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Early Look at the Top Contenders and Sleepers for the 2022 Daytona 500

| December 5, 2021 7:31 am PDT

On February 20, the NASCAR Cup Series will begin its season with the 64th running of the Daytona 500.

The Daytona 500 is the most prestigious race of the season. Drivers would love to start their season with a career-defining win.

Next season, NASCAR will unveil the Next-Gen car. That could lead to an unpredictable Daytona 500.

Before talking about the top contenders and sleepers, let’s check out the odds.

Odds for the 2022 Daytona 500

  • Denny Hamlin (+1000)
  • Chase Elliott (+1200)
  • Joey Logano (+1200)
  • Kyle Larson (+1200)
  • Ryan Blaney (+1200)
  • William Byron (+1400
  • Brad Keselowski (+1600)
  • Bubba Wallace (+1600)
  • Kurt Busch (+1600)
  • Alex Bowman (+1800)

Despite the race being over two months away, BetUS has odds available.

Denny Hamlin comes into the season as the favorite. Hamlin has won three of the last six Daytona 500s, and he is one of the best superspeedway drivers.

Joey Logano and Kurt Busch are the only other drivers in the top 10 who have won the Daytona 500.

There’s no clear favorite because the draft allows slower teams to catch up. Also, pack racing means that one big wreck can take out the top contenders.

Speaking of the top contenders, let’s discuss their chances.

Top Contenders for the 2022 Daytona 500

The odds show this race will be extremely competitive. Here are my top contenders.

Denny Hamlin (+1000)

There’s no way you can talk about the Daytona 500 and not mention Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s three Daytona 500 wins rank third all-time. That puts him up there with some of the greatest NASCAR drivers.

In 2016, Hamlin made his way from fourth to first on the final lap. He beat Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds in the closest Daytona 500 finish.

Four years later, Hamlin defeated Ryan Blaney in another close finish. Unfortunately, Ryan Newman’s terrifying flip at the start-finish line overshadowed the finish.

Initially, Hamlin struggled at Daytona. He only had two top 10 finishes in his first 16 starts. However, his finishes don’t tell the whole story.

In that span, he led at least ten laps six times. Three times, he led 30+ laps in the Daytona 500.

When it comes to the Daytona 500 in particular, Hamlin’s consistency began in 2014.

Finishing Position Laps Led (of 200)
2014 2nd 16
2015 4th 4
2016 1st 95
2017 17th 0
2018 3rd 22
2019 1st 30
2020 1st 79
2021 5th 98

It takes a lot of skill to perform that well in the Daytona 500, but it also takes some luck. Hamlin has managed to avoid the big wreck almost every season.

And a lot of time, you see a driver hang out in the back then pounce at the end. Hamlin doesn’t believe in that. He likes to run up front and lead as many laps as possible.

The closest comparison to Daytona is Talladega. Hamlin has led 15+ laps in three of his last four starts at the track. He also has a pair of wins.

Unfortunately, Hamlin’s legacy is being the best driver never to win a championship. He isn’t on the list yet, but will be if he retires without a title.

Winning his fourth Daytona 500 would be a step in the right direction.

Joey Logano (+1200)

You need to be aggressive when you race at a superspeedway track like Daytona. I’m not sure there is a more aggressive driver in the field than Joey Logano.

Sometimes, that gets him into trouble, but it also leads to big wins.

In 2015, Logano won the Daytona 500 for the first time. That began a very impressive stretch of finishes in the Great American Race.

  • 2015: 1st
  • 2016: 6th
  • 2017: 6th
  • 2018: 4th
  • 2019: 4th

Logano is like Hamlin because he doesn’t like to ride in the back. He wants to control the race as much as he can.

It’s interesting to think about that because Logano hasn’t finished better than 12th at Daytona since the 2019 Daytona 500. But see, finishes don’t tell the whole story.

Check out his laps led in those five races.

  • 2019 (Summer): 40
  • 2020 (Spring): 6
  • 2020 (Summer): 36
  • 2021 (Spring): 26
  • 2021 (Summer): 37

That’s why it’s so impressive when drivers can string together three or four straight top-five finishes on a superspeedway track. You can lead plenty of laps, but one big crash could end your race.

Talladega is a similar story for Logano.

He has three wins, and seven top-five finishes in his last 13 starts at the track. He also has four finishes of 25th or worse. Logano led 6+ laps in all four races, including 45 in the Fall 2020 race.

Logano has quietly struggled to win races lately. He only has two wins in his last 68 races. One of those came in the Bristol Dirt race last season.

He should be hungry to start 2022 on the right foot. I expect to see an aggressive Logano near the front at Daytona.

Ryan Blaney (+1200)

Ryan Blaney is the classic example of a driver that either finishes well or crashes at a superspeedway.

First, let’s talk about the Daytona 500. In seven starts, Blaney has three top 10 finishes. His other four finishes were 19th or worse. It’s not because Blaney was running bad, but because of crashes or engine issues.

In 2018, Blaney had the dominant car, leading 118 laps. Unfortunately, a late crash ruined his hopes of a win. Blaney still recovered to finish seventh.

Two years later, Blaney was leading right until the last second, when Denny Hamlin passed him just before the start-finish line. That marked his second second-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Last season, Blaney won the Summer race at Daytona. That gave him three top 10 finishes in his previous four starts at the track.

While Daytona has been kind to him, Blaney has had much more success at Talladega.

Check out his numbers in his last five races at the track.

Finishing Position Laps Led (of 188)
2019 (Fall) 1st 35
2020 (Summer) 1st 63
2020 (Fall) 25th 10
2021 (Spring) 9th 11
2021 (Fall) 15th 0

It’s tough to see the poor finishes, but Blaney is leading laps.

Blaney continues to put himself in position to win these races, but a crash takes him out of contention. Avoiding the big wreck will be essential to Blaney capturing his first Daytona 500 victory.

That’s easier said than done.

In a superspeedway race like the Daytona 500, manufacturers typically work together. We’ve seen the Fords team up with great success. Blaney and his teammate, Joey Logano, are arguably the two best Ford drivers. They should lead the brigade at Daytona.

Blaney is coming off the best season of his career. Can he start his championship push with a Daytona 500 win?

Top Sleepers for the 2022 Daytona 500

Last year, Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 with (+10000) odds. Which sleepers can replicate his triumph?

Martin Truex Jr. (+3000)

There are great NASCAR drivers who struggle on superspeedway tracks, and average drivers excel on those tracks. Martin Truex Jr falls into that first category.

Truex won the championship in 2017 and has won 31 career races. None of those have come at Daytona.

Early in his career, it was a big-time struggle in the Daytona 500.

In his first 10 Daytona 500s, Truex had one top 10 finish. Truex failed to score a top 10 for the first ten years of his career, even if you include the summer race.

Since 2014, we’ve seen an improvement in his superspeedway finishes.

He has four top 10 finishes at Daytona, two of them coming in the Daytona 500. In 2016, Truex finished second to Denny Hamlin in the closest Daytona 500 finish.

In the 2018 Summer race, Truex led coming to the white flag before the caution came out. He finished second but led 20 laps. He has also led 10+ laps in two of the last three Daytona races.

I’m not sure if I want to talk about Talladega because he hasn’t had a top 10 since 2015. I will say, he has led laps in four of the last six races at the track.

Truex isn’t on Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney’s level when it comes to superspeedways, but he has improved over the last few years. I know he isn’t the best superspeedway driver, but it’s never a bad idea to pick a great driver.

When you look at the longshots, Truex is the best overall driver.

You know he is hungry after finishing second in the standings last season. I believe Truex can put that behind him by winning his first Daytona 500.

Chris Buescher (+3000)

Chris Buescher is one of those drivers that always finds his way to the front at the end of Daytona races.

Buescher has made 12 starts in his career at Daytona. He crashed out of five of those. Check out his finishes in the other seven races.

  • 2017 (Summer): 10th
  • 2018 (Spring): 5th
  • 2018 (Summer): 5th
  • 2019 (Summer): 17th
  • 2020 (Spring): 3rd
  • 2020 (Summer): 9th
  • 2021 (Summer): 40th

In his most recent race at Daytona, Buescher crossed the finish line second, but NASCAR disqualified him after he failed post-race inspection.

He isn’t someone who will lead a lot of laps, but he will be there when it matters most. In the 2020 Daytona 500, Buescher was on the front row for the final restart.

Talladega hasn’t been kind to Buescher, but he has a pair of sixth-place finishes in his last four races. He was on the front row for the final restart in the Summer 2020 race. He has also led laps in four of his previous five starts.

This season, Buescher will have Brad Keselowski as his teammate. Keselowski is one of the best superspeedway drivers with seven wins on the track type. I’m sure Keselowski’s expertise will help Buescher in those late-race situations.

Buescher has only made the playoffs once in his career. He’ll likely need a win to make it this season. His best opportunity for that win is the Daytona 500.

If he is there at the end, expect him to be aggressive.

Betting on the 2022 Daytona 500

There are two ways to look at betting on the Daytona 500. The race is unpredictable, so it’s tough to pick the winner.

At the same time, that unpredictably can lead to a surprise winner. Therefore, this is your best opportunity to bet on sleepers and earn some money.

The unpredictably is why the Daytona 500 has produced some of the most iconic moments in NASCAR history.

There likely won’t be much movement in the odds over the next two months, so feel free to place your bets today. This article is a good start, but make sure you check out the Daytona 500 betting guide before placing your bets.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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