Daytona 500 2021: Odds and Predictions for Great American Race
Denny Hamlin has been able to master the Daytona 500 like no other driver in recent years.
The No. 11 car driver enters Sunday's race with back-to-back victories in the event. He also placed third in 2018.
Hamlin's knack for avoiding major wrecks and solid 500-mile strategy make him one of the favorites to open the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season with a victory.
The two-time reigning champion will have some work to do to reach the front, as he starts in 25th place. As long as he stays clear of any damage, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver should be in the mix for the win.
Another trend that has developed in the past three years is the presence of unlikely top-10 finishers. Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Brendan Gaughan and Corey LaJoie all earned surprising placings in last year's race.
Because of the potential for wrecks that take out a good chunk of cars and the ability to move up the field in a fast manner, most drivers in the Daytona field have a chance to land in the top 10 if things go right for them.
Daytona 500 Odds
Denny Hamlin +750 (bet $100 to win $750)
Chase Elliott +1000
Ryan Blaney +1200
Joey Logano +1200
Kyle Busch +1300
Kevin Harvick +1400
Brad Keselowski +1400
Aric Almirola +1600
William Byron +1600
Kyle Larson +1600
Martin Truex Jr. +1600
Bubba Wallace +1600
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
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Denny Hamlin Lands Another Top 5 Finish
Hamlin has been the king of Daytona recently.
He owns three Daytona 500 victories and has been a fixture in the top three for the past three years. Those results led to him landing favorite status on the betting lines to win Sunday's race.
Hamlin's 25th starting position should not deter anyone betting on the 40-year-old. He won the 2020 race from 21st place on the starting grid.
The reigning champion should benefit from having a teammate start alongside him in Martin Truex Jr. If the two pair up on the same line in the opening stage, they could make their way to the front.
In 2019, the strategy of Hamlin's team was played to perfection when three Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished in the top three.
Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell start further up the field. If Hamlin links up with them, the Toyotas could dominate one of the drafting lines and remain at the front of the pack.
Hamlin led at least 20 laps in the past three Daytona 500s, and if he finds a way to the front again, he should avoid the wrecks that collect cars in the middle of the field.
If Hamlin banks off his previous experience and sits toward the front with 20 or so laps to go, he could pounce for another high finish—and potentially a third straight victory.
There Will Be More Surprise Top-10 Finishers
The Daytona 500 can sometimes be a battle for survival.
In 2020, 17 of the 40 drivers finished on the lead lap and a handful of notable names were taken out by crashes, including Joey Logano, William Byron and Brad Keselowski.
The Big One can strike at any time and collect up to a dozen drivers because most of the cars run bumper-to-bumper at Daytona.
The potential for large cautions opens the door for some surprise drivers to land in the top 10 when the checkered flag is waved.
Austin Cindric may fit that role to perfection. The 22-year-old is driving a Team Penske vehicle and landed a victory in Saturday's Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Cindric will start at the back, so he will not have too much attention paid to him. But Cindric could creep into the top 10 by the time the race concludes.
Ross Chastain and Cup Series rookie Chase Briscoe could also fit that mold, as they start in 30th and 34th place, respectively. Chastain earned a top-10 finish in the 2019 Daytona 500.
If Sunday's race plays out in a similar fashion to last year's competition, more drivers on smaller teams, like Ragan and Michael McDowell, could swoop in for top-10 placings with some big names out of the picture.
It is difficult to convince anyone that these competitors will win the Daytona 500 with less experience or horsepower under their hoods, but betting on some of these drivers to finish in the top 10 could pay out given the unpredictability that typically occurs at Daytona.