No major American sports league starts its season with its biggest event, but NASCAR does and that sport’s Super Bowl is this Sunday at Daytona International Speedway on the east coast of Florida with the 62nd running of the Daytona 500, also known as the “Great American Race.” It’s usually the highest-rated motorsports event in the USA every year as well as the most-wagered.
NASCAR’s top circuit is no longer called the Monster Energy Cup Series but simply NASCAR Cup Series in 2020. Instead of having one mega-sponsor take over naming rights, NASCAR has four premier partners: Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, GEICO and Xfinity. This year also will be the last in NASCAR for the Gen-6 car, to be replaced by the Gen-7 in 2021.
Daytona and Talladega were the only two superspeedways on the circuit where drivers had to use restrictor plates. Those were to keep speeds down, but all they usually did was ensure everyone is grouped up and that there’s one monster wreck – always called the Big One in each race. Some drivers thrived in plate races for whatever reason. However, the 2019 Daytona 500 was the last with the plate. Instead, NASCAR switched to tapered spacers at every track to keep speeds in check.
The Daytona 500 is scheduled to run 200 laps but the past two have gone to 207 because of the need of a green-white-checker finish. Races can’t end under caution. There was a massive crash on Lap 191 last year, which led to a red-flag day, and then two more sizable wrecks after Lap 191.
The defending champion is Denny Hamlin, who also won in 2016 for Joe Gibbs Racing in a Toyota. The No. 11 car is +900 this year. Only five drivers have won the Daytona at least three times, with Richard Petty holding an unbreakable record of seven. Just three drivers have repeated at Daytona, last Sterling Marlin in 1995.
Brad Keselowski (+1000), Chase Elliott (+1400) and Joey Logano (+1000) are all in the mix as well. Logano won the race in 2015 in a green-white-checker finish. Elliott’s Hall of Fame dad Bill won the race twice. Defending NASCAR points champion Kyle Busch is +1000. He hasn’t won this race but was runner-up a year ago. Kyle’s brother Kurt (+2000) won in 2017.
Will this be the last Daytona 500 for seven-time points champion Jimmie Johnson? The two-time Daytona 500 winner is retiring from full-time racing after this season but could still opt to run this race. JJ is +2500. Pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is set at +2800.
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