Christopher Bell Martin Truex Jr.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

NASCAR betting: Pro handicappers debate where to find value on Playoffs oddsboard

With a 28-point cushion from the second- and third-place drivers – and a path of little resistance to the Championship 4 – Kyle Larson heads into the 2021 Cup Series Playoffs as the clear betting favorite to claim the title. But with Larson priced at less than 3/1 odds at all three of NASCAR’s official betting partners, many gamblers will be looking elsewhere for value.

It’s probably wise not to dig too deep. The top half of the oddsboard, reset after the 16-driver playoff field was finalized, is owned by the Big Three teams: Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. While Kevin Harvick’s chances shouldn’t be completely dismissed, he’s yet to win a race this season, and it’s hard to envision the 2021 champ not emerging from one of Cup’s top three garages.

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter | 2021 title odds from BetMGM

Here are the championship futures odds (as of Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET) from NASCAR’s partner sportsbooks ahead of Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway, the first event of the 10-race playoffs:

DRIVER BetMGM Barstool WynnBET
Kyle Larson +225 +240 +250
Chase Elliott +650 +650 +650
Kyle Busch +700 +700 +750
Denny Hamlin +800 +750 +750
Martin Truex Jr. +800 +800 +900
Joey Logano +1200 +1200 +1000
Ryan Blaney +1200 +1200 +1400
William Byron +1200 +1200 +1200
Alex Bowman +1400 +2000 +1600
Kevin Harvick +1600 +1600 +1600
Brad Keselowski +1600 +1600 +1200
Christopher Bell +2500 +2200 +2000
Kurt Busch +3300 +3300 +3000
Aric Almirola +6600 +6000 +5000
Tyler Reddick +8000 +5000 +5000
Michael McDowell +20000 +10000 +10000

A mid-season eight-race stretch of three wins and four seconds (plus an All-Star Race victory in the middle of it) made Larson look nearly unbeatable. But the pack has closed the gap on the No. 5, and even if he coasts into the Championship 4 at Phoenix, he’ll have to contend with three top drivers for the title.

With an emphasis on the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package (six of the remaining 10 races will employ that package, including the first three and final two), one school of thought says the NASCAR Playoffs set up well for JGR.

Jim Sannes, a quantitative NASCAR betting and fantasy analyst at numberFire, made a case for Martin Truex Jr. back in July, and he still likes the pick.

“I think he’s still the best value on the board,” Sannes told NASCAR.com in a DM this week. “I got him at +850 at the beginning of August, and I’m content with it. Was hoping it would have moved by now (to shorter odds), but the main point was anticipating he’d be great on the playoff tracks.”

Pro sports bettor Zack White was on the Hendrick team early, including taking a substantial futures position on Alex Bowman, and he isn’t buying the notion that the schedule puts Gibbs at an advantage.

“It’s a long playoffs, so these guys like Larson and Bowman, people with multiple wins, they’re going to cruise past the first round,” White said. “So they can kind of sit back and say, ‘I’m going to save the best of my equipment for when I need to perform the best.'”

While he still likes his Hendrick investment – his four-figure wagers on Bowman to win the 2021 title at odds ranging from 28/1 to 35/1 look pretty good with the No. 48’s price shrinking to the 14/1 to 20/1 range – White knows others must be respected.

“Eyes on Kyle Busch and Gibbs cars, always,” White added. “There’s going to be a hell of a playoffs run this year. My initial idea earlier in the season was that it was going to be all Hendrick cars (in contention), but obviously teams have made some strides in the second half of the season. Should be a good show.”

Longer shots

The current hot hand is Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who has earned two consecutive victories (Michigan, Daytona) and starts on the pole Sunday in Darlington. While Blaney is tied for second with Truex in the standings, his double-digit odds are enticing.

“Blaney is pretty easily a value now at +1700 (at FanDuel) once you combine his playoff points with how well he tends to run on the short, flat tracks. …. I had been super worried about what he’d do in the first round. But he ran really well (relative to his baseline) at Darlington and Richmond this year, and he gave himself a nice cushion at the end of the regular season.”

When we spoke a few weeks ago, sports betting media personality Todd Fuhrman said, “If we see prices on any of the Penske drivers drift out further, that might be relatively attractive.”

In addition to the nice price on Blaney, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are offered at +1200 and +1600, respectively, at BetMGM and Barstool.

Former NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan, who knows a thing or two about gambling (even though he doesn’t bet NASCAR), said beyond the obvious favorite, Larson, “if I got a dark horse sitting there, it’s William Byron.”

Fuhrman said he has a small position on Christopher Bell and still likes the No. 20 Toyota at the 40/1 odds some Vegas shops, including SuperBook USA, are offering.

Wait-and-see approach

Rather than firing before the playoffs start, bettors may want to consider watching how things play out and picking their spots as the postseason progresses. That may present opportunities to find title contenders at longer prices.

“One thing we’ve seen over the last couple of years, you’ll get some interesting numbers once the field is set, but when you get into those elimination races, you can get a significantly better number,” Fuhrman said.

A combination of two strategies can also be effective – make a small investment early with the intention of increasing it later.

“This playoff format can create some wild swings based on just one race,” Fuhrman said, “so it’s always better to be willing to add to certain drivers than go all in right away.”

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.