Denny Hamlin won the first stage of the 2021 Southern 500 en route to a win in the first playoff race of the season, which earned him a spot in the Round of 12.
The next race (Richmond) was also won by a playoff driver (Martin Truex Jr.), as was the next one (Kyle Larson, Bristol) and the next one (Denny Hamlin, Las Vegas).
Four races, and four wins for playoff drivers to open the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
One year later: Four races, and four wins for non-playoff drivers to open the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Non-playoff drivers have been crashing the playoff party for years. But this is the first time non-playoff drivers have won the first four playoff races — and the first time non-playoff drivers have won four straight playoff races.
For the YellaWood 500 this weekend, four drivers are tied as co-favorites in race-winner NASCAR odds at BetMGM. All four are alive in the Round of 12:
- Chase Elliott +1200
- Joey Logano +1200
- Ross Chastain +1200
- Ryan Blaney +1200
None of those four drivers is among the public’s favorite, however. Collectively, as of Thursday, the co-favorites have 20.3% of the handle. That’s less than the combined handle of the two most popular drivers, both non-playoff drivers; Erik Jones (+2500) and Brad Keselowski (+1600) have 29.1% of the total race-winner handle as the public pounds non-playoff drivers for the second straight week.
And half of the top 10 most popular drivers by ticket count are also non-playoff drivers, including Jones, who leads all drivers in ticket share with 6.3%.
This week’s featured matchups at BetMGM are also loaded with non-playoff drivers as they seek a fifth straight win:
Tyler Reddick (-125) vs. Austin Dillon (-105)
Tyler Reddick struggled in the next race after his first two career Cup Series wins, finishing 29th at Atlanta and 29th at Michigan.
If he finishes 29th this weekend after a win at Texas, it’d be a huge improvement over his last two starts at Talladega Superspeedway; he finished 39th in April and 39th in the 2021 fall race.
Meanwhile, Reddick’s featured matchup opponent Austin Dillon hasn’t finished worse than 12th in his last four starts at Talladega. But while Dillon is a more popular pick in race-winner betting — 3% of tickets and 4% of the handle to Reddick’s 1.5% and 1.2% — he has just 33% of the handle in featured matchup betting.
Denny Hamlin (-115) vs. William Byron (-115)
The highest-ranked driver in this week’s matchups, Denny Hamlin, is the fourth-most-experienced driver at Talladega in this weekend’s field. Only Kevin Harvick (43), Truex (35), and Kyle Busch (34) have more career Cup Series starts at the track than Hamlin (33).
But only Joey Logano, among active drivers, has more laps led at Talladega than Hamlin. The 41-year-old JGR driver has led at least six laps in each of his last five starts at the track — and at least one lap in 26 of his 33 career starts.
Hamlin is dominating featured matchup betting against William Byron, who has just two top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Talladega. Hamlin has 97% of the handle on 96% of the tickets.
Bubba Wallace (-130) vs. Chris Buescher (+100)
Bubba Wallace crashed the party at last year’s race, earning his first career Cup Series win in his 143rd career start and ending the four-race winning streak for playoff drivers to open the 2021 playoffs.
At +1600 in race-winner odds, Wallace isn’t far back from the favorites. He’s led at least five laps in each of his last four starts at Talladega, though he actually led fewer laps (five) en route to last year’s win than Chris Buescher (seven), who tied a career-best finish (sixth) that day.
Neither Wallace nor Buescher is in the top 10 for race-winner ticket share, though Wallace does rank 10th in handle share at 3.3%. Bettors are picking Buescher in this matchup; he has 86% of the handle on 67% of the tickets.
(UPDATE: Bowman ruled out for this week’s race)
Christopher Bell (-120) vs. Alex Bowman (-110)
Christopher Bell’s top-five streak ended at three races with a crash and 34th-place finish in Fort Worth. It was just the fourth time he finished outside the top 20 in his last 20 starts, a run that followed a 22nd-place finish in April at Talladega.
Bell has finished higher than his starting position only once in his last four starts at the track — a fifth-place finish after starting 12th last fall. Similarly, this week’s opponent Alex Bowman has finished higher than his starting position only three times in his last eight starts at Talladega.
Bowman has 76% of the featured matchup handle on a 50-50 ticket split.
You can view updated YellaWood 500 odds and more online sports betting opportunities at the BetMGM online sportsbook.