More than 20 million people will tune when an exciting new NASCAR season gets underway with the world-famous Daytona 500 on February 18. It is the biggest race of the year, akin to starting a new NFL season with the Super Bowl on week one, and it carries the largest prize purse. The winner will walk off with a cool $1,581,453, but everyone makes big bucks as the driver that finishes back in 43rd place gets $262,390. Last year’s Daytona 500 was full of excitement and suspense. It did not disappoint as it was the race’s closest finish in its 58-year history. Here are the leading contenders for glory this year:
Bookmaker sportsbook will have odds on the Daytona 500, check it out and you will see that Keselowski is the clear favorite to win the 500-mile race this year. Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired, Keselowski is the best restrictor-plate driver in the business and has the talent to seize glory this month. He has five wins at Talladega under his belt and has claimed victory in three of his past four restrictor-plate races. He recorded a July win at Daytona and has just three DNFs and a seventh-place finish to bolster his claims too. Overall, he has six plate wins in 35 races, but the 500 has always eluded him. He led for several laps last year, but a wreck on lap 143 of the 200-circuit Monster Energy Cup Series opener caused his track bar to snap and he ended up with a 27th-placed finish. Now is the time for him to improve on that and deliver the elusive 500 win.
The 2016 Daytona 500 champion, Hamlin, is another man that could benefit from Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement and join the restrictor-plate head table. He is now one of the elder statesmen, and he has been a model of consistency during his career, but it could be his time to really rise to the top. Hamlin is slated to start alongside Alex Bowman in the front row and he has the talent and the car to go on and win it, so he is understandably second favorite.
Elliott flirted with victory throughout the 500-last year after winning pole for a second consecutive year, only to run out of gas in heart breaking fashion at the death. He has long been the bridesmaid, earning seven runner-up finishes in the past two years, and he is due a breakthrough. What a story it would be if he were to get that breakthrough in the 500. Elliott has grown comfortable as the frontrunner at Daytona, and he is attracting a lot of action in the winner market ahead of the big race.
Busch is now in his 14th full-time Cup season but is still looking for his first Daytona 500 victory, and it is the only jewel missing from his crown. He is the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and has earned 91 wins and 244 top 10 finishes, but he has always had pretty rotten luck in the 500. Could that run come to an end at the 13th time of asking? It would be fitting if he could finally make it happen.
On these tracks around 10 drivers stand out as being better than the rest, and Keselowski, Hamlin, Elliott and Kurt Busch are among that elite group. Joey Logano has a great chance and he is getting heavily backed at +1200 as fans think he can recapture the magic that saw him become the second youngest 500 driver in 2015. Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray are typically in the mix in the late stages at Daytona and Talladega, so they are justifiably among the favorites. It is difficult to see a real long shot pulling off an upset, but it will be a thrilling battle between the big names and excitement will continue to mount in the build-up to February 18.