Beaver’s Best Bets for the Coke Zero Sugar 400

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.



All season, we knew it would come down to Daytona International Speedway as the final determination of what the Round of 16 would look like. What we could not know is that it would come down to only one position – and only position matters.

The only way to guarantee a position in the Round of 16 is to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Even Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon, who could conceivably advance on points, know that a last-lap accident would deny them the opportunity to be the sole standard-bearer for Richard Childress Racing. The strong desire to get both drivers in the field probably factored into Reddick’s decision last week to race hard enough for victory that he spun instead. That would have opened the door for Dillon to win this week and advance.

For the other full time drivers without a playoff berth yet, winning is the only path to the playoffs. Matt DiBenedetto is 120 points behind Reddick and cannot make up the difference in one race. Making the playoffs is the Holy Grail of the regular season. And the question that must be asked – and will be answered Saturday night – is what they will do the get to the checkered flag first.

Carburetor-restricted superspeedway races are unpredictable in the best of times; this week, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will survive the carnage and be in a position to bump and grind their way across the finish line first.

Proposed Winner

Denny Hamlin (+725) is this week’s favorite at PointsBet Sportsbook and since someone has to have that distinction, we’re hard-pressed to argue with the traders. With a line of +800, he was the favorite for the 2021 Daytona 500 and at +725 he was the top driver for the Geico 500. He finished fifth at Daytona International Speedway and 32nd at Talladega Superspeedway.

The reason Hamlin is favored is clear. He won the 2019 and 2020 Daytona 500s as well as the 2020 Talladega 2 race. Before his accident in Talladega 1 this spring, he had a six-race, top-five streak to his credit on the restricted tracks.

But for Hamlin – like most of the drivers in the field – the plate races are an all or nothing affair. In 18 starts since the beginning of 2017, his three wins are supplemented by another three top-three finishes and nine total top-fives. Batting .500 might not seem like much, but in that same span of races no one has more than six top-fives. Hamlin has another pair of top-10s to his credit, but since the middle of 2018, when he failed to finish in the top five, he was outside the top 25 in four races.

That won’t matter much this week. Miss by a little, or miss by a lot: you are not going to find great odds for him to score a top-five.

Best Bets for a top five

Aric Almirola (+2200) has six top-fives since the beginning of 2017, but he missed that year’s edition of the Coke Zero 400 with an injury. His other three attempts on this track type that year earned top-fives. The following year, he won Talladega 2 and while his record has slipped during the past two seasons, he is still one of the most consistent drivers in the field. His latest top-five came in Talladega 1, 2020. He’s in the playoffs with his New Hampshire win and that will make him more relaxed when the green flag waves.

Chase Elliott (+1400) came within a few feet of winning this year’s Daytona 500. If the caution had waved a second or two later, he was in the process of passing Michael McDowell and would have been the first driver to earn his berth in the 2021 Round of 16. Instead, he had to wait until the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and leave the question open about his skill on ovals this year. This is his last opportunity to win on a circle track before the final 10-race countdown – and that is actually important to show he can keep up with his teammate Kyle Larson.

Kevin Harvick (+2000) didn’t even come close to getting the job accomplished last week at Michigan – a track he’s dominated over the past several years. He locked into the big show on points, but like Hamlin and Elliott, a win this weekend means so much more to him than one would suppose. Plate tracks play by their own rules and even though Harvick has struggled on most course types this year, he earned fourth-place finishes in both the Daytona 500 and Talladega 1. He’s risky though; in the 10 races on this track before that mini-streak, he has only one other top-five and two top-10s.

When Reddick spun late last week at Michigan International Speedway, he opened a window of opportunity for Austin Dillon (+2000) that he may regret. Dillon is strong on the aero-restricted superspeedways with a 2018 Daytona 500 win, a third-place finish in that same race this spring and an eighth in Talladega 1. To capitalize, he has to stay out of trouble, but the same thing is true of the other 39 racers in the field.

Best Bets for a top 10

The field.

Once, that might have been a slight exaggeration, but the last several races on aero-restricted superspeedways have shown that if the 'Big One' crash is big enough, literally any driver can surge into the top 15 – and with last lap carnage that seems to be built into the DNA of plate racing, that can rapidly become a top-10.

This post is built on predictions, however, so here are some drivers to watch based on their recent performances.

With a top-15 average of .357 on aero-restricted superspeedways, William Byron (+1400) was not a powerhouse on this track type at the start of his career. It took seven attempts for him to crack the top 10, but when he did, he finished second the Justin Haley in the rain-shortened 2019 Coke Zero 400. Four races later, he won the 2020 edition of that race and now has three top-fives in the last four attempts on this track type.

Aggression is a double-edged sword. It can keep a driver near the head of the pack and occasionally out of trouble. It can also put them in the eye of the storm, and since the middle of the 2019 season, that is where Joey Logano (+1100) has found himself with an average finish of 23rd. Before his spate of misfortune, however, he had six top-fives in the span of seven races from 2017 through the first half of 2019.

Ryan Blaney (+1400) is coming off last week’s win and could potentially pad his advantage. He won two of the last seven races on this track type, finished second in the 2020 Daytona 500, and has another pair of top-10s in that span. His two wins came at Talladega. That track races slightly different than Daytona, but a positive mind-set comes with his Michigan win and pushes him slightly up the board.

Brad Keselowski (+1300) has had a terrible month. Part of the reason for this may be his lame duck status at Team Penske. Perhaps he is trying a little too hard to go out on a high note. Keselowski qualified for the playoffs with a win at Talladega this spring. On the other hand, he has been involved in accidents in nine of the last 18 races on this track type.

His plans for 2022 are still unclear, but Kurt Busch (+3000) also wants to end 2021 on a high note. He is one of the better plate racers in the field and won a Daytona 500 in the last five seasons. That came in 2017, and while he has only one more top-five in the past 18 races, he has a solid top-15 percentage of .388. Like Keselowski, he has been all or nothing, however, with more than half of his attempts ending 25th or worse during that span.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner, and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.

Best Bets for the Geico 500 (Talladega)
Daytona 500 (Daytona)
FireKeepers Casino 400 (Michigan)