Like it or not, NASCAR’s popularity has continued to grow ever since FOX and NBC took over the television broadcasting rights four years ago. This exposed many new markets to stock car racing, and the Nextel Cup Series is now second only to the NFL in terms of fan popularity. This recent surge of interest has also increased the popularity of NASCAR betting.
There are two main types of NASCAR wagers, including picking the outright winner and picking the winner of head-to-head driver matchups. A money-line is used in both situations and resembles the same format used in wagers on golf and tennis.
When picking the race winner, all drivers are plus (+) money, which means a bettor can pick four or five different drivers and still profit if one of them wins. Normally the favorite is at least 5-to-1 (+500) or higher, with many competitive drivers at 12-to-1 (+1200) or higher.
NASCAR has become more competitive than ever with at least 15-20 drivers having a chance to win each week. Last year, 31 different drivers had at least one Top-5 finish during the 2004 season with 13 different winners in 36 races.
Because of the great parity in the sport, it is not uncommon for a longshot to grab an occasional victory. In 2003, Joe Nemechek was 40-to-1 when he won at Richmond and he was 40-to-1 again last year in his Kansas Speedway win. Even a competitive driver like Elliott Sadler was 25-to-1 when he won at Texas in 2004.
Another popular type of wager is head-to-head driver match-ups. This wager involves only two drivers and the bettor must predict which driver will finish higher in the race. This is the preferred method used by many professional handicappers, as it allows them to focus on or against a specific driver, without having to worry about the other 42 cars in the field.
Once again, oddsmakers use a moneyline (just like baseball) and most match-ups are on a 20-cent line (-130 / +110 for example) all the way up to -200 / +170 where a larger split takes place. Head-to-head match-ups allow great flexibility for handicappers as they can either look to play on certain drivers or against certain drivers. The best betting situation occurs when a hot driver is pitted versus a cold driver in the same match-up.
The beauty of handicapping NASCAR lies in the intricacies of each individual track. There are 36 races at 22 different tracks over the course of the 2005 Nextel Cup season. Each track varies in distance, banking, surface, etc. The longest tracks are 2 1/2 mile super-speedways like Daytona and Talladega with race speeds nearing 190 mph, while the others are 1/2-mile short tracks like Martinsville and Bristol (or road courses like Infineon and Watkins Glen) where the race speeds are under 80 mph.
Certain drivers excel at super-speedways (Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, and Michael Waltrip have won 15 of the past 18 restrictor plate races) while other drivers excel at short tracks (Kurt Busch has won four of the past seven Bristol races). Past history is an important handicapping factor as certain drivers and teams consistently do well on specific types of tracks.
NASCAR is a team sport and it takes more than one individual to win the race. The driver is the star, but he must rely on his pit crew of six to eight members and his crew chief to prepare a winning car and then make the necessary adjustments as the race progresses. Current form is important as teams go through slumps during a long nine-month season, just like athletes and teams in any other sport.
Another important handicapping factor is practice. Each driver is allowed three practice sessions on the Friday and Saturday before the race. The first practice session usually takes place on Friday morning, followed by qualifying to determine the starting order. The next two practice sessions usually take place on Saturday morning, with the final practice known as “Happy Hour.”
The oddsmakers and media put too much emphasis on qualifying times, as the practice times are more relative to the overall race results. The first practice session is usually run in “qualifying trim” meaning the teams prepare the car to run fast for just two laps. Many changes are made to the shocks, brakes, oil, etc. which would not be optimal for actual race conditions.
The second and third practice sessions are usually run in “race trim” which more accurately simulates real racing conditions. These times provide an excellent gage into how a team will perform that weekend, including race day.
With all its details and numbers, NASCAR continues to grow in popularity each year. It is a competitive and balanced sport and this parity provides excellent opportunities for the smart sports bettor as many winning drivers have odds of at least 10-to-1 (+1000) or higher.
It is extremely important to shop around at various sportsbooks to obtain the highest odds on each driver you play. Some sportsbooks will post a driver at +600 while another sportsbook has him listed at +1200. This type of discrepancy is seen every weekend and by having multiple offshore sports accounts, a bettor is guaranteed the highest possible payout on every winning wager he or she makes.
The same holds true when playing head-to-head driver matchups. One sportsbook might have a driver at -130, while another has him at -115. Money saved is money earned and this is what separates a long-term professional winner from a recreational amateur.