Feb 9, 2019; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (12) during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.


Daytona 500 preview, fantasy picks & best bets

”The Last Lap with Seth Dunlap”
February 14, 2019 - 6:49 pm

By:  Tim Zimmer, WWL NASCAR columnist

This weekend, the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series kicks off another year with the Super Bowl of racing, the 61st running of the Daytona 500. Last year’s winner Austin Dillon proved that winning “The Great American Race” is as unpredictable as it gets in NASCAR.

The Fords of Team Penske are looking to continue the success of last season following the 2018 Cup Series Championship from the Joey Logano in the #22 car.  Teammate Brad Keselowski comes in as the favorite to win with 7/1 odds followed by Logano with 8/1. But it’s the third teammate of Penske that may take home the checkered flag on Sunday. Ryan Blaney, who led the most laps in last year’s race, has come just short of winning the past two years finishing 7th and 2nd place.

Leading the field to the green flag will be Hendrick Racing teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman. Byron won the pole this past Sunday continuing a five year trend of a Team Hendrick’s driver winning the Daytona 500 pole. Teammates Jimmy Johnson and Chase Elliott, also have strong cars as Johnson won the Advance Auto Parts Clash all-star race and Elliott finished with a top four car in Daytona qualifying.  

Another team looking to make some noise to start this season are the cars of Joe Gibbs Racing. Third year driver Daniel Suarez is out, while the 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr takes over the #19 car. Truex finished 2nd in the 500 in 2016 and will give Team Gibbs arguably the most talented team in NASCAR. Teammate Denny Hamlin was the winner of the 2016 race and has been one of the best restrictor plate drivers of the group.

Suarez, who was let go by Joe Gibbs, joins Stewart-Haas Racing which is coming off a 12 win season. Suarez takes over for the 2017 Daytona winner, Kurt Busch, who drove the #41 car to victory lane. Stewart-Hass team captain Kevin Harvick was last year’s most dominate driver of the Cup Series and has been in victory lane in Daytona back in 2007. 

Now that I’ve given you some names to look out for in race Sunday, here are few things to keep in mind when trying to pick a winner.

-The last two Daytona 500 winners have only led in the final lap of the race (Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch).

-In the last eight restrictor plate races, including Talladega, the Fords have come out winning six of those races.

-The past seven Daytona 500 winners have qualified and started the race 14th or better.

-The last pole winners to win the Daytona 500 were #88 Dale Jarrett in 2000 and #24 Jeff Gordon in 1999. (#24 will be starting from the pole Sunday)

Fantasy Picks and Best Bets

5) Denny Hamlin: Your 2016 Daytona winner comes in as my 5th best driver for this weekend. Hamlin finished 3rd in last year’s race and has past wins in both Daytona and Talladega. The #11 driver has a knack for getting up front at Daytona having led laps in three of the last four 500s. (121 total laps combined). Vegas Odds: 10/1

4) Chase Elliott: The #9 car has no issue starting the race up front. Elliott has qualified for the 500 three times with two poles and one 4th place starting spot. Elliott has led laps in every 500, but finishing the race has been his issue. In his six career races in Daytona, including the Coke Zero 400, Elliot has four finishes of 32nd place or worse. I think his luck will change this weekend as Team Hendrick has proven themselves to be strong contenders for the Harley J. Earl trophy. Vegas Odds: 12/1

3) Joey Logano: The 2018 Cup Champion will try to repeat the 2015 race when #22 took the checkered flag in Daytona. Logano comes in as the 2nd favorite to win the race Sunday and has looked good both in practice and the Clash All-Star race over the weekend. Logano was one of the six Fords to get to victory lane in the last eight restrictor plate races (2018 Talladega). Vegas Odds: 8/1

2) Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has two 2nd place finishes at Daytona in the past four years. However, the #19 driver is still looking for his first restrictor plate win as he enters his 16th season of the Cup Series. Truex left Furniture Row Racing this off-season to join Joe Gibbs Racing and new teammate Kyle Busch and I expect this change to motivate him even more. If the Toyotas lead the pack in the final laps of the race give me the best two Toyota restrictor plate drivers to get the win in Truex and Hamlin. Vegas Odds: 14/1

1) Ryan Blaney: If Team Penske heads to victory lane on Sunday, it’ll be their newest team member Ryan Blaney. The #12 was one of the best cars in last year’s Daytona and is looking even better after this past weekend’s practice. When Blaney left the Wood Brothers to join Team Penske, he was expected to take the next step in his career and I expect that to start this weekend in Daytona. Vegas Odds: 14/1

You can catch the Daytona 500 this Sunday on FOX at 1:30pm Central Time. You can follow Tim on Twitter for more NASCAR updates at @timzim1613


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