As legalized sports betting continues to spread across the nation and online sportsbooks make wagering more accessible than ever, handicappers are looking for new and exciting opportunities. While the masses flock to the marquee professional sports, sharp bettors search for untapped markets with their softer lines and limited public action. One up-and-coming sporting event to bet on is NASCAR.
There are several different ways one may bet on NASCAR races. You can pick the overall winner (or top three finishers) of a given competition, put money on season-long results through futures, or wager on head-to-head driver matchups. For this article, we’ll be going over the last category.
The best betting sites that cover NASCAR driver matchups post moneyline odds for two or more participants in an upcoming race; the bettor chooses who they believe will finish the highest of the options presented. It doesn’t matter who wins the overall race.
Your pick can be the 32nd car to cross the finish line and still win, as long as the other driver comes in even later. Conversely, you may bet on a driver that races exceptionally well, finishing in second, only to lose the bet regardless, thanks to his opponent coming in first.
There are two unique ways one may bet on NASCAR driver matchups: head-to-head wagers between just two drivers and group matchup bets where you choose who will have the best finish from a selection of four to six drivers.
The various pairings are made with drivers of similar skillsets and expectations, which makes these bets challenging, despite not having to worry about the vast majority of the field. Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways for handicappers to find an edge when betting on NASCAR driver matchup markets.
Before I move on to some specific tips for you to consider, there’s one overarching piece of advice you need to remember. Don’t let your fandom or biases influence your handicapping. NASCAR fans are a passionate bunch, with drivers they adore and others they hate with a passion.
If you can stay objective, there’s lots of money to be made. Other fans of the sport often wager with their hearts, impacting the odds posted for big-name drivers, which could create excellent betting value for us!
In the following sections, I’m going to share four tips that should set you in the right direction with regards to winning more NASCAR driver matchups.
Research Racetrack Histories
If you’re handicapping an upcoming NASCAR race and trying to predict which drivers will finish before the others, a good place to start is the racetrack itself. Every track is unique. They vary in a multitude of ways, including length, surface width, the degrees at which their turns are banked, impact on tire wear, the shape of the track (long/short straightaways), and the surface of the track.
You must know how each driver in a given betting matchup typically performs at the upcoming racetrack or similarly designed locations. Take the time to study how they’ve finished, on average, in the past. What do those results look like in comparison to their other results?
To widen your net and increase the amount of relevant data to use in your handicapping, you can also pull statistics from other races run on similar tracks. There are numerous shapes and conditions to consider.
The following sub-sections will highlight several unique track categories that may help you determine which driver is best suited to succeed for NASCAR driver matchups.
Large Oval Tracks
Large oval tracks range from one-and-a-half to two miles in length, with medium to high-banking turns. At these locations, you’re going to see high top-speeds, increasing the importance of aerodynamics and the car’s mechanical grip, which deals with the friction between the tires and track surface. The winners of these races are going to fly down the straightaways and maintain high speeds around turns.
Some examples of large oval tracks:
- Atlanta Motor Speedway
- Charlotte Motor Speedway
- Chicagoland Speedway
- Kansas Speedway
- Kentucky Speedway
- Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- Texas Motor Speedway
If the race is being held at a two-mile oval track, you’ll want to research each driver’s skill at passing. These locations have especially wide surfaces and emphasize speed, so you’ll want the car with the least amount of drag and the most horsepower. Two examples that fit this description are the Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.
Steeper banking actually aids vehicles around the turns, allowing them to keep their speed through corners. Flat tracks provide no such assistance and result in slower speeds as drivers are forced to hit the brakes. Having the ability to alternate between hitting the brakes and gas efficiently is a skill that plays a critical role in deciding these races.
Because flatter tracks often only have one line through the turns, passing is especially difficult. On shorter tracks, this makes each driver’s starting position extremely important. At the longer variations, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, teams will often get creative with their final pit stops in an effort to stop one less time than the rest of the field. These are called “fuel mile races.”
Examples of NASCAR Flat Tracks:
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Martinsville Speedway
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- Pocono Raceway
- Richmond International Raceway
Steep tracks are shorter in length, with high, steeply-banked corners. Rather than slowing down to take the bottom line and shorter distance around corners, many of the drivers who excel at this style of race prefer a loose car that will maintain their higher rates of speed around the top of the turns.
Another variable that will play a crucial factor in how each driver will perform is the surface of the track. There are two kinds of steep tracks, asphalt, and concrete. Asphalt tracks are a bit longer and less stable. As the surface heats up, either due to weather or the race itself, the conditions will change, requiring teams to alter their game plans.
Concrete tends to be more stable and consistent. These steep tracks are usually a mile or less in length and hold the same temperature, for the most part, throughout the event. Due to concrete’s increased friction and steady temp, drivers are able to maintain their high speeds throughout the entirety of the race, making it especially hard to pass. The starting position is critical on steep concrete tracks.
- Asphalt Steep Tracks:
- Darlington Raceway
- Homestead-Miami Speedway
- Concrete Steep Tracks:
- Bristol Motor Speedway
- Dover International Speedway
Restrictor Plate Tracks
NASCAR requires restrictor plates to be installed at two locations: Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Both of these raceways feature long tracks of two-and-a-half miles or more, with steep banking around the turns.
The restrictor plates regulate each car’s power by preventing air from flowing to the carburetor, which results in an entire field of competitors with the same top speed. With such limitations, the strategy changes to prioritize drafting.
A driver can use a car in front of them to displace the air, allowing the reduced resistance to pull the vehicle forward at a higher rate of speed. This results in a cat-and-mouse game of using an opponent’s lead against them, before drafting and timing the pass.
Much of these races take part in large packs, with lots of passing throughout the event.
Know Which Driver Stats to Study
Statistics are the backbone of any successful sports betting career. The problem is knowing which numbers to pay attention to and which to ignore. When it comes to betting on NASCAR driver matchups, there are a few that stand out as particularly helpful.
On their own, none of this data will tell the whole story. But used in combination, they will assist you in forecasting each competitor’s performance in an upcoming race. Just collect these values and compare them to the other opponents in your driver matchup wager.
- Average Running Position – This value tells you the position in which a driver spends most of their time in relation to the rest of the field.
- Fast Laps – This stat will tell you which cars were moving the fastest, despite factors like starting position, slow pit stops, or other issues that may have prevented them from finishing further ahead. You can use this metric to predict breakout performances.
- Driver Rating – This number is calculated by NASCAR, by combining wins, average finish, top-15 finishes, fastest lap, number of laps led, average running position on the lead lap, average speed, and others. A driver with a high rating but a disappointing finish can be expected to see their luck improve going forward.
- Laps Led – This merely tells you what percentage of a race a driver spent in the lead. On its own, this stat is fairly unremarkable. In combination with these other values, it can grant you valuable context.
- Start to Finish – Start-to-finish statistics can tell you how well a driver improves their position among the pack, relative to where they begin. This data can be applied to drivers and starting positions alike. Not only can you use this number to predict a driver’s ability to work their way forward out of a poor poll position, but it will tell you, on average, which starting positions have been most advantageous with regards to the order of the finish.
Look at Practice Sessions and Poll Positions
In the week leading up to a big NASCAR race, each driver will take their car on several sessions and a qualifying run. The first practice is all about preparing the car for the qualifier, so certain alterations may be made specifically for a short few laps. Since a race involves driving around the track hundreds of times, the times for this initial practice may not be especially useful.
The qualifying run will have a significant influence on your NASCAR driver matchups, as it’s used to determine a car’s starting position. However, a poor starting position will affect some drivers more than others; use the start-to-finish statistic to learn about the competitors you’re wagering on.
You will also want to compare the poll positions with the style of track.
- If it’s a steep concrete track, passing will be more challenging, making a late starting position a bigger disadvantage.
- If they’re racing with restrictor plates on, it won’t matter as much. There will still be plenty of passing.
The two practices after the qualifying run are the most important for handicappers. At this point in the week, the team has set up the car for actual race conditions, and the trial laps will show you a clearer representation of how you can expect them to perform on race day.
Analyze Each Driver’s Team
While our driver matchup bets may only care about each driver’s individual performance versus specific opponents, the athletes are still part of racing teams that play a vital role in where they finish. Depending on a driver’s position in the standings and within the hierarchy of the team, their teammates may assist them in various ways or vice versa.
Let’s say one of the drivers in a bet has the best car on his team, while another is the second best. While all of the statistics suggest they’re comparable performers, it’s likely that they’ll play different roles in the race. Teammates will collect valuable info on the track, block opponents from passing, and let the driver of the best car on the team draft off them at crucial times.
Meanwhile, their opponent may be forced to fend for themselves. Sure, they’ll still have teammates to work with, but they may be working to assist another to win instead.
Later in the NASCAR season, you’ll have additional variables to consider when it comes to teamwork. Look at the situation each option in a driver matchup bet is in, as well as that of their teammates. Have they already qualified for the playoffs? Does one teammate need a top finish more than another?
In this situation, the statistics may be telling you to favor one side over the other, but that’s because most of that data was collected under different circumstances. With NASCAR playoff implications on the line, it’s not unthinkable to believe the better teammate would help another collect the points they need if it doesn’t hurt their own postseason qualification to do so.
Obviously, nobody is going to come out and say they let their teammate beat them, but it’s only natural to want as many drivers under the same ownership umbrella to advance to the playoffs as possible. It gives them more allies on the track.
The Wrap Up
Now is the perfect time to start betting on NASCAR driver matchups and races. With sports betting attracting more attention than ever before, it’s nearly impossible to find value in the most popular markets. So much of the betting public wagers on football, basketball, and baseball. It’s where the oddsmakers dedicate most of their focus, resulting in the sharpest lines around.
Smart handicappers know to look for less appreciated markets where they can find an edge over the bookmakers. NASCAR is still considered a niche sport in the handicapping world, so it’s ripe for exploitation. Once you identify some meaningful statistics and datasets, use them to find weak lines and make massive amounts of money.
While there are a variety of different ways to bet on NASCAR, one of the best options is wagering on NASCAR driver matchups. Instead of hoping your pick maneuvers his way around the entire field of competitors, you only have to worry about him beating another driver, or a small group of drivers.
By doing a little research on the track, each competitor’s history, and how they perform out of different starting positions, you can begin to build relatively accurate predictions. Then, consider the impact each driver’s team may have on the proceedings.
Throw in some valuable stats like start-to-finish averages, fast laps, and average running position, and your chances of turning a profit drastically increases. Now, go enjoy your betting advantage while it lasts. It won’t be long until the hordes of new sports betting fanatics show up to impact the value of NASCAR lines!