Monday, February 14, 2011

2011 Daytona 500 Preview: Picking the Right Partner is Key to Success On Sunday

By Micah Roberts

Two car tandems will be the theme on Sunday's Daytona 500
The big question coming in to last week’s Bud Shootout was how all the changes to the track and the cars would affect the racing. Between speeds of up to 206 mph and a new form of super speedway racing where two-car tandems go bumper to bumper, rather than the tradition freight train of several cars linked, it’s fair to say the new changes are for the better as we head into this weeks of events that culminate with Sunday’s 53rd Daytona 500.

NASCAR has been searching for the missing answer of how to get television ratings on the rise again and have implemented all kinds of rules the last few years -- some rules that have even cancelled out initial changes -- and by pure chnace, something not of their intention, this tag-team restrictor-plate driving falls into their laps.

Who doesn’t love speeds over 200 mph with RPM’s hitting at over 9,700. While plate racing has always been enjoyable, this new style -- where two cars are much faster together than three or four packed togther -- is a refreshing and pleasant change from what we’re accustomed to watching.

Even though the individual car performance is diluted somewhat because of needing another to go faster, the top plate teams from the past year are still forces to reckon with. Teams like Childress, Hendrick, Gibbs and Ganassi all figure to be major players Sunday.

Kurt Busch was able to win the Bud Shootout in his Dodge  
But their final results now depend on who they team up with and how well they work together during the race. During the Bud Shootout, Jeff Burton led the most laps with Kevin Harvick as his trailer, pushing Burton. They had the luxury of talking to each other during the race because they are on the same Childress team and it showed by the way the two of them worked together in and out of each turn flawlessness getting maximum speed with no air resistance. Other hook-ups weren’t as clean with the pusher having trouble guessing where his leader was going which broke their stock car caravan and slowed their speeds by up to 20 mph.

Teammates will surely be seeking each other out, but in all liklihood, most drivers will have to take whoever is available at the moment, even if it means partnering up with Dodge driver Kurt Busch as Jamie McMurray was forced to do Saturday night.

The position all drivers hope to be in for the final lap is the pusher because once they pull away for a slingshot move, their lead partner‘s speed dies almost as if the engine has been turned off. The only recourse a driver has -- who is leading -- is to block which is likely to cause a severe car flipping accident. In Saturday’s race we saw two sets of drivers near the finish line with Denny Hamlin trying to make the winning pass, but he went below the yellow line to avoid the possible wreck, which in turn black flagged him.

With the Daytona 500 on the line and the lead driver expecting the slingshot, you can bet that he’ll do anything possible to secure the win, even if that means knocking his temporary teammate -- the one who pushed him to be in that situation -- out of the way. It’s not a new twist to restrictor-plate racing, but requiring two cars to achieve the speeds needed to get to the finish line first is which makes this a very intriguing Daytona 500, perhaps one of the most anticipated in the last few decades.

Bowyer and Busch will both be strong candidates to win
The only thing that could possibly ruin this different type of racing at Daytona is NASCAR, who has until Wednesday to make a decision on whether or not to use a smaller restrictor-plate to slow the cars down. NASCAR has been all about safety of the fans and drivers the last decade, following Dale Earnhardt’s death 10 years ago in the Daytona 500, but the buzz created from the speeds and new type of racing may force them to delay drastic changes until Talladega in April.

When looking to bet this week, you can take a list of all the drivers from the top teams, throw in a couple more randomly, until you have about 28 drivers, and then start throwing darts. Seriously, I mean it! There is no real method to picking the winner in this weeks race, as opposed to the 32 other races on non-restrictor plate tracks.

My advise is to take a shot on a few drivers at 20-to-1 or higher like Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton.

I think the class of the plate cars are the Childress drivers who won three of the plate races last year, but it’s anybody’s ball game as we saw Saturday with Kurt Busch winning the Bud Shootout. Busch was the only Dodge in the field, who doesn’t have many friends on the track to begin with, and pulled out the victory despite all the reasons he had going against him.

Good Luck and enjoy the race Sunday!

Top 5 Daytona 500 Finish prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (15/1)
2) #33 Clint Bowyer (16/1)
3) #1 Jamie McMurray (10/1)
4) #31 Jeff Burton (30/1)
5) #20 Joey Logano (30/1)

Sports Book Notes
MGM Grand Race and Sports Book
MGM Resorts Sports Book Director Jay Rood said the biggest event of this weekend will be the Daytona 500 and guaranteed that “The Great American Race” would be on with sound at his Mirage sports book. The race will also be Sunday’s biggest decision for his chain of books on the strip.

“Barring huge wagers on that day from house players, the Daytona 500 will easily be our biggest decision of the day,” said Rood.

While NASCAR measures only a blip of a percent of the overall betting operation, by itself, it usually is one of the larger handled events when comparing it with any other game. The other sports have multiple games each day, while NASCAR has only 36 events on the year. This Sunday is a rather weak betting menu with the NBA All-Star game generating modest handle and a few less than marquee college basketball games.

Rood offered some of the most attractive Daytona 500 odds in the city and also plans to offer some matchups and propositions for the race. He’s even going to see how much interest there is in booking the Nationwide series races.

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book currently is the only sports book that carries the Nationwide series for every race, as well as Formula-1, Indy Cars and the Truck series. On Monday the Hilton crew also opened their odds to win Thursday’s Gatorade Duel races.

Cantor Gaming sports books got a little racier with their NASCAR props this season as they have a bunch of season propositions, something that no one else has in the city. Their new book at the Tropicana offers easy access and is absolutely beautiful.

NFL Standstill
While the players and owners haggle over the $1 billion they’re apart from in negotiations, Las Vegas sports books sit nervously knowing that part of their business is likely to be disrupted. There is no sense of urgency to get anything done from the players or owners side right now which looks to have the entire process go on until someone blinks, which will probably come in August. Losing a few pre-season games would be devastating for the sports books. Losing a few regular season games would catastrophic.

The other aspect that would have the sports books scrambling quick to make something happen is the many football contests around town. They won’t be able to print their rules and begin their marketing campaigns for their annual contests until they know a date. Those marketing campaigns are pivotal not just for the sports books, but an expectant for fall promotions in the casino for their regular slot and table game players. The weekly football contests ensure a return visit at least once a week from those valued players and are critical to the overall bottom line.

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