Roger Diez: Here’s the skinny on Sunday’s race
The field is set for the Daytona 500, with 40 drivers ready to contest NASCAR’s Super Bowl on Sunday. Two of Hendrick Racing’s young guns, William Byron and Alex Bowman, put their Camaros on the front row last Sunday, and the rest of the field was set according to the finishing order of Thursday’s Duel races. The Duels were relatively tame, with no “big one” and few incidents of any sort. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Jimmie Johnson hitting Kyle Busch and spinning him out, and precipitating a huge wreck in the Clash, Daytona would have been almost incident-free so far. Maybe Jimmie is missing Chad Knaus more than anticipated. For Chad’s part, his new driver, Byron, will start from the pole on Sunday.
Behind the two Chevys on the front row are six Fords from the Penske, Stewart-Haas, Roush-Fenway, and Wood Brothers teams. Matt DiBenedetto wheels the first Toyota in the lineup, followed by the Joe Gibbs Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. The third highest-qualified Camaro is the No. 43 of Bubba Wallace in 13th. Johnson and Kyle Busch are buried deep in the field, with Jimmie starting 17th and Kyle 31st. But as we’ve seen so many times, anything can happen at Daytona.
If I were to go down to the sports book and lay a bet, I’d probably have to put my money on one of the Fords. Even though the Hendrick Camaros took the four fastest qualifying runs last Sunday, the Fords have shown lots of speed in race trim. Kevin Harvick won the first Duel in convincing fashion, and Joey Logano took the second race with a last-lap pass on fellow Ford pilot Clint Bowyer. Both Harvick and Logano will be in contention for the Daytona 500 win, along with their Stewart-Haas and Penske teammates. Among the Chevy contingent, I’d have to give the nod to Chase Elliott, and I think Truex will be the strongest contender among the Toyota teams.
The oddsmakers agree on my Ford assessment. The three favorites, at 8/1 odds as of Friday, are Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Logano. Clint Bowyer is at 10/1, while four drivers are at 12/1; Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney. Odds for Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, and Ryan Truex Jr. are 14/1. Note nine of those 13 top picks are Fords. The odds go up pretty rapidly after that. Alex Bowman is at 25/1, and dark horse Michael McDowell is 2000/1. I might just put 10 bucks on McDowell at those odds!
This weekend kicks off the 36-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup 2019 season, the most grueling schedule in professional racing. Next weekend the series is at Atlanta, and the first of two Las Vegas races takes place on March 3. Fasten your seatbelts, race fans. It’s gonna be a fast ride.