The restrictor plate races are the only chance for longshots to hit during the season. Daytona is one of the few weeks where you can take your shot at the moon. At the short tracks and intermediate tracks, the favorites always win. Betting a longshot at Texas is tantamount to lighting money on fire. However, taking the underdog at Daytona can pay off big. Likewise, the favorites are foolish bets because of the carnage and the propensity for more than half of the field to wreck out. The odds of wrecking for a -300 favorite and a +5000 longshot are nearly the same. The risk is the same, but the reward is not.
Everyone is well aware that Stenhouse has a knack for plate racing. His two career Cup wins have come at plate tracks (Daytona and Talladega). Everyone is also aware that Stenhouse is a legendary wrecker. Hence, the dubious nickname “Wrecky Spinhouse.” He is one of the most aggressive drivers at the plate tracks, and this can lead to a DNF. However, we’re chasing first place, not a safe top 10 finish. Stenhouse does not know the meaning of a safe top 10. Win bets are all or nothing, and Stenhouse is all or nothing. Mainly nothing, but sometimes all.
Front Row Motorsports won at Talladega in 2013. That was a long time ago, but they’ve always built good plate cars. For most of the team’s existence, they didn’t labor over their intermediate track program. They focused their resources on winnable races, Daytona and Talladega. In 2019, McDowell lined up in row two on the final restart. The year before that, he finished 9th in the Daytona 500. He has a top 15 finish in five straight Daytona 500 races. He may not win it, but if you’re looking for a sweat, McDowell seems like your guy.
How’s this for a storyline? The guy that almost died in the 2020 Daytona 500 wins the 2021 Daytona 500. Before he almost died, Newman was leading with just a couple hundred feet separating him from the checkered flag. Some might worry that the horrific event might influence his driving. That’s not the case because conveniently or inconveniently, the wreck was so traumatic that Newman does not remember flying in the air and getting T-boned by a car traveling at 200 mph; he doesn’t even remember being in the hospital. Over the last 21 plate races, Newman has the fourth best average finish. He has five top 10 finishes in the last seven Daytona races.
It’s hard to top the Newman storyline, but it’s Daytona and narratives are welcomed. Larson didn’t almost die last year, but his career did. Winning the Daytona 500 would be the ultimate redemption for Larson. Hendrick is known for building fast plate cars. Chase Elliott and William Byron have recent wins at the plate tracks. Larson’s plate track stats aren’t great, but he has earned a top 10 finish in each of the last two Daytona 500 races. In 2018, he won the Xfinity Series summer race at Daytona.
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