- Dave Tuley, ESPN Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS -- The Daytona 500 is called NASCAR's Super Bowl.
I've always been a little conflicted about the analogy considering that the NFL's Super Bowl is the last game of the season and crowns the champion but the Daytona 500 is the first race on a 36-event Sprint Cup schedule. But there's no denying that Daytona is the most prestigious race of the year and will draw the biggest TV audience and the biggest worldwide betting handle (one last aside: Ed Salmons, the sportsbook manager at the LVH SuperBook says his book will actually get 50 percent more action in two weeks, although that's a local phenomenon as an estimated 150,000 fans come to town for the Las Vegas 400 and the NASCAR weekend festivities).
But this is a big race that seems even bigger this year with all the added media attention Danica Patrick is receiving after becoming the first woman to win the pole position not only for the Daytona 500 but for any NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
It's interesting to note that even though she had the fastest car in qualifying, she's still a 40-1 long shot at the LVH, but keep in mind that her odds are down from the 100-1 she was when the LVH opened its betting six weeks ago and was sitting at until she won the pole.
Matt Kenseth had been the favorite at the LVH after qualifying last week, but after Thursday's two Budweiser Duel races that set the remainder of the field, Salmons made Kevin Harvick the 9-1 favorite after he won the first of the duels. When asked whether Harvick was lowered because of money coming in on him or whether it was just because of his performance, Salmons replied: "A little of each. The Childress cars [Harvick, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon] all looked good."
Kenseth is the co-second choice with Kyle Busch at 10-1, then five drivers at 12-1: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and defending season champ Brad Keselowski. Even though those are the top contenders, Salmons said that the race is really wide-open and that that makes it appealing to recreational bettors.