This weekend marks the NASCAR Cup Series’ first event on dirt since the 1970s. The decision has raised criticism from the King himself, Richard Petty, who won the last event on dirt.
“Dirt-track racing is not professional, so we’re going backward,” Petty told Autoweek last October, “it would be like taking a professional football team and going back to play at a high school field.”
I disagree with Petty’s take. Since lots of sports fans already see NASCAR as a trashy endeavor (for example, South Park’s NASCAR episode, “Poor and Stupid”), what’s the loss? Sunday’s event makes for an interesting and entertaining return to the sport’s roots. Let’s give it a shot. Here are my best bets for the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.
Isaiah’s Best Bets: Bristol Dirt Race
#1. Christopher Bell (+165 at FOX Bet) vs. Kyle Larson
Bell and Larson are NASCAR’s two best dirt-track racers. Yet this line gives us a ton of edge on Bell, who beat Larson in back-to-back Chili Bowls in 2018 and 2019. Sure, Larson took down Bell in 2020. You can’t win them all. That doesn’t justify a line like this, and I think it’s closer to 50/50 as to who finishes ahead of the other on Sunday.
The lone data point we have to work with, Friday’s Cup practice session, also points to an edge on Bell. He finished with the session’s second-fastest lap time, and he was the only driver in the top 20 to record his fastest time after the first six laps. In contrast, Larson recorded only the fifth-fastest time, and he did so on his third lap.
Though this bet isn’t a lock, it offers a ton of value for a head-to-head play.
#2. Top 10: Christopher Bell (-190 at DK Sportsbook)
Because Larson has looked better than Bell in recent races, you’ll find much more betting value on the Toyota driver. For example, Larson’s top-10 odds are an unappealing -455. Bell’s line, while not the most attractive, still offers enough value to warrant a bet.
Also, Bell has already recorded three top 10 finishes this season. After winning at the Daytona Road Course, he finished seventh at Las Vegas and ninth at Phoenix. He has the elite equipment necessary to post a top-10 result, and this play should be a safe one barring a wreck.
#3. Kurt Busch (-133 at FOX Bet) vs. Mike Marlar
We can blame this line on the uncertainty created by Sunday’s event. Normally, a driver in B-tier equipment like Kurt Busch would never be matched up against a driver in D-tier equipment like Marlar, but here we are.
To illustrate how much this line overestimates Marlar, let’s turn to the practice data. Kurt Busch posted the 22nd-fastest time with an average speed of 86.74 MPH. Marlar posted the second-slowest time with an average speed of 85.27 MPH. Both drivers also ran 10 consecutive laps, through which Kurt Busch’s average speed of 85.41 MPH seriously outpaced Marlar’s average speed of 83.01 MPH.
Marlar’s team, MBM Motorsports, has recorded an average finish of 35.4. Kurt Busch’s average finish (17.8) is almost half of that number.
Busch may not compete for the win on Sunday. However, he’ll stay far ahead of Marlar, whose equipment just won’t be competitive. This line is a lock unless the Cup Series veteran crashes out of the event.
Top Bets to Win: Bristol Dirt Race
Favorite: Kyle Larson (+325 at DK Sportsbook)
If you expect Larson to win on Sunday, you’ll find the best odds at DraftKings Sportsbook. The elite dirt-track racer has started this season off on a tear, as he has recorded one win, three top 5s, and five top 10s. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has had the speed necessary to keep him up front, and he has led a lap in every event except the Daytona Road Course.
Larson has a great shot at becoming the first repeat winner of the season on Sunday.
Runner-Up: Christopher Bell (+800 at DK Sportsbook)
As I mentioned above, this race may come down to Larson and Bell, but you’ll find considerably better lines on Bell. If you’re planning to bet on Larson, I would hedge with a much smaller play on Bell, especially with odds these friendly.
Like Larson, Bell has a real shot to be the first driver to win twice this year.
Dark Horse: Alex Bowman (+2500 at BetMGM)
This line is disrespectful. Bowman had the fastest car in Friday’s practice session, and his line sits at or near +1000 at the two other featured sportsbooks. Bowman (and the rest of Hendrick Motorsports) looked dominant in practice, as all four drivers finished within the top 10.
Also, Bowman finished with the second-best 10-lap average, trailing only Larson. He makes a fantastic target if you’re looking to exploit a poorly-set line.
Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our How To Bet and Sports Betting Strategy and Advice pages are for you. You can get started with our Sports Betting 101 Section — including 10 Sports Betting Tips for Beginners — or head to more advanced sports betting strategy — like Key Numbers When Betting Against the Spread — to learn more.