The Daytona 500 is usually renowned for its surprises, but the top of the standings last Sunday after a rain-soaked day was filled with favorites. You know Dale Earnhardt Junior got the win, and the rest of the top five looked like a who’s who of the best in the business. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. And then in sixth there was Matt Kenseth.
I thought the ending was a little anticlimactic, when the yellow flag came out and Junior was able to coast on in. I called my brother Bill, the NASCAR junkie here at TheSportsNotebook to gripe about it. I contrasted it to the 2008 World Series when the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
In the decisive Game 5, the rain started, and commissioner Bud Selig—in a rare display of good judgment—sent word to both dugouts that under no circumstances would a World Series clincher be allowed to end after five innings the way a regular season game might. They were going to finish the game. And though the rain finally ended play in the seventh inning, and was unable to resume for two more days that’s exactly what MLB did.
Why shouldn’t NASCAR do the same? At the very least for its signature races—the Chase For The Cup at the end of the year and the Daytona 500. I put the question to Bill, and he ably defended the powers-that-be. He pointed out that it was only the final lap affected by the caution flag and that Junior had the race in hand (whereas the World Series game I compared it to was still close). Bill also added that if there are several laps left, NASCAR will insist the drivers finish the race under competitive circumstances. Fair enough. They’re off the hook.
Now we move on to Phoenix, where The Profit On CNBC 500 will run at 3 PM ET on Fox. Phoenix International Raceway won’t ever be confused with Daytona when it comes to being wide-open, but there will be opportunities for fluidity. The track recently raised the banks, which makes it easier to race side-by-side, which in turn makes it easier for a driver to pass.
Jimmie Johnson is, unsurprisingly, the betting favorite, is at 5-1. Kyle Busch, equally unsurprisingly, is close behind at 7-1. Hamlin is getting some serious respect from the smart money, also at 7-1. Then you move down to Kevin Harvick, Keselowski and Kenseth in the 8-1 spot.