NASCAR bettor: Talladega puts sportsbooks in unenviable position

NASCAR bettor: Talladega puts sportsbooks in unenviable position

With eight top-five finishes through the first nine races of the season — and having last week‘s race in Richmond practically stolen from him on a late restart — Denny Hamlin is poised for a visit to Victory Lane. Since he performs well at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday‘s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) looks like a good spot for Hamlin to claim his first win of 2021.

But if you‘re a bettor who believes in the randomness that often transpires at Talladega, Hamlin‘s +650 odds (bet $100 to win $650) are probably not for you. Save for Joey Logano (9/1), every other driver is offered at double-digit odds by BetMGM (a NASCAR betting partner) and Barstool Sportsbook.

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter | BetMGM’s odds for Talladega

Hamlin has two Talladega wins over his career, including the most recent race at this track, last October‘s YellaWood 500, and his 11.3 average finish over the last 10 events here ranks second only to Aric Almirola.

He‘s also won two of the last five Daytona races and his 13.5 average finish over the last 10 there ranks third among drivers with more than two starts, further evidence of his superspeedway strength.

“Hamlin‘s always good on this stuff,” said Ed Salmons, who handles NASCAR oddsmaking at SuperBook USA in Las Vegas.

Hamlin certainly has the betting market‘s respect this week. He is listed in four of 20 head-to-head matchup props posted at the SuperBook, and he is the -125 favorite (bet $125 to win $100) in all four (vs. Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney, all of whom are priced at +105 in these head-to-heads). The remaining 16 matchups all opened pick ‘em, -110 juice attached to either side of those wagers, proverbial flips of the coin.

Kyle Busch vs. Almirola? Coinflip. Kurt Busch vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? Coinflip. Martin Truex Jr. vs. Christopher Bell? Coin flip.

Bigger disparities in pricing can be found at Barstool, where Kevin Harvick is -109 vs. Kyle Busch (-122), Elliott is -109 vs. Ryan Blaney (-122), Michael McDowell is -109 vs. Chris Buescher (-122), and Truex is -109 vs. Almirola (-122).

Without divulging which matchups he‘s targeting, sharp NASCAR bettor Blake Phillips said his strategy for superspeedways is to identify spots where oddsmakers may overvalue drivers on such unpredictable tracks.

RELATED: How Talladega randomness impacts betting market

“I just don‘t think the concept of big disparity between drivers exists to the degree the sportsbooks would make it at a race like Daytona or Talladega,” Phillips said. “These races are fundamentally difficult to handicap and to predict, so I don‘t envy the sportsbooks having to put up lines for them.”

Any patterns to identify?

Almirola is not the driver one would expect to see with the highest average finishing position at any track on the Cup circuit, but this is Talladega, and following Almirola and Hamlin in this stat over the 10 most recent races here is not exactly a who‘s who of NASCAR drivers: Ryan Preece, Ty Dillon, Logano, Stenhouse, Kurt Busch and Tyler Reddick round out the top eight — only Dillon is not entered in Sunday’s race.

With a sixth-place finish last week at Richmond, Almirola flashed some of the form he displayed last summer, but bettors looking to back him this week will get relatively skinny odds on the No. 10 Ford.

As mentioned above, he‘s favored over Truex at Barstool. He‘s also rather large +210 chalk in a group matchup over Bell (+260), Matt DiBenedetto (+275), and Austin Dillon (+275), and his +650 price to be the top Ford car is shorter than Harvick, who has been far from his usual dominant self this season but still must be respected.

Speaking of Fords, if there‘s one pattern that jumps off the page for Talladega, it‘s that these engines have owned this track of late, winning nine of the most recent 11 Talladega events. To no one‘s surprise, Penske has led the way, with Logano, Keselowski and Blaney accounting for seven of those victories.

If you want to ride this trend Sunday, of course, you‘ll have to pay for it, as Barstool is dealing Ford as the +145 favorite (bet $100 to win $145) to be the winning manufacturer, followed by Chevrolet (+155) and Toyota (+250). The +325 on Penske as to be the winning team, while tied with Gibbs as the shortest price, may offer more value.

And if you‘re looking for a driver with a poor superspeedway record to fade this week, Kyle Busch has one win and a 20.9 average finish over 31 races at this Alabama track. A wreck ruined his chances last October at Talladega, and he‘s finished on the lead lap in just two of the six most recent runs at Daytona, thanks to three wrecks and one bad engine.

“It’s crazy,” said Salmons. “Kyle runs these races, and he’ll run top five the whole race, and every one of these races, somewhere in the last 20 laps, he wrecks out. I keep thinking that at one of these superspeedway races, he won’t wreck because he’s always right there, but he always catches a wreck.”

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.