Duel 1 that turned out to be an electrical issue, so he dodged an engine change that would have sent him to the back as well. So instead of Byron, Austin Dillon will be alongside Bowman on the front row for the start. Almirola will start third and might be remembering how Dillon put him into the wall on the last lap of the 2018 Daytona 500 and went on to win. Could Aric be looking for payback this year?
We’ll find out starting at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, when FOX begins its airing of the 2021 Daytona 500. Forty cars will take the green flag, but who knows how many will be around for the checkers? Among those 40 are eight former winners, accounting for 10 wins among them. Denny Hamlin, winner in 2016, 2019, and 2020, is going for his fourth victory and third in a row. Drivers with one Daytona 500 championship each are Austin Dillon (2018), Kurt Busch (2017), Joey Logano (2015), Jamie McMurray (2010), Ryan Newman (2008), Kevin Harvick (2007), and Derrike Cope (1990). Hamlin has a way to go to catch all-time Daytona 500 champ Richard Petty who has seven wins. But he could catch second-place all-time winner Cale Yarborough this year and tie him at four.
So, what are the odds that Hamlin and pull off the threepeat, that Almirola can avenge his 2018 loss, or that 62-year-old Cope can become a two-time winner? Fortunately, there’s a proprietary NASCAR computer model that has run this year’s race 10,000 times and come up with the odds. Hamlin is the favorite at 17-2, with defending NASCAR Cup champion Elliott at 10-1. Logano, Blaney, and Kyle Larson are 11-1 with Brad Keselowski at 12-1. Odds are 13-1 for Byron, Harvick, and Bowman, 14-1 for Kyle Busch, 15-1 for Martin Truex Jr., and 16-1 for Almirola. Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace are at 22-1, Christopher Bell 28-1, and Austin Dillon at 30-1. If you’re looking for a longshot bet on a former winner, 1990 500 champion Cope is a 1000-1 shot. Your local sportsbook odds may vary.
So be in your favorite chair at 11:30 a.m. Sunday with plentiful snacks and beverages and ready for the command, “Race fans, start your televisions!”