NASCAR Betting Guide: Xfinity 500
There is nothing more beautiful than a cutoff race at a track like Martinsville. And that's what we get on Sunday.
The NASCAR Cup Series' penultimate race of the season is the Xfinity 500 on Sunday. The final three spots in the championship race will be decided with only Joey Logano (+850 to win at FanDuel Sportsbook) locked into the finale. That means seven other drivers have at least something on the line.
Four of them -- Martin Truex Jr. (+350), Chase Elliott (+850), Alex Bowman (+3200), and Kurt Busch (+3800) -- will likely need a win to advance as they're all at least 25 points behind the cutline. Truex and Elliott are both capable of reaching those heights, though, and would likely go to crazy lengths to do so.
That doesn't mean that the other three -- Denny Hamlin (+550), Brad Keselowski (+600), and Kevin Harvick (+850) -- are safe. If one of the bottom four were to win, only two points would separate Hamlin and Keselowski for the final spot on points, and Harvick would have just a 17-point cushion. Things here are bound to get dicey, and nobody's going to be able to coast.
We should account for this in filling out our betslips. Motivation matters a lot, and we should factor it in. But as we saw last week and at this track in 2017, victory lane isn't exclusive to playoff drivers.
So, who should we bet for Sunday's Xfinity 500 after accounting for all of this? Let's check it out.
Brad Keselowski (+600)
The two most important pieces of data to consider this week are track history and 2020 form on tracks using the low-downforce package. Martinsville is a unique track, upping the value of track history. But seeing what drivers have done at tracks in this package gives us a great read on what they've done in a more relevant sample.
Both pieces of data point us toward Keselowski.
Keselowski has been the driver to beat in this rules package in 2020. He has won three of eight races and led 669 laps, a full 100 more laps than any other driver in the sport. Importantly, two of his wins came in New Hampshire and Richmond, both of which are short and flat like Martinsville.
But you can justify betting Keselowski even without that thanks to his sick history in Martinsville. Keselowski has eight top-fives in the past nine races here, and his lone non-top-five was a 10th in 2018. He led 446 of 500 laps en route to a win here last year and finished third back in the spring.
With all data blended together, it seems like Keselowski and Truex are the drivers to beat this weekend. But with Truex all the way down at +350, Keselowski stands out as the preferred route.
Joey Logano (+850)
As mentioned, there's no motivation here for Logano, who is already locked into next week's race. He can lollygag all he wants, and it won't make any difference. That should matter to us.
My model doesn't account for the motivation angle, though, and as a result, it has Logano at the top by a pretty good margin.
Since the start of last year, 15 drivers have graded out within a half position in either direction of Logano's rating. Those 15 drivers have a 40% win rate and have finished in the top five 60% of the time. It's a small sample, so we need to be careful not to treat those numbers as gospel, but the broad point remains: he good.
And the optimistic view here makes sense. Logano was dominant in the first Martinsville race, leading 234 laps and finishing with a second-place average running position. That equals the average running position he posted when he won here in the fall of 2018, narrowly edging Truex at the line.
Logano has had a top-six average running position in all four races at short, flat tracks this year, and he turned that into a win and four top-five finishes. Even without a win being necessary, these are still fun odds at which to snag Logano.
Clint Bowyer (+3800)
Most of the focus will be on how this is Jimmie Johnson's (+5500) final race at a track where he has won nine times. But Clint Bowyer is also hanging up his fire suit after the season, and he looks a bit more intriguing even at shorter odds.
Bowyer enters Sunday ranked fifth in my model, which I think is too high. He hasn't shown much upside this year, and a fifth-place ranking likely oversells his ceiling.
But when Bowyer has accessed his ceiling, it has been in this package. Both of his top-fives of 2020 came in the low-downforce package, including a fifth-place run at a short, flat track in Phoenix. Bowyer has had a top-11 average running position at every race using this package for the full season.
Despite Johnson's nine total wins, Bowyer is the more recent winner, having gotten his grandfather clock in 2018. The betting odds reflect Bowyer's edge over Johnson, but even at this number, Bowyer is the preferred retirement narrative benefactor.
Cole Custer (+15000)
Bowyer's teammate, Cole Custer, had a rough go of it in his Martinsville debut. He had a 28th-place average running position and finished 29th. But his broader history at short, flat tracks allows us to have some fun and take a swing at a massive number.
Custer has three top-10s in the eight races using this package in his rookie season. Two of those were on the flat tracks as he was ninth in Phoenix and eighth in New Hampshire.
That shouldn't be a surprise based on what Custer did on these tracks in the Xfinity Series last year. He got the win in Richmond, was runner-up in three other races on short, flat tracks, and finished in the top four in six of seven such races. Stewart-Haas Racing brings good setups to these tracks, and Custer has shown he can take advantage.
Custer's a better top-10 bet than an outright, so be sure to check those markets once they're posted. But if you want to have a longshot in your pocket, Custer's a good route for doing so.