Erik Jones
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Sharps, recreational bettors take different approaches to NASCAR

We talk frequently in this space about professional and public bettors. The former, often called “sharp” bettors or “wiseguys,” are a small group – about 1-2% of bettors are considered sharp. These are people who earn a living betting on sports and whose opinions bookmakers respect. A bet from a sharp often prompts a bookmaker to change the odds. 

Most of us fall into the latter group – public, or recreational, bettors.

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter | Title odds for the 2021 season 

Pros and the public tend to take different approaches to betting. Pros play the long game, betting very small edges to grind out a profit over time. Public bettors like to swing for the fences, risking a small amount of money for the chance at a big score.

When it comes to NASCAR, wiseguys typically play matchups (one driver to beat another), while public bettors take their shots in the outright market (betting on a driver to win the race) and parlays (bets that pay off at high odds if you are able hit multiple legs without a loss).

“The matchups are probably 90% sharp money, and scalpers and arbitrage players. The odds to win is probably 80% public,” said Ed Salmons, vice president of risk management at SuperBook USA. “So for the most part, (we) try to keep (our) own on the matchups – break even, win a little, lose a little – and all (our NASCAR) money is made in odds to win, group matchups, things like that.”

Added Johnny Avello, Director of Race and Sportsbook Operations at DraftKings, “People look for plusses (odds that allow bettors to profit more than they risk), big plusses. Guys will look for these real long shots to win a race, like Daniel Suarez or Erik Jones at 150-to-1. I notice we take a lot of action on those drivers.”

This strategy paid off for a few lucky bettors early in the season, with underdogs Michael McDowell (80-1 to win the Daytona 500), Christopher Bell (80-1 at the Daytona Road Course), and William Byron (30-1 at Homestead-Miami) winning the first three races.

Blake Phillips, a sharp NASCAR bettor, has noticed the daily fantasy craze has led some public bettors into matchups.

“I do think that a lot of recreational players pay attention to the matchups, too,” Phillips said. “There’s a lot of recreational players that do DFS, so they follow a lot of DFS people on Twitter – and I wouldn’t necessarily consider these people to be winning DFS players, just more recreational guys – and a lot of these Twitter followers have moved into the matchups (as well as the) outright markets, so there’s at least exposure to that. So I think your average recreational NASCAR bettor is focusing mostly on outrights but may dabble in some matchups and props here and there.”

Zack White, a professional bettor who counts NASCAR among his specialties, sees new opportunities opening in the sport as legal betting expands in the U.S.

“For a while, matchups and outrights were the only ways to bet each week. Only a few books took (NASCAR) action, and most either ignored it or put it up with small limits of $100 or $500,” White said. “But as legal gambling has expanded, you see these top-five markets and top-10 markets (where you bet a driver to finish in the top five or top 10), and groups, manufacturer to win, top team, top driver out of his team —  a lot more proposition-style stuff. We just never saw that before. You can bet on stage winners now. That was not even a thing a few years ago. So it’s definitely evolving, there’s more ways to get down on it, and there’s definitely opportunities that keep popping up.”

Group matchups – props asking bettors to pick one driver to finish ahead of two or three others – attract both pros and public bettors, although their approach is still different. If a bookmaker slips up and misprices these props, sharps will pounce. Public bettors, on the other hand, look to parlay such bets, requiring them to pick the winner of multiple groups.

Salmons said about 90% of the money on group props at the SuperBook is parlayed action. “You bet a three-teamer with those at +280, plus three dollars (+300), it’s a big payday with just a little amount bet if you can hit it. It’s easier said than done though, obviously,” he said.

To exemplify Salmons’ point, if you played a $100 “three-teamer” in last week’s Food City Dirt Race using Tyler Reddick at +305 (to win a group that included Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon and Stewart Friesen), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at +270 (vs. Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney) and Denny Hamlin +270 (vs. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Mike Marlar), you would have collected $5,444.45 (plus your $100 investment).  

But, as the Vegas veteran says, that’s easier said than done.

Marcus DiNitto is a writer and editor living in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been covering sports for nearly two-and-a-half decades and sports betting for more than 10 years. His first NASCAR betting experience was in 1995 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, where he went 0-for-3 on his matchup picks. Read his articles and follow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.