Daytona 500 Betting Preview

With one Super Bowl having concluded a season on Sunday, another sport runs its own “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” this week. Unlike the NFL, the NASCAR Cup Series runs its biggest event to open each season, that of course being the Daytona 500. It’s always a wild ride, as the racing at Daytona International Speedway is unmatched on the circuit for crazy finishes, intensity, and wild wrecks. This makes it a tough race to predict for bettors, but a fantastic opportunity to score with big underdogs. It’s always a thrilling way to fire up the NASCAR betting season, and I used the term “much anticipated” to describe this year’s season if for no other reason than I am highly anticipating it. Anyone who was with VSiN and invested themselves in my race simulations for the last year-and-a-half surely shares those same feelings.

You see, it was about midway through the 2022 season when the simulations really started to click. Prior to that, I was struggling with formulating the new “Next Gen” cars. However, once enough data on the cars and drivers came in, things took off. With just some minor aero package rules put in for 2024 at road courses and short tracks, I don’t anticipate any major impacts on the momentum we have built up after two full seasons of the new car data. Plus, there are only a handful of driver/teams changes as well, which I will get into later. Suffice to say, I am pretty excited about the betting possibilities in the 2024 NASCAR season, whether it be on projecting race winners, group finishes, or head-to-head driver matchups.


2023 Season Wrap Up

If you don’t recall the 2023 NASCAR season, Ryan Blaney won his first championship at Phoenix in November, while William Byron captured the most wins with 10 and most Top 10 finishes with 21. Those two, along with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell made up the final four contenders in the season finale race. Of course, all of that is for the NASCAR fans and mainstream media to discuss. What we really care about here is the betting results. And they were stellar. My FINAL SIMULATIONS improved from one year to the next by 17.8% on driver rating and 7.7% on finish position. I also picked nine outright winners, six more by going to down the first or second place projection and clinched a season-long profit on race winners with 15 races still to go. By the way, there were three winners after that point, all adding at least +400 each time to the profit.

All of that said, it is important for me to remind readers that there are certain tracks and races throughout the season where I feel more comfortable in projecting races by statistical methods. You can easily spot these by the Track Handicap-ability Grade I assign in each week’s simulation. The grades range from most predictable at Richmond and Dover, with grades of A- to F at Daytona. Yes, you read that correctly. For as much as the Daytona races are captivating, they are also a crapshoot for bettors. Consequently, betting winners are usually rewarded more handsomely with underdog prices.

2024 Season Championship Odds

According to DraftKings, Ryan Blaney (of Penske Racing) comes into the season as the defending Cup Champion and the favorite for the upcoming campaign at +500. He is listed just ahead of Kyle Larson (+550), William Byron (+600), and Denny Hamlin (+700). Those latter two have never won a title, but both seem due. In fact, I would make my own case for those two being my favorites. Of course, if you’re going to make a season title type of wager this season, I would never go beyond four or five drivers deep. Here are my own personal “tiers” on the top contenders, with their DraftKings odds listed alongside:

Tier 1:
Byron (+600)
Hamlin (+700)

Tier 2:
Larson (+550)
Christopher Bell (+850)

Tier 3:
Chase Elliott (+800)

I personally wouldn’t go any further than that but if I were to make any “longshot” predictions on title worthy drivers, I might include Tyler Reddick and Brad Keselowski (both +1600).

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of betting season title odds until the playoffs arrive, as the format makes it difficult to even predict eventual final four drivers nowadays. That said, I prefer to bet race-by-race instead, and I use my weekly simulations as the foundation for my wagering.

Makinen’s Race Simulations for all 36 season races

You will find my initial simulation for the race here, as it stood on Monday, February 12. This will change based upon the qualifying, duels, and practice results happening through Saturday morning. After that all concludes, there will be a final simulation made available on the website and newsletter sometime Saturday afternoon or later. In general, the weekly format will follow this Tuesday/Saturday schedule for all 36 races. The final simulation for the Daytona 500 has been posted.

I shared earlier some of the winning race projection stats, but using the simulations for picking outright winners is just one way to take advantage. I utilize them just as much for finding value in Top 3 and Top 5 finishes, as well as over/under finishing positions, driver vs. driver matchups, and Daily Fantasy options. Of course, the options available to wager vary greatly by book, but the simulations somewhat address all of it.

Season Driver/Team changes

While several teams will be changing crew chiefs, the more recognizable changes for this season come in the area of drivers switching teams. Kevin Harvick is the biggest name missing, as he retired after last season and is being replaced by Josh Berry, who made his biggest name by subbing in for Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman at Hendrick Motorsports recently.

Berry isn’t the only newcomer in the Stewart-Haas Racing garage, as Noah Gragson takes over for Aric Almirola in the #10 car. Replacing Gragson in the #42 for Legacy Motor Club is John Hunter Nemechek. Elsewhere, in lesser profile moves, Carson Hocevar takes over the #77 Spire Motorsports ride, Justin Haley moves from the #31 of Kaulig Racing to the #51 Rick Ware Racing Ford, and Daniel Hemric grabs the spot left vacant by Haley. Of course, we’ll have the usual group of part-time drivers stepping in at various times throughout the season, including Shane van Gisbergen, who won the Chicago Road Race last July for Trackhouse Racing. Former seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson will also run a handful of races in the #84, and AJ Allmendinger steps back from full-time action but will be on track at various road courses as well.

Early Look at Monday’s Daytona 500 Odds and Key Stats

Referred to as “The Great American Race,” the Daytona 500 boasts NASCAR’s biggest prize purse as well as the coveted Harley J. Earl Trophy. Plus, the first playoff ticket gets punched for the winner. Daytona International Speedway becomes the center of the racing world again by offering up an unparalleled brand of racing. The track is one of the NASCAR circuit’s biggest at 2-1/2 miles around, and with speeds reaching 200+ MPH on up to 31-degree track banking, it’s easy to see how the action becomes so exhilarating. There is little that compares to the freight train like roar of the closely drafting cars roar flying around the oval.

I’ll tell you straightforward as bettors that there is no track nor race in which it is more favorable to bet underdogs, as evidenced by the winners of the last three races, Ricky Stenhouse last year, rookie Austin Cindric in 2022, and Michael McDowell in 2021. All three went off at higher than +3000 to win those events. Incidentally, each is +2800 or longer this year. Keep that in mind as you search for potential big money plays.

Daytona is the only track that I assign a Handicap-Ability Grade of F to for my simulations, and not only for the surprise winners that come from out of nowhere hear, but also because huge accidents, or “big ones” as they are referred to, can wipe out as many as 10 -15 cars at a time, many of whom are expected contenders. In fact, last year’s race again featured sizeable accidents, and in the end, only 17 of the race’s 40 entrants finished on the lead lap.

In terms of career statistics at Daytona, Denny Hamlin (+900) is the man to beat. He won the 2019 and 2020 500’s here. Overall, Hamlin boasts three wins at this track in his career, as well as eight other Top 5’s in 36 tries. His average finish is a modest 17.0 though, very low for a favorite at any track. Only Bubba Wallace (+1800), Cindric (+2800), Alex Bowman (+2800) & Austin Dillon (+3000) show better average finish numbers among drivers that have run more than five Daytona races, with Wallace topping the list at 12.9.

Among the other statistical highlights, perhaps most importantly, those that go into figuring my race simulation, Chris Buescher (+1400) tops my handicapped track rating, followed by Brad Keselowski (+1200), and Joey Logano (+1400). In terms of the track designation ratings, which includes other similar tracks, in this case Talladega, Ryan Blaney (+1100) sets the pace, followed by Chase Elliott (+1400) and Cindric (+2800).

Besides qualifying and practice speeds, the only other major statistical category that goes into projecting my race finishes is momentum, and there, Kyle Larson (+1400) is ahead of the field, followed by Hamlin and William Byron (+1600), Incidentally, Buescher, Austin Dillon and Blaney won the three most recent August races at Daytona, and have shown the penchant for navigating the draft well here. That should keep them among the contenders on Sunday, assuming they can avoid trouble. That is of course, the big question mark for every car in the field.

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 takes on a different look than all other races as only the top two cars in terms of qualifying lap speed earn their positions on the front row. The rest of the field is set by two 50-lap shootout events held on Thursday. This year’s front row will be decided on Wednesday evening. However, I caution you not to overreact to the starting positions, as they have little or nothing to do with how drivers finish. In fact, only one of the last 14 pole starters at DIS have finished better than 14th, and that was Alex Bowman, who finished fifth in this race in 2023. The last pole winner to win a race was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all the way back in July 2015.

Typically, I love to watch the duel races on Thursday night, not only because they help set the field, but it gives bettors a good idea of which drivers have a good feel for the draft. As of Saturday, here are my predictions:

Top 5: Logano, Keselowski, Hamlin, Larson, Beuscher

Top longshots: Bell (+1800), Chris Beuscher (+2000), William Byron (+2200), Austin Cindric (+2800), Erik Jones (+3000)

Favorites to struggle: Ryan Blaney (+1100), Kyle Busch (+1200), Bubba Wallace (+2000).

The 500-mile event, which culminates a busy five days at the World’s Epicenter of Racing, is set for 4 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 19. Rain delayed the race from its normal Sunday spot. If you watch any races all season long, this or the August event at this same track should be the ones.

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Steve Makinen
As one of the original founders of StatFox, Steve Makinen has been in the business of sports betting and data analysis for almost 25 years now. In his time in the industry, Steve has worked in a variety of capacities on both sides of the betting counter, from his early days of developing the StatFox business, to almost a decade of oddsmaking consulting for one of the world's leading sportsbooks, to his last seven years as Point Spread Weekly and Analytics Director with VSiN. Steve has always believed that number crunching and handicapping through foundational trends and systems is the secret to success and he shares this data with VSiN readers on a daily basis for all of the major sports.