2021 Coke Zero Sugar 400 Betting Preview & Picks
Back in February, Michael McDowell delivered the biggest upset of the season by winning the Daytona 500 to score his first career victory in the opening race of the season. McDowell survived a chaotic superspeedway race to deliver bettors a 100-1 winning ticket for those courageous enough to sprinkle some action on the huge dark horse. Now nearly six months following that wild opening race, NASCAR's Cup Series returns to the shores at Daytona in the regular-season finale with the running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Though this week's return to Daytona will not be for the grand jewel prize that is the Daytona 500, it will serve extreme importance. Saturday's running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 will be many drivers' last opportunity to secure a spot in the playoffs. Many popular names like Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and others will need a victory in order to keep their championship hopes alive. Luckily, Daytona's superspeedway-style racing provides extreme parity with the help of the draft, which opens the door for potential surprise winners just like we saw back in February with Michael McDowell. With so many drivers desperately needing a win, Saturday's Coke Zero Sugar 400 could be a very wild and tumultuous event.
From a betting standpoint, superspeedway brings huge winning potential to the table. However, handicappers do not have the underlying edge as they do with traditional ovals. Pack-racing at the superspeedways are volatile and unpredictable. Part of the battle is surviving the chaos and trying to be in position for a win in the closing laps. While unpredictable in nature, this racing style usually provides 2-3 times the value that traditional ovals produce. As a result, I find these races opportunistic if we limit our overall exposure and find value options that provide the potential for a big payday.
In terms of predicting potential winners, that is where this gets tricky. By some accounts, you could mark an argument for any driver at Daytona. Statistically, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano have been your best drivers in recent years in terms of consistently running towards the front of the field. In the last five races, Joey Logano's average running position of 8.4 is the best among all drivers, followed closely by Kyle Busch (9.8). Hamlin is a 3-time winner of the Daytona 500 and likely the best overall superspeedway talent in the field. However, Hamlin has failed to winner the summer race at Daytona to this point in his career.
Obviously, we do not want to put all of our betting focus on favorites this week. My strategy for superspeedway races is primarily to identify outstanding value on dark horse type talents that also have a habit to run up front and be in position for a victory in the closing laps. A few of the drivers that I believe best fit that category include William Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Austin Dillon. In my opinion, Byron is one of the most under-rated superspeedway drivers among the upper echelon of options. Byron scored his 1st career victory in this race last year and has shown the unique ability to keep his car out front. Meanwhile, Stenhouse and Dillon are similar storylines. Both drivers are former Daytona winners who are extremely aggressive that fit the desperate win narrative. The problem is both drivers are just as likely to end up on the hook as they are to win the race. Despite their volatility, both drivers yield the value that we seek for these types of races.
I could obviously list a number of additional drivers to consider this week, but I will try to narrow my list down to give clear options. Chase Elliott is a great pivot option among the favorites to consider. Elliott is among the top superspeedway talents in the Cup Series but is often overshadowed by the likes of Hamlin, Logano, and even Brad Keselowski. At 10-1 odds or greater, Elliott is a less popular option with similar upside. If you are like me and want to focus solely on value, don't overlook the reigning Daytona 500 winner in Michael McDowell. Many people will look at the victory in February as a fluke, but McDowell has been great at the superspeedway races this year and backed up his 500 win with a 3rd place showing at Talladega. McDowell actually ranks 11th among all drivers in the last five races at Daytana in terms of average driver rating (77.8) but is still getting the lottery style betting odds again this week!
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