For 32 NASCAR Sprint Cup races a season, handicappers eagerly await results from the final practices at each track like the Duke brothers waiting for the crop report in “Trading Places.”
The practices are like the holy grail of NASCAR betting where prices are drastically altered and bettors sway their opinions and bankrolls. However, for the other four races – those with restrictor-plates on – it’s a crap shoot. Put 43 numbers on the board and start throwing darts.
Practices mean the least at Superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega because they really don’t tell the bettor anything. And if a driver is fast alone during practice, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be fast in the draft during the race.
So when the plate races come around, like Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega, bettors can pretty much make their final analysis on who has the best chance of winning on a Monday or Tuesday, rather than the normal process of waiting until Friday or Saturday after practices.
In 32 races, around 15 drivers have a legitimate shot of winning with not too much randomness, and then that number gets whittled down to about 10 quality candidates after practices. On plate-race tracks, the list of possible candidates is around 38 drivers, and the number doesn’t decrease at all after practices.
The best example to show the randomness of Talladega was David Ragan winning last spring. He drives the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, which isn’t competitive anywhere else but plate races.
Last week at Richmond he was listed in the LVH field at 500-to-1 and finished 30th. Ragan’s best finish on the season was 27th at California, but this week at Talladega, if you find 50-to-1. It will be a high number deemed attractive by bettors expanding their odds to win wagering strategy due to the different set of circumstances plate races present.
Danica Patrick even becomes a quality contender. I may have been dead wrong about her stepping her game up in 2014 as she sits 29th in points, but she is one of the 38 drivers that have a great shot at winning this week.
In two attempts at Talladega, she’s finished 33rd each time, but she has shown enough during the races at Daytona and Talladega together to believe that this is her best chance in NASCAR to win a trophy.
The driver I’m going to dump most of my chips on this week is Denny Hamlin. He’ll have somewhat of an edge over the other cars based on what happened at Daytona where he won the Sprint Unlimited Shootout and then one of the Budweiser Duels.
Hamlin would go on to finish second in the Daytona 500, behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., while leading three times for 16 laps. He was super fast during the entire Daytona Speed Weeks, and while Daytona and Talladega are vastly different despite both using restrictor-plates, his performance there should transfer well this week.
Even though Hamlin is currently 14th in points, he can’t be happy with how his season has gone. There were so many high expectations coming into 2014 after ending last season with a win at Homestead.
Outside of his stellar Daytona run, he’s been given cars in the eight races since that weren’t capable of winning. He’s fought hard in races to finish as well as he has. The rough part about it for him is that they’ve raced on just about every type of track and he had no edge, which is surprising at places like Martinsville and Richmond – places he always dominated at.
So knowing the importance of how big this race is for Hamlin, which might be his best chance to get a win if things don’t change, I look for this team to be completely dialed in like at Daytona. If Hamlin does win, it will be his first career restrictor-plate win in a points race.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].