We like both happy stories and underdogs, which is why we’d love to see Jimmie Johnson win the Daytona 500 on Sunday. What we don’t like, however, is picking a driver to win a specific race.

Jimmie Johnson Daytona 500
Jimmie Johnson announced 2020 would be his last full season in NASCAR, and would like to win the Daytona 500 for the third time. (Image: AP)

We particularly don’t like making picks in the first race of the Cup Series, as the Daytona 500 always seems to be one of those events that doesn’t lend itself to favorites. This year there are four of them; defending champion Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski. The quartet is sporting 10/1 odds.

While we’re not fans of picking a single driver in this event, it is our job, so let’s get the season started.

One Bet, $100

This Week’s Pick                           Last Result                    Season Total

Jimmie Johnson  Group winner        N/A                             0-0. Up $100

Instead of backing Johnson with a straight bet at 25/1, I’m going to use my One Bet, $100 to place a wager on him to win a group bet. Johnson is part of a group of four drivers, including Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Truex is the favorite to be the top driver among this group at +200. The other three are getting odds of +275.

Counting on Johnson’s Experience

Sunday will be the 19th time Johnson starts the Daytona 500, and he has a chance to win for the third time at the Daytona Beach, Florida, racetrack. If he accomplishes that feat, he’ll join Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Jarret, and Jeff Gordon as the only drivers to win this race three or more times.

A win would also put him at 84 career victories, tying him with Darrell Waltrip and Allison for fifth all time. The significance isn’t lost on Johnson, who told USA Today that he is readying for an exciting final season.

“I told myself in the offseason I wanted to be present and aware of these opportunities and let it in, so it’s there,” Johnson said. “There’s so much excitement in my heart about it all that it’s really fun, and is bringing energy to me and the team. I know as the year goes on, it will become more emotional, but right now, it’s just bringing a ton of energy.”

Looking for a Slump Breaker

As enthusiastic as Johnson is to start the 2020 season, the last two years have been a drain mentally. He hasn’t won a Cup Series race since 2017, and last year, missed out of the playoffs for the first time since they began in 2004.

Johnson isn’t obsessing over his two-year winless streak, however.

“My ultimate goal this year, and what happened through the self-awareness of the offseason, is just about being present,” Johnson said. “I’m going to get in that car, I’m going to give it a hundred percent, as I always do, and who knows what the outcome’s going to be.”

Why Johnson Will Win Group Wager

Johnson is more committed than ever to perform well, especially since it’s his last season in NASCAR. He has experience winning the Daytona 500, which should work to his advantage. Noe of the other three drivers in this group have ever won the Daytona 500.

This could be the start of a magical season for Johnson. Even if he doesn’t win here, he should place higher than Truex, Almirola, and Stenhouse.