NASCAR made a surprising bet a couple years ago, staging its annual Busch Light Clash preseason exhibition race outside of the sport’s spiritual home of Daytona for the first time since the race’s inception in 1979.
The new venue: the storied Los Angeles Coliseum, notable for hosting a century of college football, two Olympic Games, a World Series, and two Super Bowl games (including Super Bowl I). The idea was to create a fresh buzz around the sport. Grab the attention of new viewers with celebrity appearances at an iconic venue in the heart of L.A. It was also the unveiling of NASCAR’s long-awaited “next gen” vehicle. A ground-up redesign of the sport’s pseudo-stock car that comes with promises of a more level playing field and lower financial barriers to entry for new teams. It should create exciting aggressive racing.
The bet paid off. The Clash drew 4.3 million viewers, more than doubling viewership of the previous year’s race. It was attended by nearly 50,000 fans, an estimated 70% of whom were attending their first NASCAR race.
There’s good reason to believe that NASCAR is growing, and that’s reflected in its increasingly rich betting market. Fans are finding betting NASCAR offers a new dimension to enjoy the over 90 races that comprise a typical NASCAR season across its three national series (Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Camping World Truck Series). That includes the marquee Cup Series season opener: the Daytona 500.
What if you want to spice up your Daytona 500 experience by having a little skin in the game? Start with a crash course in NASCAR racing and then have a look at the various ways to get into NASCAR betting.
Isn’t It All Driving In Circles?
Well, it’s mostly ovals, really, and lopsided ones at that. But there are road courses, too! The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has its roots in Prohibition-era bootlegging. Some of its earliest stars got their starts running moonshine through mountain roads in souped up production vehicles modified to outrun police. Bootleggers would race these cars on the side, which grew into grassroots racing all across the Southeast on tracks built specifically for stock car racing.
When NASCAR was founded in 1948, the cars were indeed “stock” vehicles that consumers could purchase at their local auto dealership. Today, however, NASCAR uses purpose-built vehicles that are simply designed to look like their stock counterparts but are high-powered race cars under their familiar-looking exteriors.
There are three series at the top of NASCAR. The Camping World Truck Series is where most of the sport’s best young drivers get their start, driving race cars designed to look like smaller versions of production pickup trucks. Then it’s onto the Xfinity Series, an intermediary series between Trucks and the sport’s top series, the NASCAR Cup Series.
While the Cup Series runs a race nearly every weekend during NASCAR’s 10 month long season, Xfinity and Trucks have a slightly more abbreviated schedule. When all three series are racing, you’ll generally find Trucks on Friday, Xfinity on Saturday, and Cup on Sunday.
The NASCAR Race Process
Race weekends begin with practice and qualifying sessions. These timed trials give drivers a chance to run some laps on the track before the actual race. It also determines their starting position in the field based on how fast they can run qualifying laps.
NASCAR races start with pace laps led by a pace car as the field gets set and the cars get warmed up. Once the pace car leaves the track, the race will start when the green flag is waved and the front row of cars passes the start-finish line.
Normal racing conditions are known as green flag racing. During this time, cars will try to pass each other in an attempt to improve their running position. If an accident occurs or debris is spotted on the track, a yellow flag is waved. During a yellow flag cars must slow down for the caution and no passing occurs . The field then groups back together for a race restart.
Additional cautions will occur during race-dividing stages (most races have three stages) or as pre-planned competition cautions. A red flag indicates dangerous track conditions (e.g., thunderstorms, oil on the track, etc.) and requires a full stop until the dangerous conditions are no longer present.
There are many other aspects to the racing including pit stops and race strategy. Once you understand how races are restarted after cautions you’ll have no trouble following the action. Of course, having money wagered on the race often peaks your interest in the race as well.
The annual Daytona 500 race is one of the most widely watched (and bet on) NASCAR races every year. It is an ideal way to start getting a feel for the sport and its betting markets.
The Daytona 500 – NASCAR’s Super Bowl
Think of it as a reverse Super Bowl. While the biggest game in the NFL is the final game. The season opener at Daytona is the biggest in NASCAR. It is a huge race weekend. Grandstands are packed as all three national series compete on the track over the three-day weekend. The Daytona 500 on Sunday is the culminating event.
The Daytona 500 was first run in 1959 and has been the season opener since 1982. For drivers, the massive purse that comes with a Daytona 500 win is great. However, it is eclipsed by winning the coveted Harley J. Earl Trophy. For fans, the race is a perennial favorite for its speed, action, and sheer unpredictability.
Restrictor Plate Racing
What makes Daytona races special is the length of the track. Daytona is 2.5 miles long. Very long straightaways mean that cars have extra time to build speed. Daytona and Talladega in Alabama are referred to as Superspeedways. This results in some of the highest speeds recorded during the NASCAR season at close to 200 miles per hour.
As a result, NASCAR restricts the air intake on tracks like Daytona and Talladega via restrictor plates on the cars. This artificially limits horsepower. It causes the field to travel closely together in a tight pack. In turn, this produces a negative aerodynamic effect of wind turbulence generated by leading cars during long straightaway runs. You’ll hear this referred to as Dirty Air. Drivers draft behind the car in front of them by mere inches. This allows the dirty air to pass from vehicle to vehicle without slowing either down.
This makes for an exciting race, as even small mistakes can compound into absolute disaster. Nearly every Daytona 500 is marked by the presence of The Big One, a fiery wreck resulting from close pack racing. It often takes multiple cars out of contention in one fell swoop.
The unpredictability of huge wrecks at superspeedways makes races at Daytona and Talladega especially interesting from a betting perspective. These are truly races that anyone can win. Especially when half of the field is hauled off the track after a series of wrecks.
Look no further than the 2021 Daytona 500 for a perfect example. Longtime driver Michael McDowell scored his first ever Cup Series win. Bettors were rewarded at odds of +6600.
Betting NASCAR Outright Race Winner
If you want to bet on NASCAR, this is as pure as it gets. A bet on the race winner or on a driver’s finishing position. Bets on the outright winner can be a lot of fun. Winners frequently have closing odds of +1000 and higher. As a result, however, they tend to be extremely high variance. If you look at the hold on this market using the Unabated Hold Calculator, you’ll find no shortage of chunky, double-digit figures, often over 30%. Tough to beat.
You can also bet on whether a driver will finish in the top 3, top 5, top 10, and even top 20. You may think Ryan Blaney has the superspeedway chops to bring it home at Daytona. If +1200 to win is too volatile, maybe +130 to finish in the top 5 is more your speed.
In addition to betting on a driver’s finishing position, you can also bet on teams (e.g., Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing) and manufacturers (Ford, Toyota, and Chevrolet). For example, you may think Blaney and his Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Austin Cindric will all finish inside the top 10. You can bet for the entire team to do so at a price that’s often more generous than betting them individually in a parlay.
Betting Head-to-Head Matchups
Another simple and popular NASCAR bet is the matchup bet, sometimes called head-to-head (or H2H). In this bet, you simply bet on which of two drivers will have a higher finishing position, regardless of the race winner.
For example, you might find Kyle Busch in a matchup against his brother, Kurt. A typical set of odds might look like: Kyle Busch -150 / Kurt Busch +120. If you think Kyle will finish better than Kurt more than 60% of the time, you might bite at -150. If, however, you think Kurt has a chance closer to 50% of the time, then the +120 might appear to have some value.
Matchup betting is a common way to get a lot of action down on a particular race without betting into more volatile markets like race outright winner. The matchup menu can include dozens of driver combinations to bet on.
DraftKings has launched a new type of matchup bet this season that incorporates a new twist called “positional spreads.” With this type of bet, you’re not only betting on or against a driver but also by how many positions. For example, 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell is featured in a matchup with Justin Haley, but he’s not exactly a favorite going into this year’s 500. In this case, you can bet McDowell +5.5 -125, or you can go for Haley -5.5 -105. Think of each finishing position as a point and you’ve got the idea: if Haley finishes 11th and McDowell 16th, dog bettors are getting paid.
Group bets feature drivers in groups of four or five. The bettor chooses which driver in the group will have the highest finish. Groups typically consist of drivers of comparable skill and race results. For example, a group may consist of Kyle Larson at +230, Chase Elliott at +250, Denny Hamlin at +275, and William Byron at +300. Pick a driver, and if they finish higher than the other three, you have a winner.
Savvy bettors may find occasional value in group bets when a particular driver is an especially big favorite going into a race weekend. This creates a nice odds boost on his group mates as a result.
Betting NASCAR Props
The availability of prop bets fluctuates from race to race. Generally popular events like the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 at Darlington, and the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte will have more offered. These props cover a variety of race outcomes, offering myriad unique ways to bet.
Common prop bets include the number of cars to finish the race on the lead lap or the number of cautions during a race. You can often bet on the winner of each stage (similar to period and quarter bets in other sports) and even over/under bets on winning car number. The list grows each season.
Traditionally, the NASCAR futures market has been entirely straightforward. You bet on who you think will win their series championship. The odds change throughout the season as the playoffs picture becomes more clear.
Now there are other ways to bet NASCAR futures. Some books post two-way markets on whether or not a driver, team, or manufacturer will make it to the playoffs. Regular season win totals are also appearing and even head-to-head matchups between drivers for regular season wins.
Where to Find Value
As with most betting markets, shrewd bettors can reduce hold simply by comparing prices across several sportsbooks. A little smart shopping can go a long way. This can even make hold-heavy markets like outright race winner an attractive proposition.
It’s also important to understand the difference between race formats and track types. A 500-mile race on the steeply-banked 2.5-mile track at Daytona bears little resemblance to 263 miles on the flat, half-mile track in Martinsville, Virginia. Then there’s the season’s other race formats, which include a handful of road courses (courses that include both left and right turns) and even a race on a dirt track.
Understanding the difference between tracks and formats and their effect on certain drivers is key to finding good bets. The majority of betting options are for Cup Series races. However, many sportsbooks offer bets for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series as well.
Of course, paying close attention to the races themselves can make a difference, too. Race results and driver statistics are well accounted for in the betting market. Keen-eyed viewers may end up with a more accurate picture of how a race played out than box scores alone might suggest. Those observations could come in handy for future races.
For a sport not traditionally known for its betting market, the number and type of betting options on any given race weekend is surprisingly rich. There’s something out there for everyone, whether you’re the type to bet chalk in a matchup or you like picking +3000 sleepers. Buckle up, it’s a wild ride!