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NASCAR betting notebook: Oddsmakers ‘got it right’ ahead of Pocono

It’s difficult at times even for professional gamblers to find an edge against the oddsmakers. This weekend’s Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway is one of those times.

Seventeen races into the season, the books have things pretty much figured out, particularly in races where the 550-horsepower, high-downforce package is used. 

One sharp NASCAR bettor thought he’d be able to find value at least in Saturday’s race, the Pocono Organics CBD 325, before bookmakers had a chance to adjust their prices for Sunday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 350. Saturday’s opening numbers, though, appear tough to beat.

“Based off what I’ve seen so far, at least the outright market (odds to win), I was really hoping to find some value on a couple of guys, but it looks like the books just got it right,” said pro gambler Zack White. “So I think they’ve got a good feel about who’s going to run well with these downforce packages and especially the downforce with the 550. At this point in the season, the books have kind of got a handle on it.”

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter | Odds for the first Pocono race

Working in bettors’ favor, though, is that race luck is typically less of a factor with 550-hp engines. While these races are not known to be among the most exciting on the circuit, fewer lead changes and crashes mean the right bets are more likely to cash.

“There’s less variance for accidents or pit road issues,” White said. “I think that’s probably what we’re in for – not a lot of passing, kind of a drawn-out race without many cautions or anything. But from a betting perspective, that can be a good thing. If your opinions are right, there’s an opportunity for the race to play out the way you’ve mapped it out, without much weird stuff happening.”

It’s difficult to find an edge, but not impossible, and White will be trying to catch a mistake or two in the matchup props.

“You’re going to be looking for very small, ‘did somebody screw up a little bit here or there?,” he said. “There’s not going to be any glaring errors going into the first race, I don’t think.”

Saturday to Sunday

Most major sportsbooks have posted odds only on Saturday’s race, waiting to see how it plays out before taking bets on Sunday’s event. Based on last year’s Pocono double, teams will perform similarly from one day to the next, and the oddsmakers will move their numbers accordingly.

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“Let’s just say the Gibbs cars go out and run 1, 2, 3 (Saturday), and they’re the fastest cars on the track the whole race, well sure that would switch the odds dramatically,” said oddsmaker Ed Salmons, who handles NASCAR duties at SuperBook USA in Las Vegas. 

“Last year was (Kevin) Harvick and (Denny) Hamlin just back and forth in both races,” Salmons continued. “In the first race last year, the Chevy cars were way off on speed and whatever they did, they got the cars more competitive on Sunday, but you don’t go from non-competitive to winning, put it that way.”

White agrees there’s little reason to believe Sunday’s race will play out much differently than Saturday’s, but he mentioned a few factors for bettors to keep in mind.

“Did anything change overnight to make me think this race is going to run differently?” he said. “Is it going to be overcast? Is the track temperature going to be 30 degrees cooler, did the track get washed green, who went to a backup car?

“So there’s a couple of little things you can look at and say, ‘Okay, I think this is going to run a little bit different.’ But for the most part, I think they’re going to run similarly.”

Kyle gonna Kyle

It’s June 2021, so any conversation about NASCAR Cup racing eventually circles back to the No. 5, and our bookmaker and bettor both anticipate Kyle Larson running up front again at Pocono.

With Larson starting on the pole in the first race and not much passing expected, “We might be in for another Kyle Larson show all weekend,” White said.

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Added Salmons, “From what we’ve seen in NASCAR this year, you expect Larson to go out there and lead a million laps again. Unless something mechanical happens – or these restarts at Pocono can get real hairy, so you never know with that – but he figures to have a field day. I mean, it’s just been ridiculous.”

Larson’s odds in the first race of the doubleheader are in the +210 to +225 range around the betting market, implying a 30 percent or better chance to win.

“For this set of races, he’s certainly fairly priced,” White said. “Is the guy winning this race one out of three times? I think so. Starting up front for the first one, with the speed he’s shown with the 550 package and downforce tracks this year, it’s hard to say the guy’s not gonna win at a 30 percent clip.”

Others to watch

While Hendrick Motorsports has emerged as the dominant team in the Cup Series, a host of other Chevy drivers are starting to show some speed, including the duo from the Ganassi garage.

It’s obvious that something’s going on with (Ross) Chastain and Kurt Busch lately because all of a sudden their cars have gotten really fast and we haven’t seen that all year,” Salmons said.

Last week at Nashville, Chevrolets took six of the top eight spots, including a second-place finish by Chastain, and only two of those six Chevys were Hendrick cars.

“It was pretty obvious in practice that Chastain had a really fast car. Except for Larson, he could have won that race,” Salmons said. 

“Even (Ricky) Stenhouse this past week was blazing fast (and finished in sixth). Probably the best car he’s ever had at the Cup level. So whatever Chevy’s got going on, it’s working.”