The NASCAR Cup Series stops for the first time at Nashville Superspeedway this weekend, and the uncertainty that lies ahead gives casual-betting avid race fans a better chance to make money than they have in a typical race.
That, at least, is the opinion of one sharp NASCAR bettor.
As bookmakers set odds on a race, they usually have past data from the track, as well as information from comparable tracks to analyze. For Sunday’s Ally 400, they have neither. Not only is this the inaugural Cup race at the venue, it is also difficult to find useful comparisons to the 1.33-mile concrete-paved layout.
“I do think that tracks where there’s significantly less or no data that you can directly relate to it makes the job a little more difficult for the bookmakers,” said pro bettor Blake Phillips.
Some NASCAR analysts suggest mile-and-a-half tracks are the best comparisons for Nashville, but race teams bring the 550-horsepower, high-downforce package to the 1.5s, not the 750-hp, low-downforce setup they’ll be running Sunday. Meanwhile, the steep banking at the one-mile Dover International Speedway, owned by the same company as Nashville Superspeedway, complicates the comparison. Nashville’s concrete surface further muddies most comps.
“If you’re a bookmaker, what are you going to do?,” Phillips continued. “Are you looking at the one-and-a-half miles? Are you looking at the 750s? Are you trying to find a smart mix of the two? And that’s the kind of stuff that excites me – having to make those decisions. I like my odds of being able to make good decisions in that situation.”
But you may not have to be a pro to cash a few tickets Sunday. Beating the betting market is never easy – this is gambling, after all – but an astute NASCAR fan could catch a mistake or two made by the bookmakers.
When handicapping unfamiliar tracks, Phillips advises a more qualitative, less quantitative approach and focusing on drivers who are experienced, versatile and efficient at making adjustments.
“Somebody who’s an avid fan, who watches the races closely and understands what’s going beyond what’s in the box scores,” Phillips said of the type of recreational bettor who has a better chance at success in such a race. “Anybody who can understand the dynamics of who’s good and who’s not, who ran well and who had a race just break the right way for them at the right time. Anybody who can pick through that stuff has some ability to analyze it from a qualitative standpoint. And I think they’ll be able to spot some things that aren’t reflected in the raw data.”
Trying to beat Larson
Kyle Larson is the obvious favorite ahead of the Ally 400, priced at +275 (bet $100 to win $275) at NASCAR partner sportsbooks BetMGM and Barstool. This is something we should get used to.
“I venture to say he’s the best driver on the best team right now for the fastest manufacturer,” Phillips said of the pilot of the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet. “Any given weekend, beating Larson is a tall order. But if we’re going to see an upset, if we’re calling it that, this is a good track for it to happen, because you have guys who are really good at racing on multiple different types of tracks and really good at the 750 package.”
Phillips has a few drivers from the Penske garage circled – Brad Keselowski (12/1 odds at BetMGM) and Joey Logano (14/1).
“Keselowski and Logano are kind of jumping out to me,” he said. “It helps they were represented in the All-Star Race – the Penske guys were running up there with Hendrick. Granted, strange race format, a lot of short runs, but Logano’s a great guy on the 750 tracks, too, and (he and Kes have) been pretty decent this season.”
As dominant as Larson has been, odds of less than 3/1 are pretty short in an outright market and not overly enticing to many bettors.
“Is Larson priced fairly?,” Phillips said. “Eh, I’ll just say that I’m not betting on Larson.”
Watch and react
The Ally 400 is one of just eight Cup races this season that is scheduled to be preceded by practice and qualifying. While we’ve discussed previously how some bettors are benefitting from the lack of practice and quals, there is information from Saturday’s practice and Sunday’s qualifying runs that can be applied to handicapping the main event.
While some books wait until after practice to post matchup props, Phillips likes to get his action down wherever he can before the market adjusts. He uses practice and qualifying information, however, for late bets.
“I’m definitely looking around to see if anything jumps out at me pre-practice and qualifying, but of course I’ll be watching practice very closely, more so qualifying, and making updates to my ideas based on that,” he said.
“In NASCAR in general, it’s important to be able to adjust your opinions quickly and to weight recency a lot. I have some ideas going into the race of who’s going to be good here, but I’m going to let practice inform my opinions once I see that. I’m not afraid to take a couple of positions before then, though.”
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.