When offering Daytona 500 betting predictions, many experts will simply pick a name out of a hat.
We would never do that.
We picked six names out of a hat.
Mike Cole, a guy who usually spends his time making picks on the gridiron rather than on asphalt, and Ben Watanabe, a guy who likes watching cars drive in circles, fired up their scanners and popped on their headsets to provide some radio chatter on who to target in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
To make things a bit more interesting, we broke up the field into three tiers and offered a pick for each tier, depending on how much of a stretch you want to bet.
Ben Watanabe: Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports +1800
Saying someone’s “due” generally is a bad betting strategy, but Bowman has been stung by bad luck in this race forever. Despite only failing to finish once in 11 tries at Daytona International Speedway, he’s never finished better than seventh. He clearly has speed there, however, having claimed two poles and posting an average starting position of 6.2.
Mike Cole: Ryan Blaney, Team Penske +1200
Blaney should be feeling pretty good heading back to Daytona after winning there in August. He wrecked in the 500 last year, which seemingly happens to everyone at some point, but he did finish second in February back in 2020. He has five finishes of seventh or better in his last 10 Daytona races, wrecking in the other five. If he stays clean, he contends to win.
Middle of the pack
Ben Watanabe: Chris Buescher, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing +3500
For all its struggles on intermediate and short tracks that now stretch back a decade, RFK Racing’s restrictor plate program has been surprisingly robust. Everyone knows they were in position to win the Daytona 500 just two years ago before Ryan Newman’s terrifying crash on the final lap, but it’s often forgotten Buescher finished third that day. Buescher is sink-or-swim at Daytona, but then again, isn’t everybody?
Mike Cole: Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing +2500
Bell has made four “big league” starts at Daytona and has finished inside the top 20 in the races he hasn’t wrecked. He was even better at the Xfinity level, with three top-10 finishes in his last three Daytona races, including a top-five finish. He’s led a handful of laps on both series, and there’s no shortage of Gibbs success in this race.
Ben Watanabe: Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing +6000
Is he a particularly good restrictor-plate racer? No. Did he finish 36th last year? Yes. Did he qualify for the race the year before that? No. Why would I take him? Well, he’s had some decent finishes at Talladega, so there’s a modicum of plate-track success. Longshots are longshots for a reason.
Mike Cole: Erik Jones, Petty GMS Motorsports +5000
This probably would be a much better pick two years ago, but let’s roll with it anyway. Jones, to his credit, has actually taken the checkers twice at Daytona. Granted, one of those was a Busch Clash in which six cars actually finished the race, but a win’s a win.
Ben Watanabe: Chevrolet
It’s tough to pick against Toyota, given Denny Hamlin’s well-documented Daytona dominance, but there are just too many winnable Chevys in the field. Any of the Hendrick crew could win this thing, and Austin Dillon always is a factor. Beyond the big names, there are plenty of drivers with Daytona experience down the entry list (Greg Biffle, Erik Jones, Justin Haley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) sporting bowties who could crash the party.
Mike Cole: Ford
Both of us going against Toyota, when every driver in a Toyota currently is better than 25-1, is a risky proposition. But I also have to stay consistent. My top pick to win, Blaney, drives a Ford, and I’m getting a handful of other big names like Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Don’t sleep on Austin Cindric (25-1), either.