Playoff ticket on the line under Daytona lights

Playoff ticket on the line under Daytona lights

Coke Zero Sugar 400

Saturday, Aug. 28

7 p.m. ET, NBC

Will NASCAR get the drama it wants at Daytona for the final race of the regular season?

Saturday night marks the second year of the regular-season finale at Daytona. The annual July race was moved to race No. 26 with the hope for creating a climax before the postseason. And with one spot available in the playoffs, the playoff drama is about as limited as it can be.

Tyler Reddick is currently the last driver in the playoffs. He’s 25 points ahead of his teammate Austin Dillon. If Reddick stays ahead of Dillon in the points standings and a driver who has already won in 2021 wins on Saturday night, he’s in the playoffs.

If a full-time driver without a win — and who isn’t Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin — wins on Saturday night, then he’s in the playoffs and Reddick is out.

A driver got his first win of the season a year ago at Daytona in August when William Byron won the race. But Byron entered the race 14th in the standings; he was going to be in the playoffs anyway. He didn’t need to get the win to vault into the playoffs.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll get an upset winner at Daytona this weekend, the chances of it happening are greater than they are at nearly any other track. The rain-delayed Daytona 500 in February was a crash-fest won by Michael McDowell after Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski crashed while racing for the lead on the final lap.

It’ll be unsurprising if the race is a crash-fest again. Daytona and Talladega require both skill and crash-avoidance luck. A driver can drive an A+ race and still get taken out in a crash at nearly any point.

If you’re going to bet Saturday’s race, our advice is to place a number of small-dollar bets on drivers throughout the field. It’s better to have a lot of options at a place like Daytona than just a few. Odds below are provided by BetMGM.

The favorites

Denny Hamlin (+700)

Brad Keselowski (+1200)

Chase Elliott (+1200)

Joey Logano (+1200)

Ryan Blaney (+1200)

William Byron (+1200)

Hamlin’s ability at Daytona is the reason why he gets favorite status this week. It’s a cluster behind them because every other driver has won at least once at Daytona or Talladega. If we’re picking from this group we’d go with Keselowski. He ran a phenomenal race at Daytona in February and was going to win the 500 had his pass gotten complete.

Drivers needing to win to get in

Austin Dillon (+2000)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2000)

Bubba Wallace (+2500)

Matt DiBenedetto (+2500)

Ryan Newman (+3300)

Tyler Reddick (+3300)

Chris Buescher (+4000)

Ross Chastain (+4000)

Chase Briscoe (+5000)

Cole Custer (+5000)

This is where you pick a few drivers and throw a couple bucks at each. We have no guarantee picks here among this crowd. All have shown the ability to get good finishes at plate tracks in either the Cup Series or Xfinity Series while also being taken out in crashes at various times.

Don’t bet this driver

Kyle Larson (+1400)

It’s not often that we would tell you to not bet a driver like Larson. But Daytona has not been too kind to him. He has five top-10 finishes in 14 starts at Daytona and hasn’t finished any higher than sixth.

Looking for a long shot?

Erik Jones (+6600)

Jones has won at Daytona before and Richard Petty Motorsports builds fast cars at Daytona and Talladega. He’s a long shot for a reason, but if you’re looking for a big odds driver with an actual small chance of winning the race, you can do way worse than Jones.

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