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How to Bet on Nascar

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With all due respect to open-wheel racing, which means the IndyCar Series and Formula 1, NASCAR is by far and away the most popular motorsport in the United States in terms of overall interest and in betting action. 

The lack of Formula 1 interest is understandable as only one race is in the USA and that circuit is full of non-Americans. The Indianapolis 500 used to be the biggest auto race in America but in-fighting between the IndyCar Series and CART for years essentially ruined open-wheel interest in this country.

Stock car racing in the USA has its origins in bootlegging in the southeastern part of the country during Prohibition. NASCAR was founded in February 1948 by William France Sr. and it is still a privately-owned company by the France family. Can you imagine the NFL being owned by one person?

For many decades, NASCAR remained largely a southern sport but it now spawns the entire country and often draws the biggest crowds of any sporting event each year – to be fair, there’s also a lot more space to put people between the grandstands and the infield. For example, Bristol Motor Speedway --  in the mountains on the Tennessee-Virginia line -- can hold 162,000 people and no NFL or college football stadium can come close to that. 

NASCAR is very unusual in that its first event every year on a Sunday in mid-February is also the sport’s Super Bowl: the Dayton 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. While Charlotte might be the center of the NASCAR world, Daytona is where it all began and remains the sport’s heart and soul. Dayton also holds a second race in the summer. Most tracks host two races per season.

There are currently 36 races on the annual schedule. The final 10 are called the “playoffs” where eligible drivers compete for the season-ending points title. The 2020 playoffs open on Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway. The playoffs conclude in November for the first time at the 1-mile ISM Raceway at Phoenix in 2020. 

ISM Raceway had hosted the Round of 8 playoff race since the introduction of the playoff elimination format in 2014, and it has served as the penultimate race of the season every year since 2005. Homestead-Miami had been the host of the season finale since 2002. Only four drivers can win the points title in the final race, although like all playoff races it’s still a full field of drivers.

After five decades of having one major sponsor and the NASCAR series the Winston, Nextel, Sprint and finally the Monster Energy Cup Series, the premier series will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series in 2020 and going forward.

Here are some basics for how to bet on NASCAR.

Moneyline Wagering

The simplest way to bet on any race is on a driver to win via the moneyline, which is the only way to wager on NASCAR.

No driver will ever be a negative favorite at, say, -200 to win a race. That would require a $200 bet to return $100. As on the PGA Tour, the fields are too deep (usually 40 cars in a race) and there are too many good drivers for one to be so heavily favored. It’s rare to see any driver below +500 to win any race. At that moneyline price, a $100 bet returns $500. More often than not, a betting favorite is around +800 to win. There is also an option to make a “field” bet when selecting a race winner. Some sportsbooks will not give odds on all 40 drivers to win but perhaps only 20 and then use the field.

The only race that sportsbooks will offer odds to win weeks ahead of time is the season-opening Daytona 500. Oddsmakers need to see how drivers do in races each week before posting the following week’s odds. Drivers could crash their primary car or get injured, etc.

There are also options to wager on drivers to finish in the Top 5 or Top 10 as well as head-to-head matchups with another driver. Those are all given moneyline prices; in the head-to-head, it’s as simple as which driver finishes better in the race. If one crashes out, it doesn’t matter in what position the other finishes as he would win the bet (there are no women currently in NASCAR following Danica Patrick’s retirement). A head-to-head prop could look like this:

Kevin Harvick -175

Joey Logano +135

A $100 bet on Logano to finish higher than Harvick returns $135, while it would take a $170 bet on Harvick to win $100.

There are also props offered on drivers and their finishing position. That could look like this:

Kyle Busch Over 10.5 (+105)

Kyle Busch Under 10.5 (-135)

The .5 is added so there are no ties. If a bettor wagers on Busch to finish Under 10.5, that bettor wins if Busch finishes now worse than 10th and loses if the finishes 11th or worse. 

Betting Strategy

Some PGA Tour players dominate at certain courses – Tiger Woods at Augusta National, Torrey Pines and Bay Hill, for example – for whatever reason. It’s much the same in NASCAR as every track is a bit different in terms of layout but there five general types: Superspeedways, flat tracks, intermediate tracks, short tracks and road courses.

There are only two superspeedways on the circuit and those involve restrictor plates on the cars to slow them down a bit and hopefully avoid wrecks (rarely works). Those tracks are Daytona and Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. both fared well on those tracks. Harvick, Logano, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson are very good at the speedways among current drivers.

The three short tracks on the circuit are Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. None are even a mile long so the races are shorter in terms of total miles. For example, Daytona is 2.5 miles long so the Daytona 500 is 200 laps. Martinsville is a .526-mile oval and there are 500 laps but just 263 miles.

Road-course racing is completely different animal and more of a “specialist’s course” for drivers like Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. The two road courses are Sonoma and Watkins Glen. 

The best strategy for betting on a NASCAR race, then, is to look up the history for a driver on a certain track. Second most-important would be current racing form (doesn’t work for season-opening Daytona 500), and third where the driver starts in the field. Keep in mind that if a driver qualifies up high, even on the pole, but then wrecks his car in practice he is sent to the back of the field for the race with a backup car.  

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