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Will ‘Big One’ hit at Talladega?

The 13th race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season takes us to Talladega Superspeedway’s monstrous 2.66-mile high-banked layout for what is twice annually the most edge of your seat thrilling races of the year. In Sunday’s Geico 500, the cars will race at 200 mph going side-by-side — sometimes four-wide — which eventually causes “The Big One.”

As an added attraction, 5,000 fans are going to be allowed inside to watch as NASCAR looks to expand the number of spectators. It had 1,000 on Sunday in Florida.

I’m not as big a fan of the wrecks as some of my friends are, but some of the most spectacular wrecks in NASCAR history have happened at Talladega. All it takes is for one car to slip and because the cars are so bunched together and going so fast, it can wipe out half the cars in a domino effect. There’s no place for them to go but into another car.

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It’s part of the reason why the odds to win at Talladega and the other Superspeedway in Daytona offered by the sportsbooks are vastly different than races held elsewhere.

Kevin Harvick is usually around 6-1 odds to win a race, but the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has him 14-1 this week with no driver posted at single-digit odds (9-1 or lower). At the other end, Bubba Wallace is around 500-1 to win weekly but is 40-1 for Talladega. Any driver has a legitimate chance at winning at Talladega or Daytona so no driver is offered with chunky odds.

The other reason why the odds are so different is that the cars are all truly equal with the Talladega and Daytona race package. The cars are made faster by drafting off other cars and using aerodynamic tricks. One car can’t just take off on its own and check out from the field because it’s not as fast by itself.

I don’t wager on driver matchups at Talladega or Daytona just because the driver ratings I keep for each track hold up the least due to the randomness of the wrecks. But I do like to bet more drivers to win than usual with five to eight bets taking a chance with a few longer shots while also taking a few favorites and middle-of-the-board drivers.

When the race starts, all my drivers have a shot to win, but then some of them slowly get eliminated, and with a few laps remaining I’ll have only one or two scenarios that I can win. It’s thrilling and the bets along with the type of racing keep me on the edge of my seat all race long. In fact, I never sit during a race. I stand like a nervous football coach on a big third-down play for the entire race.

Here’s a look at some of the drivers I’ll have bets on for Sunday’s Geico 500 with the odds offered by the SuperBook, which opens up its doors Thursday:

Brad Keselowski (12-1): He won his first career Cup race at Talladega in 2009 driving for an underfunded team and he’s gone on to win four more times there since joining Team Penske, the last three driving for Ford. Eight of the last nine Talladega races have been won by a Ford driver and six of those have been won by a Team Penske driver.

Denny Hamlin (10-1): He’s the co-favorite with Joey Logano, but comes in as the series win leader with three. And he might be the best driver at reading the air and using tricks like side drafting to gain more speed, which is why he has won three Daytona 500s, including the last two. His lone Talladega win was in 2014. His win at Homestead Sunday was the 40th of his career.

Ryan Blaney (14-1): Just being with Team Penske makes him a candidate to win, as did winning at Talladega last fall. But I like him this week because he’s on a roll, having finished fourth or better in five of his last six races on the schedule. He was runner-up to Hamlin by a couple of inches in the Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20-1): His 11th-place average at Talladega is the best among active drivers with at least three starts. His only two Cup wins have come at Talladega and Daytona. He’ll make any move needed to win and sometimes it causes wrecks. He’s the new Mr. Excitement. His team has had some nice success this season with two top-fives.

Aric Almirola (25-1): He comes off his first top-five of the season last week at Homestead and has finished ninth or better in his last seven Talladega starts. That type of consistency just doesn’t happen at modern-day Talladega. He won the fall race there in 2018.

Ryan Newman (30-1): The best car Roush Fenway Racing produces now is the Superspeedway package. He was second last fall at Talladega and was on his way to the win the Daytona 500 before nearly losing his life in a horrific crash. I bet him then, I’m betting him now but was hoping for higher odds. His Roush teammate Chris Buescher at 40-1 is also someone to consider.

Tyler Reddick (30-1): His fourth-place finish Sunday at Homestead has nothing to do with this week other than showing his team has things going well. This will be his first Talladega Cup race, but he knows the track, winning last season in the Xfinity Series.

Matt Kenseth (40-1) should have a solid run and we also get to see Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan (60-1) race. Gaughan only runs in the Cup series at Talladega and Daytona and usually finds himself in the top-10 at the end of races. He was seventh in the Daytona 500 as Newman flew above his car.