Ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series’ inaugural stop at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, race handicappers have no track history to analyze, instead reliant on drivers’ past performances on road courses in addition to data from 750-horsepower tracks.
It’s no surprise, therefore, to see Chase Elliott at the top of the oddsboard. Elliott has owned road courses on the Cup circuit of late, tallying five wins and an average driver rating of 125.7 over the last nine points races on these layouts, including four straight victories from 2019-20. He followed that run with a second-place finish at the non-points Busch Clash on the Daytona Road Course this past February, and he led 44 of 70 laps in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 before a late-race spin took him out of contention.
While SuperBook USA in Las Vegas has Elliott priced at a skinny +180 (bet $100 to win $180) to win Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix, the No. 9 Chevrolet can be found at larger than 2-1 odds at a variety of betting shops, including +250 at Barstool Sportsbook and +225 at BetMGM as of Friday morning.
These are low numbers for a NASCAR outright market, but they are in line with how Elliott was priced at the two road races at Daytona earlier this year. Per SuperBook openers, he was +225 in the Busch Clash and +250 in the points race.
So heavily favored is Elliott that the SuperBook offers him in just one matchup prop, laying a large -170 (bet $170 to win $100) against Martin Truex Jr., who is easily the second betting choice for Sunday’s race. Odds this high on a matchup are rare, and this big a gap between the top two favorites illustrates the betting market’s massive expectations for the No. 9 this weekend.
Trying to beat the favorite
Bettors looking to take their shots against Elliott will give Truex a hard look. Over the aforementioned span of nine road-course races, Truex has put together quite the resume himself: two wins, five top fives, seven top 10s, a 5.44 average finish (better than Elliott’s 8.11) and a 120.6 average rating. Throw in his three wins on 750-hp tracks this season (Phoenix, Martinsville, Darlington), and the +450 available at BetMGM and Barstool is enticing.
Denny Hamlin, the third betting choice at +1000 at Barstool and +800 at BetMGM, is in the mix pretty much every week, long on the cusp of his first win of the season. His road-course record, while not as sparkling as those of Elliott or Truex, is among the best on the circuit, with five top 10s, including four in the top five, a 9.11 average finish and a 95.2 rating over the last nine.
The pricing of the Truex vs. Hamlin matchup, however, illustrates a significant gap between these Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, at least in the eyes of the market, with the No. 19 laying -150 odds to finish ahead of the No. 11 (+130).
Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick has the look of a live long shot, offered at a fat +1800 on multiple oddsboards. Sure, Stewart-Haas continues to be off the pace of the top garages, but the No. 4 Ford has found some consistency with four straight top-six finishes. His 7.89 average finish and 100.3 rating on road courses since 2018 both rank third in the series, and if he’s running close to the front as Sunday’s Grand Prix nears its finish, bettors holding an 18-1 ticket on Harvick will be feeling good about those wagers.
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Odds are bound to move
This weekend’s Cup race in Austin is one of eight this season to be preceded by practice and qualifying, meaning we’re likely to see larger shifts from opening to closing betting odds than for most of the 2021 schedule. Once oddsmakers have the chance to watch how teams perform on the Circuit of The Americas, they’ll use that information to tweak their pricing.
There are two ways for bettors to approach the practice + qualifying scenario: 1) If you see odds you like now, bet before bookmakers move the numbers; 2) Wait to place your bets, pay attention to practice and qualifying, and apply the knowledge you gain to make more informed plays Sunday.
Jim Sannes, a quantitative NASCAR betting and DFS analyst, projects Joey Logano and William Byron, respectively, fourth and fifth, in average running position, before factoring in practice data. The early odds on these drivers may be as good as they’re going to get for bettors.
Logano is +1600, and Byron is +1800 now. I'd expect them to closer lower after practice. Both have strong recent histories on road courses.
— Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) May 20, 2021
In other words, if you’re on board with Logano or Byron, or you like another driver whose odds may shorten after practice and qualifying, fire away. If you think you can gain valuable insight from watching how teams perform on the track, exercise patience and wait until race day to wager.