The difficult in picking a winner on a plate track is reflected in no better way than this: Opening odds on the PointsBet Sportsbook showed no one at better than +1000 (10/1) and four drivers shared those top odds. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott are equally favored with Brad Keselowski (+1100) and Kevin Harvick (+1200) close behind. Twelve of the 30 drivers on the opening chart are listed between +1000 and +2000.
This is a week were betting strategies will take precedence over scouring the box scores of recent Talladega and Daytona speedway races looking for an outright favorite. Anything can and often does happen on aero-restricted superspeedways. Dark horses win. Favorites wreck. Bad decisions in the draft can either cause a driver to trigger a 'Big One' crash or simply drop him from first to 21st in the blink of an eye.
Making up positions prove much more difficult and patient drivers are often in a position to capitalize on the late-race carnage. In three races on this track type this year, there have been three winners, but two of them (Blaney and Hamlin) have been solid in all the events. On courses with so many variables, that is no small feat.
Unfortunately it is also of limited predictive value since streaks can end in the blink of an eye when a car gets turned around at the head of the field.
While nothing is overly predictive of success on plate tracks, a driver’s record cannot be ignored. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sr. both had reputations as great drivers on this course type and as a result they were often treated differently in the draft than the competition. Given the choice to follow them or try to complete a pass, one would often remain in lockstep and hand them the victory.
Denny Hamlin (+1000) does not have a reputation equal to the Earnhardts, but he does have one of the two best recent records on the aero-restricted superspeedways. His Daytona 500 victory this spring is part of a current four-race, top-five streak that includes a third in last fall’s Talladega race. He finished fourth in the 2018 edition of this event and won the 2019 Daytona 500, which gives him many more solid runs than struggles in the past three years.
He’s not infallible, however. He has failed to finish three of his last 13 plate attempts with crash damage – which is proof that a driver has to be lucky and good on this course type.
Best Bets for a top five
Ryan Blaney (+1000) is racing for pride. It is rare for a non-playoff driver to win one of the final 10 races. Matt Kenseth did so in 2017, but he is the only racer in the past five seasons. If it is going to happen, however, Talladega is the most likely place. Since the implementation of the playoff formula, five of 16 races have gone to non-challengers. That is the most by a wide margin. Blaney has won the last two races on this track.
Part of the reason Aric Almirola (+1600) secured his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing was probably because of his prowess on the plate tracks. He ended his career at Richard Petty Motorsports with four consecutive top-10s and has continued to be strong since with results of 11th or better in seven of 11 races at Daytona and Talladega. Both of Almirola’s two Cup wins have come on this track type with the most recent being his 2018 1000Bulbs.com 500 victory.
Longshot alert: Dark horses win on plate races more than anywhere else. If you are going to place a bet on one of the drivers deeper in the field, you must consider Chris Buescher at +4000. He hasn’t yet won on this track type, but he came close this spring with a third in the Daytona 500. That kicked off a sweep of the top 10 on plate tracks that includes a sixth in the first ‘Dega duel. On another sportsbook he is listed at +1000 to finish in the top three and +210 for a top-10. Both margins provide enough room to make a successful bet.
Racing is often cyclical. From 2015 through 2019 Joey Logano (+1000) won three plate races and finished in the top five on three other occasions in a span of eight Talladega events. He finished 11th last fall at Talladega. This spring he had one of the dominant cars in the 500 before a wreck relegated him to 26th. He did not cracked the top-15 in the next two plate events, which means it has now been five races without a top-10 on the course type. That does not mean he’s forgotten how to manage the draft. This week, he needs to manage his aggression.
Best Bets for a top 10
Exceptional Value: Aggression on a plate track is a double-edged sword. More often than not the belligerent creates problems for those around him and survives the carnage he creates. That has been the case with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2000) on multiple occasions and it has allowed him to create a reputation on the big tracks. He won at Talladega in spring 2017. He has five top-fives and a ninth in his last eight attempts on this course. He also draws the ire of his fellow drivers too often for comfort and could find it difficult to obtain a drafting partner.
Last week was a bad time to blow the restart and lose 20+ points. Chase Elliott (+1000) is hit-or-miss on the plate tracks because he is not very patient in the draft. He won at Talladega last spring and finished eighth in the fall, which means he is capable of running well when he stays out of trouble. On the other hand, he has sustained some kind of damage in 11 of his 18 plate races, including a Lap-135 DNF this spring at ‘Dega.
Alex Bowman (+1600) has an odd record going. He is capable of running well at Talladega with three top-10s in his last five starts. All of those have come in the spring, however. His five career fall attempts on this track have all ended outside the top 30. There is no clear explanation for this stat and it is more of a curiosity than a predictor, but the bettor needs to be aware.
Until 2017, Kurt Busch (+1600) was one of the best plate racers to have never won a race on this track type. He came close on a number of occasions, including three runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500, but until the 2017 Great American Race he was unable to find Victory Lane. With no pressure on his shoulders this week after last week’s Las Vegas win, he could drive to the front again.
Brad Keselowski’s (+1100) first Cup win came dramatically at Talladega when he refused to get pushed below the yellow line on the frontstretch by Carl Edwards and sent his rival pirouetting into the catch fence. Since then, he’s scored five more plate wins; four of these came on this track including the fall 2017 race when he was in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs.
It has been quite a while since Kevin Harvick (+1200) was not ranked top-three in odds, but this week PointsBet has him behind five other drivers. Rightly so with only one top-five in his last nine plate races.
Kyle Busch (+1400) will literally do anything to win this week as 2020 races slowly start to fade away. That could get him into serious trouble.
Martin Truex Jr. (+2000) finished second in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, but that was only his second top-10 on a plate track since 2016 – a span of 18 races.
Erik Jones (+4000) proved he can race on plate tracks in 2018 with a Daytona win, but he did not get his first Talladega top-five until this spring.
It seems like a long time ago that William Byron (+2000) won the regular season ender at Daytona. That got him into the playoffs although he was eliminated at the end of the Round of 16.
While you will not want to wager any amount on Corey LaJoie (+10000) for an outright win, he is listed at +400 on another sportsbook to finish in the top 10 and that is doable. LaJoie finished sixth through 11th in four consecutive races at the end of 2019 and start of this season.
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