Kevin Harvick NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600
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NASCAR betting: Big bets expected on favorites, but long shots loom at Sonoma

While a Las Vegas bookmaker anticipates five-figure bets on some of the favorites in Sunday’s Toyota/ Save Mart 350 (4 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Sonoma Raceway, one sharp NASCAR bettor is eyeing a different approach.

At skinny odds of 2/1, Chase Elliott sits atop the oddsboard at Vegas-based SuperBook USA, followed by Martin Truex Jr. at 9/2 (+450, or bet $100 to win $450). Elliott, whose six wins, 7.4 average finish and 125.2 rating in the 10 road courses races since 2018 are all best in the Cup Series among drivers with more than one start, and Truex, who has won the two most recent races at Sonoma (2018, 2019), are exactly the type of drivers deep-pocketed casino regulars like to play.

“We have a few players that are willing to bet a lot on these really tiny odds, and this is the kind of race where they’ll come and bet Chase Elliott at 2/1,” said Ed Salmons, vice president of risk at the SuperBook. “And they’ll put $10,000 or $20,000 on him.”

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Such sentiment doesn’t surprise Blake Phillips, a sharp bettor who specializes on NASCAR. Phillips, though, is seeking a bigger payday on Sunday.

“It’s kind of the same guys every time (expected to win on a road course). It’s going to be Elliott, Truex, Kyle Busch (7/1), and now of course everyone’s counting in (Kyle) Larson (7/1),” Phillips said. “…. So you’re going to have really tight odds on those guys, and you kind of have to look for the guys who have a shot that aren’t getting counted in.”

Clear that he had just begun his handicapping for the race, Phillips said Wednesday a few long shots jump off the page as worthy of consideration.

“I think there’s some guys worth a look, but I want to do a little bit more digging before I really go out on a limb, but the two that pop out instantly are Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick,” Phillips said. “Both good road course guys, and Harvick’s been historically really good at Sonoma (12.7 average finish, best in the series). Obviously, Stewart-Haas has been having some issues this season, but the issues primarily seem to be related to speed. Their cars just don’t have speed. Speed is not as important at road courses as it would be, say, at a speedway or mile-and-a-half. So sheer driving skill really comes into play, and Harvick’s a guy to keep an eye on.”

As of Friday morning, both drivers can be found at 20/1 at WynnBET, an official betting partner of NASCAR, while Blaney can be had for 25/1 at some betting shops.

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Does one road course translate to another?

Analyzing data from comparable tracks is a useful tool when it comes to handicapping a NASCAR race. No two tracks are exactly alike, but information gleaned from similar 1.5-mile ovals can be applied to Charlotte Motor Speedway, for example, and steep-banked short tracks like Bristol Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway serve as useful comparisons.

Road courses, however, present a different challenge since the layouts vary drastically. Also, until recently, there have been very few road course races, meaning handicappers must work off small sample sizes.

“I do think the data translates from one road course to another, but with an asterisk,” Phillips said. “…. You have to kind of weigh them differently and understand they’re very different courses. The ROVAL (at Charlotte) is extremely different from Sonoma, for example. So if you’re treating ROVAL results the same as Sonoma results, I don’t think it’s going to give you that big of a picture.”

The 2021 Cup schedule features seven races on road courses, a big leap from the days of Sonoma and Watkins Glen being the only two such events.

Since being repaved in 2016, Watkins Glen “is so much faster than Sonoma. Sonoma is so slow and has more turns (12 vs. seven). There’s a part of the track that almost feels like Martinsville,” Salmons said. “…. Watkins Glen, they’re just flying around, they’re so fast. ….  Sonoma is more technical stuff.”

Sunday’s Cup race will be just the 13th on a road course since 2017, and because of the small sample size, Phillips is taking a more qualitative handicapping approach for Sunday’s race.

“Definitely more qualitative than quantitative,’ he said. “…. A lot of what I’m going to be betting on is based on really small sample size data and recent form and some things that are tough to quantify, like which guys are really good at breaking. That’s pretty important on a road course, but it’s hard to glean from just looking at the stats. I’m going to watch a lot of previous races, the last several Sonoma races. In 2019, they had a different package, so you have to take that kind of stuff into consideration, too.”

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.