Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will lead the field across the start-finish line to commence the 2017 Daytona 500 on Sunday, but Thursday’s Can-Am Duels will determine how the rest of the drivers stack up.
Grabbing a solid starting position is important in terms of getting off to a strong start, but it doesn’t guarantee anything at a restrictor-plate track like Daytona since skilled drivers can move from the back to the front in short order.
Ahead of Thursday’s duels to fill out the remainder of the Daytona 500 lineup, here is a rundown of the current odds for the race, according to OddsShark, along with predictions for which drivers will thrive at the biggest event of the season.
Daytona 500 Lineup
Daytona 500 Driver Odds
Daytona 500 Predictions
Winner: Chase Elliott
Elliott will start on the Daytona 500 pole for the second consecutive year, and although the race didn’t go well for him in 2016, he now has a full season of Cup Series experience under his belt.
The 21-year-old son of legendary driver Bill Elliott wrecked in each of his Daytona starts last year, but he didn’t let that impact his psyche during qualifying, as he once again paced the field.
Inexperience may have had something to do with Elliott’s struggles at Daytona in 2016, but he was also the victim of bad luck, which can turn at any time in NASCAR.
According to Joe Menzer of FoxSports.com, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion believes he has a better feel for what it takes to win at a superspeedway after running at several of them last year:
“I do feel like that from where we were at the spring race here, I actually thought our car when we came back in the July race was way better than our car was in the spring. We wrecked then, too, but it was better until we wrecked. I learned a lot from those two races, and then definitely the race[s] at Talladega.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from the drafting side. I don’t think I have it perfected by any means, but I do think I’ve picked up on some things, which hopefully will help. One thing is you definitely want to try to put yourself in the best position you can to try to make it to the end of the race. Obviously that’s much easier said than done, but trying to position yourself to do that is the most important thing. I’ve struggled with that down here, so hopefully we can correct that on Sunday.”
A great deal of strategy goes into succeeding at restrictor-plate tracks, and Elliott is fortunate to be part of a dominant team.
If he can work with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne effectively while avoiding the big crashes, he will put himself in position to win his first career Cup Series race.
Second Place: Kevin Harvick
Perhaps no driver in NASCAR has been more consistent than Kevin Harvick in recent years, which gives the 2014 Cup Series champion a golden opportunity to capture his second career Daytona 500 win.
According to Fox Sports: NASCAR, the 41-year-old veteran’s Daytona 500 resume is an impressive one:
When taking into account all points races at Daytona International Speedway, Harvick is fourth among active drivers with an average finish of 16.1.
He has finished in the top five in each of his past two Daytona 500 starts, and after a strong showing in the Clash, he feels good about his car, per Joe Rodgers of Sporting News: “The confidence is high just because of how fast our Ford is today. So I think once we got the balance and have an idea now of where the balance needs to be we can get the handling right, but speed is not an issue.”
Harvick’s only victory in the Great American Race came in 2007, but he has been masterful at giving himself a legitimate chance to win on an annual basis.
Based on Harvick’s comfort level entering the race, it is difficult to imagine him not being in the mix unless he gets swept up in a wreck.
Third Place: Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth is coming off the seventh top-five points finish of his career, and winning the 2017 Daytona 500 would go a long way toward putting him in contention for No. 8.
The 44-year-old is already a two-time Daytona 500 winner, and he would join elite company with a victory Sunday, according to Joe Gibbs Racing:
The 2003 Cup Series champion has just one top-10 finish in his past four Daytona 500 outings, but his experience at the track should serve him well.
Along with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth is tied for the most career Daytona Cup Series starts among full-time active drivers with 34.
Kenseth is as savvy as any driver in NASCAR, and that should allow him to be in contention during the closing laps of Sunday’s race.
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