NASCAR

NASCAR Betting Guide: Daytona 500

Daytona is a wild track where anything can happen. To prove this point, you need not look further than last year's July race, where Justin Haley won at 500/1 odds.

That can be frustrating for betting because it means we don't have the regular staples at the top who we know will be in contention at the end of the race. But it also gives us a chance to open things up and try to pin a longshot who could take the checkered flag.

At FanDuel Sportsbook before the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday, no driver has odds shorter than 10/1, which shows how wide open things are on paper for the 40-car field. If we want some true value, we'll likely want to dip even a bit longer than that.

Odds are likely to shift to reflect which cars are strong during Thursday's Duel races, giving us an incentive to plug in bets before then. With that in mind, which drivers stand out for Sunday's Great American Race? Let's check it out.

Aric Almirola (+2200)

Aric Almirola is tied with a host of other drivers for the 12th-shortest odds in the field. But he actually grades out as eighth-best in my model prior to Thursday's Duel races, making him a bit of a value.

Almirola has been a skilled driver in the draft for a while now. Both of his wins in the Cup Series came on superspeedways, one in Daytona in 2014 and the other in Talladega in 2018. This continued last year after the Cup Series transitioned to its new aero package as Almirola was ninth, seventh, and fourth, respectively, in the three races with the current rules in place.

Relative to the Penske Racing drivers, the odds for the Stewart-Haas Racing team are pretty long. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are 13/1 and 20/1, respectively, and then Almirola slides in at 22/1. Unless you want to dip all the way down to rookie Cole Custer (+5000), Almirola's are the longest odds you'll get for a driver in Ford's top two teams. He has proven he can win on this track in the past, and Almirola will have plenty of strong team and manufacturer support in the race.

Matt DiBenedetto (+3200)

Technically, Matt DiBenedetto isn't part of Ford's top two teams as he makes his debut with Wood Brothers Racing. He does, though, have a heavy technical alliance with Penske Racing, and their record of success at superspeedways is second to none.

DiBenedetto almost got a win in Daytona last year while still with Leavine Family Racing. He led 49 laps and was running in the top five before a late wreck ended his day early. Even without a quality finish to show for his efforts there, DiBenedetto does have three top-10s to his name in nine career Daytona starts, including an eighth-place finish in last year's July race.

We shouldn't expect DiBenedetto to have equipment on par with the other Penske cars, but it's still good enough to compete. Paul Menard was the guy who wrecked DiBenedetto during last year's 500 while driving for Wood Brothers, meaning he was running near the front. Menard also nearly won the Busch Clash that year but got wrecked while leading, and he finished sixth while with the Wood Brothers in the 2018 Daytona 500. Ryan Blaney (+1600) was the runner-up in the 500 the year before that with Wood Brothers, as well. DiBenedetto's got some extra ponies under the hood, and last year showed he's capable of running up front. Even with the odds shortened thanks to his new ride, DiBenedetto's still a solid bet at this number.

Christopher Bell (+4200)

The guy taking over for DiBenedetto at Leavine Family Racing is Christopher Bell, and Bell brought an increased alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing with him to the new ride. This makes the hotshot rookie intriguing at 42/1.

Bell dominated the Xfinity Series the past two years before getting this promotion. He won a combined 15 races, accounting for 22.73% of the races in that span. None of those wins were at Daytona or Talladega, but he did have a pair of third-place runs in Daytona in addition to a third-place finish at Talladega last year.

The biggest concern with Bell is equipment. DiBenedetto struggled on tracks with lots of on-throttle time last year, and even though he led laps in Daytona, speed does matter here, as well.

This past weekend did provide a boost for Bell's outlook, though. He had the ninth-fastest run in Sunday's single-car qualifying, ranking him second among the Toyotas and third among the non-Chevys. It seems like that beefed-up alliance has brought extra speed to the 95 car, and that makes Bell potentially even a stronger contender than DiBenedetto was entering last year.

Chris Buescher (+7500)

Chris Buescher is a great bet for Daytona in a vacuum, and we'll discuss more of that in a second. More importantly, he's a great example of the value of price shopping.

At FanDuel Sportsbook, you can get Buescher at 75/1, the number that he opened at in December. For comparison, Buescher is 50/1 at DraftKings Sportsbook and 40/1 at Caesars. There won't be many instances this year where you can get a driver at such a severe discount just by looking at multiple books, and we'd be wise to take advantage for that reason.

We're not just backing Buescher simply because of the number, though. He's also a solid driver moving into better equipment this year. Buescher finished fifth in both Daytona races in 2018, and he was 10th in 2017.

Now, he moves over to Roush-Fenway Racing, which won a pair of drafting races with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2000) back in 2017. Part of that was because Stenhouse is an aggressive driver on this track type, but having the Ford engines under the hood has been a major plus on superspeedways the past few years. Buescher's got talent, and now he adds favorable equipment into the fold. We could consider him even at 40/1, but getting him all the way at 75/1 makes Buescher the best value of the entire race.