hamlin-crew-chiefBy Jordan McAbee

Last weekend the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season unofficially got underway with the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway–a precursor, almost “warm up” race, for Sunday’s big event, the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag in last Saturday night’s race, an event dominated by Hamlin’s #11 Toyota along with the #2 Ford driven by Brad Keselowski.

On Sunday, rookie Chase Elliott earned the pole for this year’s Great American Race, with Matt Kenseth qualifying 2nd. Those are the only two starting spots that are locked in, though; on Thursday night the two CanAm Duel races will determine the rest of the starting lineup. Betting lines are going to shift between now and Sunday, but there are some good value plays that you could lock in now.

Early Betting Picks for the 2016 Daytona 500

The following driver odds are accurate as of 1:30 pm ET on February 16, 2016 and came from Bovada.

Denny Hamlin (+1200) – I almost couldn’t believe Denny’s odds when I opened up the page. There are four drivers that are more favored than Hamlin heading into the race weekend (Earnhardt, Johnson, Harvick, and Logano) and I personally don’t see how. The only driver out of those four that you can make a case for is Junior. Now let’s get to why: not only is Denny Hamlin coming off of a dominant performance in the Sprint Unlimited, but he’s been the best performer here at Daytona over the last two years. Yes, even better than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Over the last four points-paying races here, the #11 Toyota has finished between 2nd and 6th in all of them, and has been impressive over at Talladega as well (including a win in 2014). Those who bet on Hamlin in the Sprint Unlimited got him at (+950) odds, so being able to grab him at (+1200) for the Daytona 500 is very attractive. He’s never won the Great American Race, but Denny has the car to do so this year.

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500Jamie McMurray (+2800) – At 28-to-1 odds, I really like Jamie Mac as a long shot pick. Let’s not forget that this car won the 2010 Daytona 500, and the #1 Chevrolet showed some strength during last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited, too. The best thing about McMurray right now is that he’s flying completely under the radar. His teammate, Kyle Larson, is currently at 22-to-1 odds at Bovada, and he’s never finished better than 34th in four career starts at this track–three of which were DNFs. Jamie McMurray can get his car to the front on Sunday, the question is whether or not he’ll make a dumb mistake. He’s prone to that. Still, as far as long shot picks go, McMurray isn’t a bad play this weekend.

Austin Dillon (+3300) – I’m sticking with long shot picks here early in the week until we see how the odds move after Thursday’s Duel races. Austin Dillon has never won in a Sprint Cup car but that’s going to change eventually, and it would be awesome to see the #3 car back in victory lane at Daytona. Setting that stuff to the side, though, this is probably Austin’s best track at the moment, and he has finished between 5th and 14th in the four races he’s ran here since joining NASCAR’s top series. One thing I don’t particularly like about Dillon is the fact that he tends to hang out mid-pack during the race, and it’s not very common to see those types of plate racers come away with a win.

As someone who has always been obsessed with numbers, Fantasy NASCAR has been the perfect fit with me. I pride myself on the quality of my analysis for each race, and am glad that I have been able to help others along the way. I've been a serious Fantasy NASCAR player for over 10 years now, and I'm just getting started.