Daytona 500 Preview
By Cody Smith
The 2022 NASCAR season will be one unlike many others in the past. NASCAR introduces a new car, new drivers on new teams and even a handful of new tracks to make up the schedule.
One thing that won’t be changing will be the fact that I’ll be watching every race and trying my best to give some fantasy NASCAR advice to everyone that takes to time to read this article. I’m back for season two and ready to try to help everyone win a little extra cash.
As always, the season kicks off in Daytona, Florida with “The Great American Race” the Daytona 500. Like last season, I’ll break down some drivers I like, drivers I’m avoiding, some of my best bets for the week, some top DraftKings picks and a One and Done pick.
So let’s get to our Daytona 500 breakdown.
This opening race of the 2022 season – The Daytona 500 – is a 500-mile (200 lap) race around the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Daytona has been run twice per season every year since 1972. With the Daytona 500 being the first points-paying race every year since 1982, the second Daytona race was recently moved as the regular season finale, giving Daytona the opportunity to bookend the NASCAR regular-season schedule. Over the last three seasons, six races have been run at Daytona. The most recent winner at the track is Ryan Blaney who took home the regular season finale last year. Other winners over the past three years include Denny Hamlin (x2), Justin Haley, William Byron and last season’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell.
Daytona is truly a wildcard race on a normal year. With a new Gen 7 car being debuted its tough to say who may be the team to beat. I bet Michael McDowell at 66/1 last season and hit, but many favorites have also come away with victories including Denny Hamlin winning three career Daytona 500 titles. He opens this week as the favorite at +850.
Some other drivers amongst the favorites include 2020 Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott (+1000), 2021 Cup Series Champion Kyle Larson (+1100), the aforementioned Ryan Blaney and his teammate Joey Logano are also both in the mix (+1200).
Drivers I Like
It’s tough to start a list at any superspeedway event without starting with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin enters the 2022 Daytona 500 leading all active drivers with three career victories at the track. All three of those victories have come in the Daytona 500, having won the season opening race in 2016, 2019 and 2020. Hamlin has also led the most laps at Daytona over the past six races, having led 228 laps. Just one other driver (Joey Logano) has led over 100 laps in the last six Daytona events. Hamlin sports an impressive average finish on 8.17 over the past six races. Just one other driver in the field is averaging a finish inside the top-10. He’s clearly one of the best superspeedway racers out there right now.
Joey Logano was mentioned above as having led the second most laps at Daytona – trailing only Hamlin. Logano has led 156 laps over the past six Daytona races. If this weekends race was the Daytona 499, Logano would have come home with the victory last season. Logano led entering turn three of the final lap before being taken out by former teammate Brad Keselowski, opening the door for Michael McDowell to earn the upset win. Logano has won the 500 in the past, earning a victory in the 2015 edition of the race. Fords have been fast so far in their practice sessions, so I expect Logano to have a fast car come race day.
Austin Dillon is another former 500 winner, earning a victory in the 2018 edition of the race. Over the past six races at Daytona, Dillon has carded just one single top-10 with an average finish of 17.67. He’s been caught up in a few unfortunate accidents, but Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing No.3 car always seem to have a fast car in Daytona. Despite a few poor finishes over the past six races, Dillon has led 56 laps in that span. If Dillon can avoid trouble, he ought to contend this weekend.
Justin Haley has earned a victory in the summer Daytona race just a few seasons ago, though it did come in a rain-shortened event. This season he pilots the No. 31 car for Kaulig Racing in their first full season in the Cup Series. This is clearly the best equipment Haley has had in his brief career. Haley has raced for Kaulig in the Xfinity Series since 2019 and has collected four victories. All four of those victories have come at superspeedway events. Haley won a pair of Talladega Races in 2020 and one Daytona race apiece in 2020 and 2021. Haley and the entirety of Kaulig racing have looked good so far this season. Haley ran up front in the Busch Light Clash at the LA Coliseum before being taken out in an unfortunate accident. In three career Cup Series starts at Daytona, Haley’s worst career finish is 13th. I’d expect him to compete Sunday.
Ross Chastain is being a bit overlooked this week and should be a popular DraftKings play. Chastain has a pair of top-10 finishes in the last six Daytona races with a highest finish of seventh. Chastain’s average finish over that span stands at 17.67. He was fast in single car qualifying, advancing to the second round and finishing as the seventh-fastest car. Chastain has proven to be an aggressive driver – perhaps too aggressive at times – but sometimes that strategy can pay off at a superspeedway.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Last year’s champ – Kyle Larson – hasn’t posted the best results at Daytona. Despite picking up 10 victories last season, Larson has yet to win a superspeedway race and has a career-best finish of seventh in the Daytona 500. He has led just one single lap in the past six Daytona races. Larson won the pole for the 500 and Hendrick cars have always exhibited great speed in Daytona 500 qualifying. But starting up front can mean there is nowhere to go but backward.
Kurt Busch enters the 2022 season on a new team as he joins Bubba Wallace at 23XI racing – a team owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan. Busch has one career Daytona victory but hasn’t been particularly good lately. In his last six Daytona starts, Busch sports an average finish of 22.67 with just one finish inside the top-10. I’d expect Busch to get off to a bit of a slow start this season as he attempts to learn the ropes at his new team.
Martin Truex Jr. has been even worse than Busch over the past six Daytona races. Turex sports an average finish of 24.50 over the last six races with also just one solo top-10 finish. Busch and Truex have both failed to finish a pair of the last six Daytona races, but unlike Busch, Truex has never won a sigle race in his entire career at Daytona. I’d expect the veteran to continue his struggles this week.
Chris Buescher enters his third season with the newly named Roush Fenway Keselowski (RFK) Racing in 2022. He finds his name on this list for a few reasons. The RFK cars have been slow so far this season. Neither RFK car qualified for the Busch Light Clash two weeks ago and neither advanced to the second round of Daytona 500 qualifying. RFK may have missed the mark on speed early this season. There is potential for them to find it, but it doesn’t look like they have it yet. Another issue with Buescher is that his average finish at Daytona over the last three races is 22.83. He’s collected a top-5 and a pair of top-10s in that span, but he has also found himself wrapped up in his fair share of accidents. If the RFK cars don’t have the speed to stay up front, they’re going to be in danger of getting caught up in “The Big One”.
Erik Jones hasn’t had a great track record of late at Daytona. His average finish over the past six races sits outside the top-20 with just one top-10 finish and two DNF’s. Unlike last season, Jones will have a teammate in Ty Dillon that could offer some drafting help, but I’m still not super high on Jones in the 500.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
In superspeedway racing, I’m looking for drivers that are starting near the back to fill out my lineup. These guys can score the most points if they find their way to the front and have a decent finish. In DraftKings racing you get points for improving your finish position from your starting position. Look for drivers that had some bad luck in the duel races, whether they sped on pit road or just lost the draft. They’ll be able to help you out this week
1. Denny Hamlin ($10,500)
2. William Byron ($9,400)
3. Austin Dillon ($8,400)
4. Aric Almirola ($8,000)
5. Daniel Hemric ($7,000)
6. Cole Custer ($6,500)
Remaining Budget: $200
With the unpredictability at Daytona with this new Gen 7 race car, I’m playing a short card with some long shots this week. Michael McDowell won this race last year and is getting +1200 to be the top finishing Ford this week. McDowell always runs well at Daytona, but +2800 aren’t good enough odds to bet him for the outright win like I did last year. You’ll never get a better number for Kyle Busch than +1500 and he has just as good a shot to win as anyone this week. Cole Custer’s odds are the worst of any full-time driver on a big-name team. I’ll throw a little on him to pick up the win as well.
Michael McDowell Top Ford (+1200, 0.25 unit)
Denny Hamlin Top Toyota (+200, 0.5 unit)
Kyle Busch to win (+1500, 1 unit)
Cole Custer to win (+7000, 0.5 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
The Biff is back! Greg Biffle hasn’t raced a stock car since 2016, but he makes his return for the new team NY Racing. In the one and done, its important to use part-time drivers in spots where they’re actually racing and have a shot for a decent finish. Biffle and the NY Racing team have not announced whether they will be attempting any other races this season or not, so I’m using Biffle when I know I can. Biffle has one career win at Daytona, coming all the way back in July of 2003.