Despite the Odds

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The 2021 season has been like no other. With 21 races in the books, there is still a mathematical possibility that NASCAR’s tiebreaking procedure will be employed and simply winning one race will not earn an automatic playoff berth. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch became the 12th unique winner with five races remaining. Sixteen drivers make the playoffs.

The impact of so many unique winners is that the odds have been uniformly longer than one would expect.

Forget for the moment that handicapping a NASCAR race is more challenging that stick and ball sports that tend to have a favorite with minus odds offset by a spread. Nearly everyone in the field has plus odds and it is fairly rare to see drivers below 3/1. That is because so many things can go wrong.

In 21 races this year, 14 winners have had odds of 10/1 or greater, but there is a distinct pattern to when those events took place as the 2021 season took a long time to develop a familiar feel.

The first two races this year featured drivers with incredibly long odds. The Daytona 500 is one of the least predictable races on the calendar because of the capriciousness of the draft. A last-lap crash froze the field with Michael McDowell in the lead and anyone who dug deeply enough in their pockets to wager on that dark horse cashed in a +6600.

Had the yellow come out a second later, Chase Elliott would have won at +1000. He was the second-ranked driver that week.

One week later, Christopher Bell shocked the field with a +6000 win on the Daytona Road Course, which had been pressed into service because Auto Club Speedway and the State of California were not ready to host fans. Those two races remain the ones with the darkest horses winning.

And it may just have startled the traders at various sportsbooks.

In Week 3 of 2021, William Byron won with +3300 odds – still long enough to hurt the books if too many bettors realized the early strength of Hendrick Motorsports. Over the course of the season, three races have gone to 33/1 drivers, including Alex Bowman at Richmond Raceway.

Of the 14 races that went to drivers with odds of 10/1 or greater, 11 came in the first 13 weeks. Martin Truex, Jr. with his +475 win at Martinsville Speedway and his +750 win at Darlington Raceway were the two early exceptions.

After Bowman’s second win of the season at Dover, where he had +1800 odds, things settled down. They settled down, however, because Hendrick Motorsports started dominating Victory Lane. Kyle Larson’s Coke 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway came with +350 odds and his Ally 400 win at Nashville Superspeedway was worth +220. He had longer odds at Sonoma Raceway (+800), but only because Elliott was favored heavily on the road course.

Larson and Elliott’s low odds during the five-race Hendrick winning streak heading into Pocono Raceway drug the outright win odds of the remainder of the field. Bowman earned his third win in Pocono 1 at +2000; our favorite for Pocono 2, Kyle Busch cashed in at +1000.

Finally last week at Atlanta 2, another long odds winner took the checkers with Kurt Busch earning a +3300 victory – tied for third longest on the season-to-date chart. That means three of the last four winners have been greater than 10/1.

Whether long odds begin to show up again with regularity partially depends on whether the list of unique winners continues to grow and exactly who those dark horse are. As of Tuesday afternoon, Truex ascended to the top of the PointsBet Sportsbook odds chart at +500 displacing Larson’s +520. For other drivers, the winless Denny Hamlin at +625, Ky. Busch (+675), Brad Keselowski (+850), and Elliott (+850) are below the 10/1 mark, so there are plenty of solid longshots to consider for the Foxwood Resort Casino 301.

10 Longest odds winners of 2021-to-date

Odds Rank





Daytona 500

Michael McDowell



O’Reilly 253

Christopher Bell



Dixie Vodka 400

William Byron


Toyota Owners 400

Alex Bowman


Quaker State 400

Kurt Busch



Food City Dirt Race

Joey Logano



Pennzoil 400

Kyle Larson



Pocono Organics CBD 325

Alex Bowman



Drydene 400

Alex Bowman



QuikTrip 500

Ryan Blaney