Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Earnhardt Jr. favored to win Coke Zero 400, but almost anyone can win

Plate racing is a crap shoot or like throwing darts when betting
LAS VEGAS -- Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway marks the halfway point of the Sprint Cup season, and is also the third of the four restrictor-plate races scheduled. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have been the standard most teams have tried to match over the past two months on a variety of different tracks, but all that goes out the window with plate racing where there aren't really any true favorites and there aren't any big underdogs. David Ragan and Trevor Bayne have just as good a chance to win as Harvick or Johnson.

Here's a look at a few of this week's candidates to win along with the odds offered by the LVH SuperBook where no driver is listed lower than 10-to-1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10-to-1: Okay, so maybe technically there is a favorite, and considering he did win the Daytona 500 -- his first plate win since 2004 when he also won the Daytona 500 -- he's as good a candidate as any to start with. Because there is plenty of demand from the betting public on the No. 88 car weekly, Junior gets a little reduction by the books on where his odds should be. He's won two races this season which is the same amount he won for Hendrick Motorsports from 2008-13 and he leads the series with nine top-5 finishes. What makes Junior so good this season, besides getting great cars, is that he has his swagger back and he's having fun.

Jimmie Johnson 12-to-1: He swept the season at Daytona last year, which ended a run of six straight finishes of 20th or worse on the 2.5-mile layout. He finished fifth in this year's Daytona 500. Just about anything and everything can happen at Daytona, and it has for Johnson. A career average finish of 17th-place is not what we typically see out of Johnson on any track.

Denny Hamlin 12-to-1: Let's see, he started the season off with a win in the Sprint Unlimited (Shootout), a win in one of the Budweiser Duels, was second to Junior in the Daytona 500 and then won at Talladega. That's four forms of competition in plate races and the No. 11 Toyota took the checkers in three of them. It's about as dominant as we've seen a plate program since the Hendrick or DEI cars from a decade or so ago. There's no reason to believe anything will change this week other than the uncertainty of the track itself. If this car stays out of trouble, it should be on rails with everyone else trying to keep up. If I had only $5 to wager on the race this week, it would be on Hamlin.

Matt Kenseth 12-to-1: We've seen him win at both Talladega and Daytona in recent years with Roush Fenway Racing, but he's yet to win on them with Joe Gibbs which is a huge surprise. Last season he led more laps in the four plate races combined than anyone, and with teammate Hamlin having success, there is plenty of reason to back a wager on Kenseth this week.

"I felt that Speedweeks at Daytona earlier this year went really well for JGR since Denny (Hamlin) won the Shootout and one of the qualifiers, with us winning the other qualifier race," said Kenseth. "I really felt that Denny had the car to win the (Daytona) 500 as well and he went on to finish second. Hopefully we can stay out of trouble this weekend because we see so many times at the superspeedways how one person makes a mistake and you can end up easily getting caught up in it."

Clint Bowyer 18-to-1: He always manages to find his way into the lead pack, and although he has yet to win at Daytona he does have two wins at Talladega (both for Richard Childress Racing). He finished fourth in this race last season and was third at Talladega in early May.

Greg Biffle 20-to-1: While Hamlin would be my top choice to win with only $5 to wager, if I had $10, I'd bet the other $5 on Biffle. He led the most laps at Talladega and finished second to Hamlin and he also finished eighth in the 500. The Roush cars have been very strong over the years in plate races with Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ragan, and Biffle won there in 2003.

"I'm looking forward to this weekend," said Biffle. "Hopefully we can get a top-10 finish or a win. Daytona under the lights is always exciting and was the site of my first win, a long time ago. I'm hoping to back it up with another this weekend."

Danica Patrick 50-to-1: Last week at Kentucky she was 300-to-1. This week she's 50-to-1, and while I wouldn't bet on her myself, I also wouldn't be shocked if she won her first career NASCAR race. Last season she finished eighth and 14th at Daytona and gained the confidence of several drivers in the garages that she could be trusted to pull out of the draft with and follow. This week she is using the same chassis she won the pole with in last year's Daytona 500.

David Ragan 75-to-1: When he won this race in 2011, no one was really surprised because of how strong the Roush Ford's have been in plate races, but when he won for Front Row Motorsports last season at Talladega, it cemented the notion that anyone can win in these type of races as his teammate David Gilliland (also 75-to-1) pushed him to victory and finished second himself. A 1-2 finish against all the heavyweights of NASCAR by an underfunded team is pretty indicative that everyone is equal.

Read more here.......LVH odds to win

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