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How to Bet on NASCAR: 5 Tips and Strategies

by March 20, 2020
Martin Truex

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is one of the most entertaining sports to bet on. Every driver hits the track at the same time, and there can only be one winner out of the whole field. It’s three to four hours of exhaust fumes, burnt rubber, and adrenaline.

So how should you approach NASCAR betting? Here are some useful strategies to help you use NASCAR for building your bankroll.

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1. Study past performances at each track.
Just like with other sports, you’ll want to look at past examples. You can use RacingReference or DriverAverages to pull up each driver’s statistics on a given track.

Since NASCAR only visits each track once or twice a year, you’ll have a limited sample size. Fortunately for you, many NASCAR tracks are similarly designed. They fall into five main categories: short tracks, intermediate tracks, Superspeedways, flat tracks, and road courses, and you can weigh a driver’s performance at comparable tracks when placing a bet.

Some tracks within a certain category are more alike than others, too. For example, Michigan International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway are a pair of two-mile ovals that are technically intermediate tracks, but they are much more similar to each other than to other intermediates. So when you use track categories to evaluate past performances, you should give more weight to tracks that are closer in length.

2. Study recent trends in speed.
You’ll also need to know who has been good of late. To do so, look at recent results or David Smith’s speed rankings on the Athletic.

Like with tracks, you can put each driver into a category based on their team. Each team tends to provide its drivers with similar equipment, so you should weigh a whole team’s recent success (or failure) when selecting a driver. For Superspeedway tracks, you’ll also want to consider trends based on a driver’s manufacturer, as Ford, Chevy, and Toyota teams tend to work together.

While speed is more often team-based than driver-based, some drivers significantly outperform their equipment. If you notice one driver routinely beating their teammates week-in and week-out, don’t group them together, but know that their cars may be holding them back.

3. Compare past performances and recent trends with each other.
You’ll need to combine speed trends with past performances to get a good picture before each race. Otherwise, you might have set your expectations too high for an aging driver, or you might miss out on an upstart rookie or rebounding veteran.

For example, Jimmie Johnson currently holds an average finish of 7.6 at Auto Club Speedway, the best of any active driver. He’s also scored six wins there, the most all-time. Yet Johnson had 22:1 odds entering the race, compared to 4:1 for favorites Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Johnson might sound like a good bet — until you realize that he hasn’t won a single NASCAR race since 2017!

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, won this year’s race at Auto Club. He received 20:1 odds, a bit better than Johnson. Yet he had never finished in the top-10 at the track before, and his previous career-best was 13th. If we look at his stats from the similarly-built Michigan International Speedway, however, we’ll find a pair of 1oth-place finishes from 2019. Across all intermediate tracks, Bowman had one win and eight top-10s last year. And if we had looked at his team’s recent results before the race, we would have seen a top-five from Hendrick Motorsports at an intermediate track the week before. 

But there’s more to the story than just results. Hendrick Motorsports had outperformed their results through the first two races of the year. At Daytona, Hendrick cars looked fast and led 29 of 209 total laps — but in-race accidents hurt their final results. And at Las Vegas, an intermediate race run the week before Auto Club, Hendrick driver Chase Elliott led the second-most laps (70) before late-race trouble ruined his day. While numbers like DriverAverages’ driver rating take this into account, the final results do not.

So while historical results are helpful, you’ll need to contextualize them with recent results and performances. Circumstances can change quickly in NASCAR, as drivers can move to new teams, lose crew chiefs, or change manufacturers, and the best information is always the most recent information.

4. Look at practice and qualifying results — and their relationship with where drivers finish.
In NASCAR, you can get a sense of how each driver is racing before the green flag flies. NASCAR holds televised practice sessions before each race, and drivers also fight for starting positions in qualifying sessions. These sessions can give you extra context when considering past performances and recent trends.

While you should look at the results from each session, know that their significance varies by track. Factors like tire wear, practice schedules, and impounding all vary from track to track, so not all pre-race data has the same weight. For example, if you find out that race winners at one track have only come from the top-10 cars in practice since 2010, you should weigh practice results heavily. Alternatively, if you discover that the race winner has qualified fifth or better in the last five races, you should strongly consider starting position when placing your bet. There are also tracks where practice and qualifying matter much less, though, so make sure that you compare at least three or four sets of race results to pre-race data.

5. Bet on more than just the winner.
Some sportsbooks allow you to bet on not just the winner, but also the top-three, top-five, or top-10 finishers. This is a great way to lower your risk.

While the odds for a driver to finish in the top three or top five will be shorter than their odds to win, it’s smart to pair a bet to win with a bet to finish well. That way, a small late-race mistake has a lower chance of derailing your bet. Here’s a real-life example: in the 2020 Daytona 500, I recommended that people bet on Ryan Newman to finish in the top three and the top ten. And Newman was leading on the last lap of the race! Unfortunately, he suffered a terrifying crash on the final straightaway — but he still came across the line in ninth place. If you had taken both bets, you still would have made a profit despite the last-lap chaos.

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

Betting 101, Betting Tips, How-To, Motorsports, NASCAR