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Advance Auto Parts Clash
Alright, let's get this 2017 NASCAR party started. It's been way too long and I need my NASCAR fix.

We've got a new series name to get used to -- Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series -- and we've got some new race format and playoff changes as well. We'll talk more about that next week for the Daytona 500, but let's discuss Saturday night's Clash at Daytona and try to kick off the season with a winner right out of the gate.

The Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona is a 75-lap non-points race featuring drivers that participated in last seasons playoffs or won a pole, won past Clashes or have been former Daytona pole winners. There are 20 eligible drivers with the field set at 17 just because Greg Biffle no longer has a ride and the retirements of Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

NASCAR has been running some version of this race prior to the Daytona 500 since 1979. It used to be called the Busch Clash and later was changed to the Bud Shootout and for the past few seasons its been known as the Sprint Unlimited. The race will be split into two segments with a mandatory pit stop after 25-laps. With it being the first real race of the season, no points being involved, the field limited to the best drivers, and the race being so short, the action is always action packed.

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This race also serves as a great Daytona 500 tune-up for crew members and drivers like Kyle Busch who has a 2012 Clash win on his resume, but his first Daytona 500 victory keeps eluding him.

"I think anytime we ever go down to Daytona, whether it’s with a new car or whether it’s with a different rules package or what have you, we always look at the Clash, as they call it now, as a race to watch to see exactly what’s going to happen and what characteristics you have in your racecar and things," Busch said.

"It’s a learning experience for everybody, whether you’re in the race or whether you’re out of the race and not in it. For us, we’re curious to see how the car is going to race and how it’s going to handle and what it’s going to react like. Things aren’t too drastically different with speedway racing this year, so there will be less to get used to."

The racing we'll see during the entire Daytona Speedweeks will be similar to what we've seen on restrictor-plate tracks the past two seasons -- the race package is the same, so it serves well to see what happened last season at the four regular season races between Daytona and Talladega as well as what happened in this exhibition race that Denny Hamlin won.

Odds to win 2017 Clash at Daytona (2/18/2017) - per William Hill
Brad Keselowski 9/2
Joey Logano 13/2
Jimmie Johnson 7/1
Kyle Busch 8/1
Denny Hamlin 8/1
Kevin Harvick 17/2
Matt Kenseth 17/2
Martin Truex Jr. 10/1
Chase Elliott 10/1
Kyle Larson 15/1
Kurt Busch 15/1
Austin Dillon 18/1
Jamie McMurray 18/1
Alex Bowman 20/1
Daniel Suarez 20/1
Danica Patrick 60/1
Chris Buescher 75/1

William Hill's 108 sports books across Nevada posted odds for the Clash last Thursday and opened Brad Keselowski as the 9/2 betting favorite (Bet $100 to win $450), and for a very good reason. Last season he led a series-high 252 laps between the four plate races, including his first career Daytona win in July and his fourth career win at Talladega in May.

His teammate, Joey Logano (13/2), ended up winning the October Talladega race for the second straight year. The only negative for the Team Penske duo is history. A Ford last won the Clash in 2004 with Dale Jarrett.

One of the big stories this season is Stewart Haas Racing switching from Chevrolet to Ford and seeing how well Logano and Keselowski did last season should give reason for optimism that Kevin Harvick (17/2) and Kurt Busch (15/1) will be very competitive at Daytona over the next two weeks.

"I know we’ve done a great job to transition with Ford because I’ve seen some of the drawings and the way that Doug Yates has the engine set up," Kurt Busch said. "We had to change a few of our suspension settings to adapt to the way he had his engine set up, so there might be a couple bugs here or there, but I’m not too worried about it. We’ve got really good, quality people at Stewart-Haas with Yates engines."

Harvick is a three time Clash winner and Busch won in 2011. Clint Bowyer takes over the No. 14 for Stewart, but won't be racing this week -- keep an eye on him next week. Danica Patrick (60/1) is still in the No. 10 and racing on Saturday, but one of her sponsors pulled back on a $15 million commitment meaning she might only be racing for a portion of the 2017 season if no one else steps up.

Reigning seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (7/1) last won the Clash in 2005, which started a run of six-straight Chevy wins, but the last three seasons have seen Toyota come out on top. The leader of the pack has been Hamlin who won as a rookie in 2006 and then again in 2014 and last season.

It could be argued that Denny Hamlin deserves to be the favorite in this race just because of his recent success at Daytona. He was dominant during Speedweeks last season leading a race-high 39 laps in the Clash and a race-high 95 laps en route to winning his first Daytona 500. It was the sixth time in NASCAR history that a driver won both races in the same season.

I was very high on Hamlin during Speedweeks last year at was able to fetch 15/1 odds in this race and then 12/1 in the Daytona 500. He's only getting 8/1 this week, but William Hill has him listed at chunky 11/1 odds to win the Daytona 500. I still think there's value with him in both races.

Best of luck this week and the rest of the season. I wish I could invite you all to my NASCAR New Year party on Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET when the first official practice session takes place which gives us our first chance to hear those beautiful cars roaring around the track.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (9/2)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (17/2)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (17/2)
5) #22 Joey Logano (13/2)

  
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