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Understanding NASCAR Betting: The Best Betting Thrill in Sports

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Before we get into the nitty gritty of NASCAR betting let me introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me. My name is Greg Matherne, aka Garage Guys NASCAR Titan Greg. I’ve been handicapping NASCAR national series races since 2021.

I focus primarily on the Cup Series but also analyze the Xfinity and Craftsman Trucks Series races. My betting strategy focuses on data driven analytics and modeling to find plus expected value bets. For the 2022 Cup Series season I finished up 119.6 units. Meaning if you had a unit size of $100 and tailed every one of my bets you would have made a profit of $11,960. I am a firm believer that if you are using good predictive data metrics to find plus EV bets and trust the process you will be profitable in the long run.

NASCAR betting is the most exciting betting in sports in my personal opinion. If you disagree, you are entitled to your wrong opinion. There is nothing more thrilling than holding a ticket that will pay 30 or 40 to 1 with your driver in the lead and the laps counting down. When done right, it’s also one of the most profitable. In 2022 I had winners at 40 to 1, 35 to 1, 25 to 1, and 18 to 1. These long shot odds are simply not often available in other sports unless you parlay multiple games.

NASCAR runs three national touring series. The Cup Series is the top level competition. There are also two “minor league” series, the Xfinity Series and the Craftsman Truck Series. The Truck Series normally runs Friday night, the Xfinity Series on Saturday, and the Cup Series on Sunday. This means that when all three series are running we can have a full weekend of action.

How to Read and Understand Odds

NASCAR odds are normally expressed in “American odds” such as +500 or -150. Odds that are +xxx (plus money) mean that for every $100 you bet you would win xxx. While odds that are -xxx mean that to win $100 you would need to bet xxx. Plus money odds in particular can also be expressed as 5–1, which means you win five dollars for every one dollar bet (this is the same as +500).

All odds have an “implied probability” of the bet winning that those odds suggest. For example a bet with odds of +100 (“even money”) has an implied probability of 50%. That means if every bet you placed was as +100 you would need to win half of your bets to break even. If the odds of a bet are shorter than +100 you would need to win over half your bets to make money.

In a two outcome betting market where both outcomes are equitably likely, sports books will generally list the odds at -110. This means you actually need to win 52.38% of your bets to break even. This is why books make money, most bettors win 50% of their bets and thus slowly bleed money.

NASCAR Bets Available

Basic Bets

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

So how do you bet on NASCAR races? The most obvious bet is a bet on a driver to win a race. This is typically known as an outright bet. The bet is straightforward, if the driver you bet on finishes first (and doesn’t get disqualified for post race inspection failure, more on this later) then you win.

Many books also allow you to bet on a driver to finish inside the top 3, top 5, top 10. Again, this is a simple bet, if your driver finishes inside the top 3, 5, or 10, you win. Most books also post head to head matchups between drivers. This is another simple bet, the driver with the better finishing position wins. The last basic bet is a group bet, where four to six drivers are listed in a group. To win this bet your selected driver needs to finish above all other drivers in the group.

The offerings for Xfinity and Trucks are also more limited. Books that offer odds on these series will offer outright bets and occasionally top 3, top 5, head to head, and group bets. No book that I have seen offers top 10 bets on Xfinity or Truck races.

Pole Bets

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced NASCAR to make major changes to how it ran events, including elimination of qualifying for most races. In 2022 qualifying returned and many books are now offering odds on the driver to win pole position. With the exception of the Daytona 500, which has its own unique qualifying structure, drivers qualify for each race by time trials. In 2023 season this will be done in two rounds.

For the first round of qualifying, drivers are split into two groups, based on finishing position from the last race. Each driver runs one to two laps and the five drivers from each group with the fastest times advance to the second round. In the second round each driver again runs one to two laps and the fastest driver is the pole setter. A pole winner bet is a bet that the selected driver will be the fastest driver in this second round.

Manufacturer and Team Based Bets

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Getting less common as we go, some books also allow you to bet on the manufacturer of the winning car. Some books also allow bets on the top driver of each manufacturer, and on the team of the winning driver. While available at fewer books, these bets are also fairly straight forward.

Currently NASCAR has three companies that “manufacture” cars for the national series, Chevy, Ford, and Toyota. A winning manufacture bet is a bet that any driver behind the wheel of the selected maker will win the race. Top manufacture driver doesn’t require the driver to win the race. Top manufacture driver bets pays based on which driver from each manufacture has the best finish of that specific make.

Winning team bets are also straightforward, although they require a bit more knowledge of how NASCAR operates. Each car is owned by a person or company who pays for the car, the driver, the pit crew, etcetera. An owner may have up to four cars in the Cup Series that comprise that owner’s “team.” A winning team bet is a bet that any driver from a specific team will win the race.

Stage Bets

NASCAR races, with the exception of the Coke 600, are split into three “stages.” All this means is that at two predetermined laps in the race there will be a caution thrown once the leaders cross the start/finish line. An exception to this will be applied at road courses in 2023 where stages will still be used to calculate points, but the race will not go into a caution.

Stage racing started in 2017 as an attempt to make races more exciting by creating mini races within the race. It also has the effect of artificially stacking the drivers up more often creating more passing. A stage winner bet is a bet on which driver will be in first place at the end of stage one or stage two.

Parlays

A parlay is bet combining two or more individual bets into a single bet with a larger payout. Every individual bet or “leg” of the parlay must win for the parlay to win. When you place a parlay you are not getting any “bonus” value. Parlay odds are simply calculated by multiplying the implied probability of each individual leg of the parlay to get the odds of the parlay as a whole.

For example, if you parlay two head to head matchups, betting on Driver A +100 over Driver B and Driver C +120 over Driver D, your parlay odds would be .5 x .4545 = .22725 which pays at +340. The odds simply pay out at the implied probability of both bets winning at the same time. The higher payout simply reflects the reduced probability that all legs of the parlay will win. For this reason, parlays are rarely a good bet, particularly if, as discussed below, the bets are negatively correlated. Parlays can however be a good bet in the rare instance where you can parlay positively correlated events.

Negatively Correlated Bets

Books limit what bets can be parlayed, but for two weeks, before getting crushed, FanDuel allowed for parlays of top top 3 and top 10 bets. If these come back at FanDuel or elsewhere they are not parlays I would normally recommend. In most cases when you parlay two drivers to finish inside the top 10 the bets are negatively correlated. That is, if one bet wins, the other is more likely to lose.

Put another way, when parlaying top 10 bets, you are betting one driver to finish at least tenth and the other to finish at least ninth. However, you are not getting increased odds for more difficult task of finishing ninth for the second driver. This means you may be taking two plus value bets and turning them into a single bet with losing value.

The same would likely, but not always, be true if you were to parlay a bet of Driver A to finish ahead of Driver B and Driver B to finish ahead of Driver C. This requires Driver B to thread a needle of sorts and split the two other drivers. But if Driver B has a great day the driver may beat both. Conversely, if the driver has a poor day, he will lose to both. Unless the likely finishing positions of Drivers A and C are very far apart, winning one leg of this parley will increase the odds of losing the other.

Positively Correlated Bets

The flip side of negatively correlated bets is positively correlated bets. Books tend to prohibit parlaying positively correlated bets, but occasionally one sneaks through. A prime example is the $1,000,000 parlay at the 2022 Coke Zero Sugar 400. The unique circumstances of superspeedway racing and a playoff cutoff race created positive correlation in some top 10 bets. Slower drivers were more likely to survive together in the instance of a large crash taking out front runners. So a parlay of the slower drivers to finish inside the top 10 was positively correlated. If one slow driver made the top 10 so, it was likely due to chaos taking out the front runners, which meant the other slower drivers were also likely to survive.

The top 10 parlay is rarely going to be positively correlated. A more likely example of positive correlation would be Driver A to finish ahead of Driver B and Driver A to finish ahead of Driver C. In this case if Driver A beats Driver B, it likely means Driver A had a good day, which increases the odds of also beating Driver C. Books are aware of this and so this sort of parlay is rarely allowed.

What Odds (and Bets) Don’t Mean

Lets now talk about what odds don’t mean, in particular what being the “favorite” for a race doesn’t mean. Being the favorite does not mean that the odds makers expect the driver to win more often than not. The shortest odds for an outright winner tend to be around +300 to +400 and more often closer to +600. Even the implied odds of a +300 bet are only 25% though. So even the shortest odds for an outright winner suggest that the driver would win just 25% of the time.

Similarly when I place a bet it doesn’t mean I expect the driver to win. When I am betting on a driver it simply means I think that the driver is more likely to win than the implied probability of their odds suggest. For example, for the 2022 Daytona 500 I placed a bet on Justin Haley at +5000. I didn’t think Haley was “likely” to win. I did think he had a better than 1.96% chance of winning which his +5000 odds implied.

How Much to Bet?

How much you bet on individual bets is going to depend on how much your total bankroll is. When you see most NASCAR bettors talking about bets they normally talk about “units.” Simply put a unit is your standard bet size. It represents the percentage of your bankroll you are willing to lose on a single bet. Most professionals agree that this should be at most 5% of your total bankroll. More conservatively it should be around 1% of your bankroll.

At 5% you would have to lose 20 bets in a row to be out of money. Frankly if you lose 20 in a row you might want to find a new hobby. The smaller your unit is as a percentage of your bankroll, the less individual losses hurt.

Another advantage of betting in units is it allow people with different bank rolls to talk to each other about how strongly they feel about a bet. For example, if I were to tell you that I put $100 on a bet, that might sound like I thought it was an insanely good bet if your average bet was $10. But if my unit is $100 itself then I’m valuing it as an average bet. In that case its easier for the parties both say they bet one unit on it and thus know, that despite the large variance in the amount of the bet, the parties view that bet about the same.

Always Get the Best Price

When placing bets it’s always best to shop around to see where you can find the best odds. The odds at different books can vary wildly. Looking back to my Justin Haley Daytona 500 bet; at the time I made the bet his odds varied from +3500 to +5000 depending on which book you used. If you don’t shop around and placed the same bet at +3500 you would be leaving a lot of money on the table if the bet wins and might be going from a positive expected value bet to a negative expected value bet.

Closing Thoughts

While betting on NASCAR can be highly profitable, its unlikely to be a get rich quick scheme. There will be big wins, but there will be weeks where even if you have handicapped speed perfectly, chaos ensues and every bet loses. Bet within your means and don’t be afraid to have no action. If you don’t like any bets, its ok to take a week off. Best of luck, and let’s go collect some bags.

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