Just a week after football’s Super Bowl was played, the Super Bowl of stock car racing kick-starts another season of NASCAR and race betting. The green flag for the Daytona 500 is set to drop on Sunday around 2:30 p.m. ET. Not only is this NASCAR’s first event each season, it is also stock car racing’s most prestigious event. Referred to as “The Great American Race,” this event boasts the Cup Series’ biggest prize purse as well as the coveted Harley J. Earl Trophy. Plus the first playoff ticket gets punched for the winner. Adding to the magnitude of this year’s race, it marks the 20-year anniversary of the tragic death at Daytona of Dale Earnhardt, arguably the most popular driver in the sport’s history.
Coming off one of the most unusual seasons in the sport’s history, everyone at NASCAR is eager to “get back to normal.” Unfortunately, racing will continue to be affected by the lingering pandemic, and we again will be seeing races without everything we’ve come to expect over the years, notably full stands of spectators as well as qualifying and practice sessions. That said, anyone who watched the action on a regular basis last year can’t argue that the finished product was affected greatly by the absence of those factors. For bettors, if anything, the trimming down of variables may have made the handicapping process a bit easier and more profitable as a result.
On one Sunday each February, Daytona International Speedway becomes the center of the racing world by offering up an unparalleled brand of racing. The track is one of the NASCAR circuit’s biggest at 2 1/2 miles, and with speeds reaching 200-plus mph on up to 31-degree track banking, it’s easy to see how the action becomes so exhilarating. There is little that compares to the freight train-like roar of the cars flying around the oval. Even with the series having tinkered with the drafting process over the years, the racing here has always been breathtaking. I characterize it as tinkering, because mandated changes to spoilers, restrictor plates and other aero factors haven’t changed the product all that much. In fact, last year was the first Daytona 500 not run with restrictor plates in many years. The plates were replaced by an aero package involving tapered spacers, which were expected to promote better passing and/or maneuvering … i.e. better racing. That race produced a few major wrecks, 24 lead changes among 13 drivers, nine caution flags, and 17 out of 40 cars that failed to finish. In other words, typical Daytona stuff.