After long shots took the first three races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, there’s been a return to form over the last four, as top drivers on top teams have finished out front. That pattern figures to continue Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, a track that demands a high level of skill and one on which drivers residing near the top of the oddsboard typically win.
The betting favorites for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) are drivers with past success at Martinsville. Martin Truex Jr. (+500 at WynnBET, or bet $100 to win $500), who has won two of the past three races at this half-mile layout — the shortest on the circuit — has the leanest price. Truex is followed by Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski, both at +600, and then Ryan Blaney (+700), Denny Hamlin (+750) and Joey Logano (+750).
Bettors looking to take a chance in the outright market on a driver to win the race are advised not to look too deep. This is not a track made for long shots.
“This is just not one of those races that underdogs really have too big of a fighting chance at,” said Zack White, a professional bettor who specializes in NASCAR. “You’re going to have guys at the top with the best equipment and starting up front, and they’re going to be at the front at the end almost all the time at Martinsville. You’re not going to see those Michael McDowells or Cole Custers or people like that coming out and finding a way to win here usually.”
White doesn’t bet every race. For example, he tends to stay away from superspeedways, where more randomness comes into play, and sticks to tracks where he’s better able to find edges in the betting markets.
“This is a track where driving talent definitely has to come into play. You have to be able to wheel it, you have to be able to break it, and you have to have your equipment hold up. You not only have to be a top-tier driver, you’ve gotta be a top-tier driver on the top-tier team,” he said.
A prop to consider
A prop with juicy odds bettors may want to look at is whether a driver will win both Stage 1 and 2 and win the race. DraftKings prices the “yes” side of this prop at +650. At Martinsville, one driver often dominates throughout, making the “yes” enticing.
Last November, Elliott led 236 of the 500 laps en route to victory. In the 2019 fall race, Truex Jr. led 464 laps. In spring of that year, Keselowski led 446 laps, including the one under white. Logano, the 2018 fall race winner, led 309 laps.
“That’s just a fast car dominating, getting out front, staying out front, putting cars between them and the slower cars in the back of the pack, maybe finish with 12, 15 cars on the lead lap,” White said. “That’s just the way Martinsville runs.”
How about Hamlin?
Denny Hamlin used to own this track. He’s won here five times, including a stretch of four of six Martinsville races from 2008-10. He’s also been stellar this season, sitting first in the standings while finishing in the top five in six of seven races.
While Hamlin is one of the six drivers with single-digit odds, he’s a significant underdog in several matchups posted at SuperBook USA in Las Vegas. He is +145 vs. teammate Truex (-165, or bet $165 to win $100), +125 vs. Keselowski, Blaney and Elliott (all of whom are -145 against the No. 11), and +110 vs. Logano (+130).
None of these numbers have moved off their openers, an indication oddsmakers priced them correctly.
Despite Hamlin’s success this season, it’s his recent mediocrity at Martinsville that has him a dog against the strongest competition.
When handicapping this race, White suggests, don’t give too much weight to what has happened so far this season and don’t look too hard for comparable tracks. Martinsville is unique.
“You’re going to have a completely different chassis, you’re going to have a completely different setup (than previous races this season),” White said. “A lot of people try to compare Martinsville to other tracks like Loudon. It’s really not similar to Martinsville. … Sometimes people even say Dover or Phoenix, but Martinsville is its own beast.”
There’s always a price, however, that gets a sharp bettor’s attention.
“He’s that big of a dog against Truex because Truex’s most recent performances here at Martinsville have just been dominant, and it would be really hard to fade him,” White said. “(But) I don’t hate Hamlin at all, and if he gets to be too big of a dog, I’ll certainly take the chance there.”
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.