Everybody loves a good underdog story–there’s no denying that. That’s why Leicester City soccer stayed in the news cycle for so long back in 2006 with their 5,000-to-1 odds. And that’s why betting on the Daytona 500 can be so much fun.
With most NASCAR races, there are clear favorites. After qualifying and practice, most people know the two or three drivers that are most likely to win, and then the next group of entrants that have the next-best chance. And unless there’s something crazy that happens during the race–a wild strategy call, a fuel gamble, a rain-shortened race, etc.–the driver that ends up in victory lane is usually one that’s expected.
But that’s not the case at tracks like Daytona and Talladega–the “restrictor plate tracks.”
You see, Daytona and Talladega are huge superspeedway tracks, and NASCAR actually limits the horsepower and speed of the cars at those venues with things called restrictor plates. This does something significant, especially in the world of betting: it limits the playing field.
On most race weekends, there are a group of cars that are sometimes called “back marker” cars. Those cars and teams usually have limited funding, so they don’t have the ability to ‘run with the big boys’ and can’t produce enough speed to be anywhere near competitive. There are also certain mid-tier race teams–Roush-Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty, among others–that are well established in the sport but really can’t compete for race wins. A legitimate top 10 finish for drivers on those teams is a great day.
As mentioned before, though, the restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega even the playing field entirely, so much so that literally any driver who starts the race could wind up in victory lane. Now, that’s not to say that it happens frequently, but the point stands: if you’re going to roll the dice on some underdog drivers to win, any race at Daytona or Talladega is the one to do it.
And let’s not forget about the wrecks.
Because racing is so tight at a track like Daytona, one small mistake by a driver can cause a chain reaction that could take out most of the field. Literally. Just last Sunday, in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, we saw a wreck take out 15 of the 20 cars, which would have left 5 continuing to race for the win if the rain hadn’t settled in.
“The Big One” is an expected occurrence at restrictor plate races, and it’s exactly what the name infers: a massive wreck that takes out a bunch of race contenders. If an underdog driver is able to avoid that here at Daytona on Sunday, that only increases his chances of getting to victory lane–and paying off handsomely for bettors.
Trevor Bayne in 2011 was the last super longshot to win the Daytona 500. He was listed at 80-to-1 odds in that race. But even some of the mid-tier longshots could make for a good day if a bettor is willing to take a chance. Hell, even last year’s Daytona 500 champion, Austin Dillon, is at 30-to-1 odds to win this year’s Great American Race.