First off, let me say it felt great to see LIVE sports this past weekend, whether it was soccer, the dramatic ending in the skins game in golf or drivers starting their engines at Darlington.
Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 was just the start of a run of racing that will cover a total of four NASCAR events over 11 days in two cities (Darlington and Charlotte). That many races means a lot of possibilities to wager on them. I’ve been betting racing for more than 20 years and worked in Las Vegas sportsbooks, so I’ve put together my theories on what is the best way to bet NASCAR races.
Harvick is the Driver to Watch
When you are focused on winning short term, the best option is to go with the hot racing hand (or hands, if you will). If you are using this system, the hottest driver after five events has been 44-year-old Kevin Harvick, and no one is even close.
Harvick ran a great race on Sunday en route to his first win of the season. He has led for 318 laps so far this campaign, 120 more than Brad Keselowski, who is second on the circuit in that category. Harvick is also the only driver who has finished in the top 10 in all five races (three top-fives).
The only other driver who is somewhat close that you can bank on is Joey Logano. The 29-year-old has two wins this year and is the youngest driver to reach 400 total NASCAR races.
Pole Position Doesn’t Always Translate to Wins
A hypothesis that I don’t recommend is believing that getting the pole will get you victories. A few big gamblers in Las Vegas would tell me that is the way to bet auto racing. Again, I couldn’t disagree more, and I will offer you a couple of examples to back my claim.
Start in Darlington, where the season resumed on Sunday. Only twice since 1997 has the pole sitter in Darlington come out on top: Harvick did it six years ago and Dale Jarrett did it 23 years ago. And then there’s the Daytona 500, the biggest race of the NASCAR season. The last time a racer won there who had the pole was Jarrett (again) in 2000. So putting your money on the pole sitter is not something I recommend.
The most important factor I consider when betting on a racer is their history of dominating a certain track that fits their driving style. Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car, calling it quits this season after a historic career, is a perfect example of how you can ride a driver at certain tracks based on what he has accomplished there.
Johnson is all but a shoo-in in Dover, Delaware. He has a remarkable 11 wins there, he has nine in Martinsville and another eight in Charlotte. It just so happens Charlotte is the setting for consecutive NASCAR events on May 24 and May 27 so let’s keep an eye on Johnson in his swan song appearance there.
Don’t Forget About Hamlin
Denny Hamlin is another guy you can wager on, especially when the season starts in Daytona. The 2006 rookie of the year has three victories to his credit in Daytona (2016, 2019 and 2020). He ran a spectacular race this season and is only the fourth driver ever to win Daytona in back-to-back years, joining the legendary company of Sterling Marlin, Cale Yarborough and of course “The King,” Richard Petty.
Hamlin also has done quite well in Darlington in his career. If you like to wager on top-three or top-five finishing position, Hamlin is your guy at this track. He won at Darlington in 2010 and 2017, and has the best lifetime average finish at Darlington (minimum five career starts) at 6.2. When a driver has a real feel for a track, that is my most important factor in determining a wager to win, to finish in the top five, and possibly a specific prop bet.
The car manufacturer is considered by some to be integral in determining what to bet. I have mixed emotions on this theory because different drivers still do better at certain tracks regardless of what type of car it is. Toyotas have won seven of the last 13 races at Darlington, which is a great percentage, but I just can’t buy into this theory too much.
You can have plenty of opportunity to ponder my thoughts on wagering on NASCAR considering they have just added more races over the coming weeks. So get ready because NASCAR is “a go,” hopefully for the rest of the season. Sit back and enjoy Charlotte, Bristol, Martinsville and many more cities while we get through this pandemic and sports continue to try to make a resounding return.
To learn more about wagering on NASCAR, visit our How to Bet on NASCAR page.
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