It may be less than a week after Valentine's Day but most sports betting enthusiasts will be more concerned with fuel than flowers when the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season officially motors out of the garage with 53rd running of the Daytona 500, Feb. 20.
Called "The Great American Race" or the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing," the Daytona 500 is the opening contest in a 36-race series that runs through Nov. 20. Never mind that NASCAR, which continues to broaden both its fan and wagering appeal beyond its narrow traditional roots, counter to just about every other major sport, puts its most prestigious race at the beginning of the season; it works for them.
Whether this year's Daytona 500 will work for bettors probably depends on their ability to isolate the winner, no easy task in an event where driver talent and car efficiency can be undermined at any time by poor racing luck in the form of an accident or the inexplicable malfunction of an inexpensive automobile part.
Those of us with only a cursory knowledge of NASCAR proceedings might assume that Jimmie Johnson, the driver who's won five consecutive Sprint Cup championships, would open as the favorite to win the 2011 Daytona 500.
Wrong again, restrictor plate breath.
Johnson, who won the 2006 running of the Daytona 500, is just the seventh choice in future book betting. So, if you like Johnson, who won six races, finished in the top five 17 times and earned a tour-best $7.2 million during the 2010 season, you can bet him at a seemingly generous 15/1.
Kevin Harvick, who won the 2007 Daytona 500 and captured the Daytona Shootout last season, opened as the modest 7/1 favorite. Clearly, Harvick, who was third in the overall point standings a year ago and lead the circuit with 26 top 10 finishes, likes the track. Apparently, given Harvick's standing atop the future book, sportsbooks must like his car.
At odds of 8/1, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch also are prime contenders. Neither Stewart nor Busch have won a Daytona 500 but there's buzz about each of their cars this year.
Last year's Daytona 500 winner, Jamie McMurray, is offered at odds of 10/1 to repeat, something that hasn't happened since Sterling Marlin accomplished the feat in 1994-95. McMurray tailed off at the end of last year but in NASCAR, redemption always is only one race away.
Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who are teammates with Johnson at Hendrick Motors, each are listed at odds of 12/1. Gordon is a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 (1997, 1999, 2005) but was winless on the Sprint Cup circuit last year while Earnhardt, who won the Daytona 500 in 2004, also went without a victory last year.
Like Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch each are listed at odds of 15/1 in the future book. None have won a Daytona 500. Hamlin was second to Johnson in the final standings last year and led the loop with eight wins. Edwards finished fourth in the 2010 standings while Bowyer, in a breakout season, came in 10th, one spot ahead of Busch. All are capable of taking the checkered flag at the Daytona International Speedway.
After the quintet at 15/1, prices escalate quickly, to 25/1 for Mark Martin, Juan Montoya, Joey Logano, and Jeff Burton, to 30/1 for Ryan Newman, and 35/1 for Brian Vickers, Casey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Dave Reutimann, and Martin Truex, Jr. Of that group, Kenseth won the race in 2009 and Newman finished first in 2008.
Nothing impacts sports and sports betting as dramatically as television and since 1995, American TV ratings for the Daytona 500 have been the highest for any auto race of the year, surpassing the traditional leader, the Indianapolis 500. So, as this year's Daytona 500 draws nearer, you can expect sportsbooks to accommodate eager bettors by adding a series of propositions to their wagering menus. Look for head-to-head match-ups and a variety of other props to be posted.
Like Valentine's Day, the Daytona 500 and Daytona 500 betting is an eagerly anticipated yearly occurrence.