Underdog Wagering at Talladega

By Steve Makinen  () 

Sports bettors obviously love winning, but the truest thrill for most is scoring that underdog win that no one expected. With that in mind, this week’s NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway could be the prime opportunity to hit on such a bet. History has shown that anything is possible at Talladega, and even the best of drivers can’t seem to avoid trouble to fulfill their usual promise. In fact, if you look at the list of race winners at this track and sister track Daytona over the last 3 seasons, you will find no mention of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, or Martin Truex, the so-called Big Three of NASCAR that have essentially dominated the sport during that span. That’s not to say they haven’t been contenders or even betting favorites at these tracks. That in itself should open bettors’ eyes to the possibilities this weekend.

Before digging deeper into the statistical figures or even the specific drivers you might want to target in Sunday’s Geico 500, I need to issue a bit of a caveat. This week’s race will be the first one run at a former “restrictor plate track” in which the plates have been removed. The aero package used will be the same one that you’ve been seeing at 1.5-mile or greater tracks since Daytona back in February, featuring the tapered spacers. Only some limited testing has been done to predict how the cars might race this weekend, and that testing revealed potentially dangerous speed levels so NASCAR has implemented some additional changes. The spoiler height has been raised an inch, from eight inches to nine inches, and a one-inch bolt has been added to the track-bar mount to change height to 12 inches. The aim of the additional changes is to slow the speed of the cars. The overall result should yield pack racing although it remains to be seen whether it is at the levels previously enjoyed here.

All of these question marks do however promote the concept of underdog wagering as oddsmakers will have a difficult time gauging how all of the changes will impact the end results. I would expect to see the usual suspects, notably Busch, who has been dominant in 2019, Harvick, a usual favorite at Talladega, and Truex, the most recent race winner, listed near the top in terms of odds to win. It is below that group where you will find the greatest potential to score a bankroll-changing victory on Sunday.

Let’s first take a look at the list of winners at Talladega & Daytona since the start of the 2016 season:

Brad Keselowski (3 – twice at Talladega, once at Daytona)

Denny Hamlin (2 – both Daytona)

Joey Logano (2 – both Talladega)

Ricky Stenhouse (2 – once at each track)

Aric Almirola (1 – Talladega)

Kurt Busch (1- Daytona)

Austin Dillon (1 – Daytona)

Erik Jones (1- Daytona)

Combined, that’s 13 victories in 13 races. At ALL of the other tracks on the circuit, some 100 races, the group has combined to win 25 times. Compare that to the combination of Busch, Harvick, and Truex who have won 49 times in that span. In other words, the Big Three are 0 for 13 at the superspeedway tracks. 49 for 104 at all the others.

So, where should we look to find our best shot at top underdog performances this week? Take a look at the chart I have put together on the next page that summarizes the improvement or decline each driver has experienced at the superspeedway tracks over the L3 years.

Here are some of driver highlights you’re going to want to acknowledge before Sunday’s Geico 500 from the chart:

• Darrell “Bubba” Wallace in the #43 Petty Motorsports car is the driver who improves his performance the most at Talladega & Daytona as compared to all other tracks. In fact, these are typically the only tracks on the circuit in which he is capable of running up front consistently.

• Ricky Stenhouse in the #17 Rough Fenway car has been quite successful on the former “restrictor plate” tracks. In addition to the two wins noted earlier, he has averaged a 13.4 finish, much better than his 19.1 average at other tracks. Assuming his team is able to deal with the car changes, Stenhouse should be a factor on Sunday.

• Alex Bowman, who drives the #88 car formerly piloted by Talladega legend Dale Earnhardt, Jr, has fared very well at plate tracks in both qualifying and races. His average run position is nearly 6.0 spots better at Talladega & Daytona than it is elsewhere.

• David Ragan, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, and Cole Whitt are veteran drivers who have seen enough pack racing to be considered longshot contenders on Sunday. In no other tracks can that be said.

• Paul Menard & Aric Almirola have also fared better than usual at the Superspeedway tracks, and combined with the fact that they are exceeding expectations in 2019, could be candidates for a surprise trip to Victory Lane on Sunday.

• As noted a few times already, the Big Three of NASCAR (Kyle Busch, Truex, Harvick) have struggled when it comes to Talladega & Daytona. In fact, according to the chart, they are three of the four top drivers on the circuit when it comes to performance decline at those tracks. Fading the three usually is a good moneymaking opportunity for bettors.

• Drivers like Hamlin, Keselowski, and Logano tend to be all or nothing options at these types of races. They are all typically just as capable of winning a race as they are crashing out and not finishing.

Whether you wager on Sunday’s Geico 500 or not, the spectacle of racing at Talladega is always worth the watch. Winning an underdog wager or two makes it all the more exciting.

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