Gun those engines. The 2022 Daytona 500 is almost here.
As the NASCAR season charges ahead into 2022, race fans will descend on perhaps the most iconic NASCAR race on the schedule.
Heading into Sunday, February 20, Kyle Larson will start the race just like he finished the 2021 NASCAR season: in first place.
Larson won the pole position this week, and he will line up next to Hendricks Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman.
“Everybody’s who’s had a part in touching these vehicles, whether it be on the computer, engineering or just hands-on. It’s really neat, just awesome the speed in our Hendricks.com Chevy,” Larson said after grabbing the pole Wednesday. “Hopefully this is the beginning of a really good season.
“It almost feels like my proudest pole because you’re proud of everybody who had an impact in doing it.”
Larson, Hamlin are favorites to win race
Although Larson is the returning NASCAR champ, and has secured the pole position, oddsmakers aren’t quite certain Larson will continue his hot streak.
FanDuel, DraftKings and Caesars all don’t see Larson as the outright favorite. Larson and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin are the joint favorites on FanDuel (+950) and DraftKings (+900).
And Caesars has Hamlin as the outright favorite at +900 and Larson in second at +1000. Chase Elliott is also listed at +1000.
That likely has as much to do with Hamlin’s Daytona dominance as it does with Larson’s recent prowess. Hamlin has won the race three times in the past six years.
In an interview with NASCAR this week, Hamlin said he has a good feel for the track but expressed minor skepticism as he and other drivers are using the Next Gen car (aka Gen-7 car) this year.
As the Virginia native said:
“Here, there is just something about, whatever it is – the banking or the width of the track, height of the walls or something that I just kind of know where those little pockets of air are, it seems like, that are a little bit better. We have a new car now, and it’s going to move around a little bit different, and we will probably be learning just like everyone else will be this weekend. I don’t know that the advantage really will be as big as what it was in the past.”
In addition to Hamlin’s knack for taking the checkered flag at Daytona, there’s another factor working against a Larson win. The pole-sitter has not won the Daytona 500 in 22 years.
The last driver to do it was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
With that history looming over Larson’s start position, bettors might be tempted to look elsewhere for a winner.
What to expect from 2022 NASCAR season
While Larson may not be the clear favorite to win Daytona, he’s the outright favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship. FanDuel puts Larson’s odds of winning the title at +270.
He’s followed by Elliot (+410), Hamlin (+600), William Byron (+800), Martin Truex Jr. (+850) and Kyle Busch (+850).
Should Larson perform up to expectations, he’d be the first back-to-back NASCAR Cup champion since Jimmie Johnson, who won the title five years in a row from 2006 to 2010.
Another cup win wouldn’t be surprising, considering Larson’s 2021 domination. He was the first racer to notch 10 wins in a season since Johnson did it in 2007.