Not only is the Daytona 500 the biggest race in the NASCAR calendar, it's one of the biggest sporting events in the States. Often referred to as ‘The Great American Race’ or the ‘Super Bowl of NASCAR’, the Daytona 500 is the official season opener of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and is consistently regarded as the most prestigious race.
Now in its 59th year, the 2017 Daytona 500 will be a ten-day event, with qualifiers for the race taking place on Sunday 19 February before the main race itself brings the curtain down on proceedings. Like the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500 is an extravagant affair, featuring a pre-race show and plenty of events to entertain the thousands of fans that come to the Daytona International Speedway track in Florida.
But what punters are really interested in is the race, which takes place on Sunday 26 February. Whether you're a NASCAR geek or not familiar with the event and just fancy a flutter, this betting preview gives you all the tips and strategy you need to help you pick this year’s winner!
40 drivers take part in the Daytona 500, representing a multitude of different teams. Drivers from the so-called charter teams already have their places on the starting grid confirmed (think of these as seeds in a Grand Slam tennis tournament), while those from non-charter teams will have to battle it out in qualifying on Sunday for the remaining slots.
The current favourite for this year’s race among the bookies is Dale Earnhardt Jr. The 42-year-old has earned the nickname of the ‘Pied Piper of Daytona’ having won the race on two occasions (in 2004 and 2014) and been voted 'Most Popular Driver in the Cup Series' for the last 14 years consecutively. Earnhardt Jr. comes from a large family of NASCAR legends and is one of the sport’s biggest stars.
The Daytona 500 will be his first race since July last year when he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms and forced to sit out the rest of the season. Earnhardt finished 36th in this race last year but he is one of only four drivers in this year’s group who has won it twice before. It would certainly be a great story for the sport if he were to finish first in his comeback race. He is priced at 7/1 with William Hill to do so.
Having got married earlier this month, Brad Keselowski will be looking to round off a great February with victory in the Daytona 500. The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion has competed in this race seven times and finished in the top five on two occasions. His best result was when he finished third in 2014 – the year Earnhardt Jr. won it.
Keselowski represents Team Penske, which provided the winner of the Daytona 500 in 2015 and 2008. The 33-year-old, who finished 12th in the 2016 Cup Series, is just behind Earnhardt Jr. in the current betting odds at 8/1 with Betway.
Another man who is likely to be among the frontrunners is Jimmie Johnson, the reigning and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and two-time winner of the Daytona 500 (in 2006 and 2013). Johnson is regarded by some as the greatest NASCAR driver of all time and he certainly has an impressive CV, winning 80 races in total.
The 41-year-old from California finished fifth in this race in 2014 and 2015 before a 16th-place finish at last year’s event. He is bidding for a record eighth NASCAR Cup Series title and victory in the Daytona 500 would certainly get his season off to the perfect start. Johnson is best priced at 10/1 with NetBet to lift the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
When placing a bet on a major sporting event, it is natural to look at last year’s winner as a guide. In this case that is Denny Hamlin, who won the 2016 Daytona 500 after the closest finish in the history of the race. Hamlin has never won the NASCAR Cup Series but he finished second in 2010 and sixth last year. He has a good recent record in this event too, finishing third in 2014 and fourth in 2015 before his success last year.
Not since Sterling Marlin in 1995 has a driver managed to win the Daytona 500 in consecutive years but Hamlin is 12/1 with bet365 to do just that. Other contenders include 2014 Cup Series winner Kevin Harvick (10/1 with 10Bet), who is using a new manufacturer this season, and last season’s runner-up Joey Logano (14/1 with NetBet) who has already racked up 17 Cup Series race wins at the age of just 26.
If you fancy backing an outsider, consider youngster Daniel Suárez. He won the NASCAR Xfinity Series last year, becoming the first foreign-born driver to do so and is competing in his first Cup Series season. The Mexican has been tipped to do well by none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win this race. Suárez can be backed at 33/1 with 888sport.
For those who want to place a different type of bet on the Daytona 500, William Hill is offering a market on the winning manufacturer. Chevrolet has dominated the event in the past with 23 wins, although its last one was three years ago.
With both Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson driving Chevrolet cars this year, it is the favourite at 6/4. Ford, with 14 previous wins to its name, is 7/4, while Toyota, who recorded its first win last year, is 2/1.
All these odds are subject to change after qualifying takes place on Sunday, so be sure to keep an eye on William Hill for all the latest odds on the Daytona 500, as well as plenty of other motor sports betting markets!