2014-daytona-500-odds-free-picks-and-predictions2014 Daytona 500 Odds, Free Picks and Predictions: Favorites, Sleepers and Drivers to AvoidThe 2014 Cup Series season officially begins this weekend with the Daytona 500, and while the “Great American Race” is just the first of 36 races, it is also one of the best chances for bettors to cash in with a big pay day. Daytona is one of just two tracks on the schedule that use restrictor plates to curb the speeds, and as result, drivers spend a majority of the race lumped in a big pack. Needless to say, big wrecks tend to result, and any driver that is lucky enough to survive the mayhem has a shot at emerging with a victory. Yes, big names have won the Daytona 500 plenty of times, including Jimmie Johnson last season, but the race also includes plenty of upset winners like Ward Burton, Trevor Bayne and Derrike Cope. With that in mind, here is a closer look at some of the favorites and some sleeper picks for the 2014 Daytona 500.

The Favorites

Although his last win at Daytona came in 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has remained the most reliable driver in the series when it comes to restrictor plate racing. Over the past two seasons, he leads all drivers in points scored and average finish in plate events. More importantly, he has finished second in three of the last for Daytona 500s, including two straight, and has four straight top-15s at the track overall.

In the past 10 races at Daytona, no driver has been better than Matt Kenseth. During the stretch, he leads all drivers in points scored, laps led and top-5 finishes. Perhaps more importantly, Kenseth has a pair of Daytona 500 victories during the stretch, and he has finished third or better at the track a series-leading four times.

While he is still looking for an elusive Daytona 500 victory, Tony Stewart knows how to win at Daytona. In fact, only the late Dale Earnhardt has more wins at the track across the three national touring series. Stewart is a four-time winner of the July race at the track, and in his last three starts at the track, he has a win and a second-place finish.

He has been up and down at Daytona in his career, but Jimmie Johnson is coming off an incredible year at the track. He is the defending winner of the Daytona 500, and he also won the July event to complete a season sweep at the track. Johnson is a three-time winner at Daytona for his career and has two wins in the Daytona 500.

The Dark Horses

He is definitely a boom or bust option for betters, but Jamie McMurray has shown on multiple occasions that he can seal the deal in plate events. In addition to winning the Daytona 500 in 2010, he is a two-time winner at the track overall and a three-time winner in restrictor plate events.

Although he doesn’t get behind the wheel often, Michael Waltrip is still a threat to win when he does. He has finished in the top 10 in two of his last three starts at Daytona, including a top-five effort last July. For his career, Waltrip is a three-time winner at Daytona with two of those wins coming in the Daytona 500.

Sleeper Special

She may have had a horrible rookie season, but Danica Patrick’s biggest bright spot came in the Daytona 500 when she won her only pole and logged her only top-10 finish of the year. Meanwhile, Patrick followed up the top-10 effort with a top-15 run at the track in July, and half of her four top-15s in 2013 came at Daytona. For now, Daytona appears to be the only track where Patrick has a shot at pulling off the upset.

Big Name to Avoid

While Jeff Gordon is no stranger to winning the Daytona 500, he has been in a prolonged slump at the track in recent years. He has just two top-10s and one top-five finish in his last 12 starts at the track, and during the same stretch, he has finished outside the top 25 seven times.

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