The 61st renewal of the Daytona 500 is set for Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. The pole sitter will be 21-year-old William Byron (20-1), who will start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman (22-1) in this year’s running of “The Great American Race.” Bryon pilots the #24 car, while Bowman sits in the #88. Somewhat surprisingly, Brad Keselowski (#2) is the tepid race favorite at 7-1, followed by 2018 NASCAR champion and fellow Team Penske member Joey Logano (#22) at 8-1. Keselowski’s 1-for-19 record at Daytona with just two additional top five finishes does not inspire confidence. Let’s investigate a little further and look for drivers offering value in NASCAR’s premier event.
Kevin Harvick (11-1)
Kevin Harvick and his #4 Chevrolet tied for the most wins in NASCAR last year with Kyle Busch at eight and led an astonishing 1,990 laps. Harvick already has a Harley J. Earl Trophy on his mantle for winning the 2007 Daytona 500, and has won over the strip one additional time in 35 starts. He is sixth among active drivers in laps led at this course (299), and has seven additional top five finishes to boast. Among drivers that have at least 10 starts at Daytona, Harvick’s average finish of 17.29 is third behind Austin Dillion (seeking back-to-back Daytona 500 victories) and Clint Bowyer. It’s safe to say that Stewart-Haas Racing has a shot at their first Daytona 500 triumph with Harvick driving for them.
Denny Hamlin (11-1)
Denny Hamlin (#11), perhaps to his chagrin, looks like he is third on the Joe Gibbs Racing depth chart in 2019 behind perennial championship contender Kyle Busch and the newly-acquired Martin Truex Jr. However, Hamlin won this race in 2016 and has the most laps led at the speedway among all active drivers (407). With a couple of solid teammates to help him draft up front, Hamlin should be in a great position to win a second Daytona 500. Hamlin did not win a race in 2018 but recorded 10 top five finishes.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15-1)
Six-year NASCAR veteran Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spots some experience, but Austin Dillion won last year’s Daytona 500 with just four years under his belt. Stenhouse Jr. has one win in 13 starts at Daytona, which came in July of 2017. The #17 driver has been unlucky to crash out of contention in the last two runnings of “The Great American Race.”
Stenhouse Jr. has a great record at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s other restrictor plate course, with a win and three additional top 10s in his last four races there. He should get some help in the draft from 2008 Daytona 500 winner and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ryan Newman.