NASCAR Betting Guide: GEICO 500
Talladega is a high-variance, wild track. If you're in the prediction-making business, it ain't gonna be pretty.
For each race, I check the correlation between each driver's finishing position and how my model rated them going into the race. In 2019, the two Talladega races ranked 32nd and 33rd out of 36 races in this mark. It was better than Daytona (35th and 36th), but things got a little crazy.
When our ability to accurately predict the outcome is lowered, I'm more inclined to avoid the top of the chart and take some longer shots to get the win. We shouldn't be lobbing complete bombs and just hoping we hit, but a short number is tougher to back when the pool of drivers who can realistically win is larger.
That will be the guiding light for our recommendations today. So, after accounting for how bonkers Talladega can get, which drivers stand out based on the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook? Let's check it out.
Aric Almirola (+2600)
Aric Almirola has made 328 starts in his Cup Series career, and he has won just two of those (0.6%). His implied odds of winning at 26/1 are 3.7%. But both of those wins have been on pack-racing tracks, including one in Talladega in the fall of 2018.
The Stewart-Haas Racing cars dominated that entire race, and Almirola was the one who took advantage to claim the checkered flag.
That wasn't an isolated success for Almirola here, though. He has rattled off seven straight top-10s in Talladega, including four top-fives and that win. He's consistently around at the end, giving himself shots to go to victory lane. It's hard to win if you're on a wrecker, and Almirola tends to avoid that.
The boxes we want a longer shot to check include quality equipment, front-running teammates, and some record of success on the pack-racing tracks. Almirola emphatically checks all of those boxes, making him the top betting value we've got right now.
Matt DiBenedetto (+4000)
Matt DiBenedetto won't check the "teammate" column because Wood Brothers Racing is technically a single-car operation. And he's never finished better than 18th in Talladega, so you might be wondering why he's here to begin with. But there's still plenty working in DiBenedetto's favor to put him on our radar.
First, the teammate issue is true in name only. In reality, Wood Brothers Racing has a heavy alliance with Penske Racing, meaning DiBenedetto has ties to Joey Logano (+900), Brad Keselowski (+900), and Ryan Blaney (+1100), three of the favorites entering the weekend. If DiBenedetto works his way to the front, he's likely to have help.
Second, DiBenedetto's track record at Talladega has come almost exclusively in terrible equipment. Last year, when his equipment was better but still not on par with what he currently has, he had a top-16 average running position in both Talladega races but got caught up in incidents before the end. If we broaden the scope to include Daytona -- which, granted, is a much different track -- DiBenedetto has three career top-10s and was a contender to win last year's Daytona 500.
In DiBenedetto, we're getting access to elite equipment with lively teammates at 40/1. That's hard to turn down even with DiBenedetto's lack of a track record here.
Chris Buescher (+5000)
Of Chris Buescher's five career top-fives in the Cup Series, three have come on pack-racing tracks. Unfortunately, all of those have come in Daytona, but improved equipment could finally help push him over the edge in Talladega.
Because Talladega is a bit wider and -- thus -- less high-variance than Daytona, you don't see a lot of random teams jump into victory lane. Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing have combined to win 10 of the past 11 races here. The one exception was in in the spring of 2017 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2200) got the win, driving for Roush-Fenway Racing.
Fast forward to 2020, and Buescher's now driving the 17 car that Stenhouse took to victory lane in both Talladega and Daytona that year. Buescher showed he could capitalize on the plus equipment by finishing third in this year's Daytona 500, and now he'll get to take it for a spin in Talladega.
Stenhouse is a hyper-talented driver on this track type, so we shouldn't assume his upside will translate directly to Buescher. Still, Buescher has proven he can run near the front at pack-racing tracks in the past, and this is the best equipment he has ever had at Talladega. At 50/1, Buescher's worth a roll of the dice.
John Hunter Nemechek (+6500)
John Hunter Nemechek violates the "good equipment" rule as he drives for Front Row Motorsports, which is nowhere near the top rung of the sport. Still, the team did win here in 2013, and Michael McDowell (+6500) finished fifth in last year's fall Talladega race. Nemechek seems to have the talent to get the job done.
This will be Nemechek's second pack-racing start in the Cup Series after he finished 11th in the Daytona 500. In lower series, Nemechek has run 12 total races in either Daytona or Talladega -- not always in elite equipment -- and he has converted that into five top-10 finishes. Two of those were at Talladega in the Xfinity Series. Nemechek had almost as many top-10s at pack-racing tracks in 2018 and 2019 in the Xfinity Series (three) as Tyler Reddick (+2600) and Christopher Bell (+5000) -- four each -- despite running two fewer races. Cole Custer (+6500) had just one top-10 in six such races.
In addition to having McDowell as a teammate, Nemechek drives a Ford, which could allow the Penske, Stewart-Haas, or Roush-Fenway drivers to work with him late in the race. That's a boost for Nemechek, better allowing us to buy into his talent. Custer fits the process of hunting for drivers with good teammates as he does drive for Stewart-Haas, but the performance in the lower series makes Nemechek the better option at the same number.