NASCAR Betting Guide: Food City Dirt Race
There are gobs of unknowns entering Sunday's Food City Dirt Race. One of them -- importantly! -- is who is going to push for the win.
We can say with a good amount of confidence that Kyle Larson (+225 on FanDuel Sportsbook) and Christopher Bell (+600) will be there. They're in great equipment, they're both former winners of the Camping World Truck Series dirt race at Eldora, and they've combined to win each of the past five Chili Bowl Nationals (Bell three times and Larson twice). They're the knowns.
Everything else, though, is a mystery. Luckily for us, it's a mystery to which we'll get plenty of clues later Friday.
For just the second time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cup Series is holding practice sessions for the race. They'll have two sessions on Friday, followed by heat races on Saturday night to set the starting order. We're finally going to have a read on who has speed before the green flag, a luxury we haven't had in quite some time.
That's big for betting. And it's going to alter how we approach this piece.
Normally, I can lay out all my bets at once. We usually have all the information we need to make good decisions. But this week, our read on the competitors will change heading into Sunday.
As such, I'm going to be pretty light initially on this race, waiting until after practice to fully dive into the market. That means I'll likely get some drivers at a worse outright number than where they're currently at, but I'd rather do that than bet on drivers who are completely out to lunch.
So for now, I'm going to lock in only numbers I think have the potential to shorten after Friday's practice sessions. Then we'll circle back Saturday and Sunday and see if anything new pops up with the additional information. But for now, here's what stands out to me.
Tyler Reddick to Win (+1800)
(UPDATE: Reddick has since shortened to +1600 to win.)
If you want to bet a driver with dirt experience, you're going to pay the piper for most. But one driver in viable equipment who seems to have slipped through the cracks is Tyler Reddick.
Reddick -- like Larson and Bell -- grew up on dirt, though his record isn't as prolific as theirs. He ran Eldora in the Truck Series three times, finishing 11th, 3rd, and 5th. Those finishes won't pop off the page, and he finished behind Bell in both 2015 and 2016. So, why go here now when Bell and Larson are once again the competition?
Part of it is the number at +1800. But it's also because Reddick was super young back then. Those three truck races came in his age-18, 19, and 20 seasons. Bell is 13 months older than Reddick, so it's not a huge surprise that Bell would out-run him when both were so young. They've got equal experience in the Cup Series, so the playing field is more level now.
We've also seen Reddick excel at slick tracks, which is key this weekend. He finished second at Homestead this year and was fourth last year after winning there twice in the Xfinity Series. Reddick had a 10th-place average running position in the fall Bristol race last year, which he converted into a fourth-place finish. He also ran well in Darlington, so in the tracks most similar to what we'll see this weekend, Reddick has been a contender.
Reddick's number is already starting to drop (he was +2000 earlier Friday morning), and I'd expect that descent to continue after practice Friday. That's why I'm locking him in now rather than waiting.
Christopher Bell Over Kyle Larson (+148)
(UPDATE: Bell has since shifted to +134 to top Larson.)
This is going to be the most fun market of the weekend, even if it isn't the one with the most value. Bell vs. Larson is a duel for the ages, and at this number, give me Bell.
We've actually gotten to see Bell and Larson go head-to-head plenty on dirt. They were both in the field for the 2016 truck race at Eldora. Larson won, and Bell finished second.
That's not their lone one-two finish, either. When Larson won the Chili Bowl Nationals in 2020, Bell finished second. That stopped Bell's three-year win streak at the Chili Bowl, including when he beat Larson in another one-two finish the year before. Larson was in the field in both 2018 and 2017, as well, and Bell won both events.
In other words, the battle between these two has been relatively even historically, and both are in top-flight equipment for this race. We should expect a pretty tight competition, but this number doesn't reflect that. In what figures to be a high-variance race, give me the underdog at +148 in Bell.
Addition After Practice 1: Alex Bowman to Win (+2800)
(UPDATE: Bowman has since shortened to +1400 to win.)
Alex Bowman was on my radar entering the weekend thanks to his history in dirt racing and his performance on slick tracks. But after he was second in the opening practice 10-lap averages, I'm going to lock him in at +2800.
Bowman had the fastest single-lap speed for the practice, too, so he was good in both splits. And this isn't a surprise. His one win last year came at Fontana, a track with heavy tire wear. He was third in Atlanta last week, and he had a top-10 average running position in Homestead. Whenever there's heavy tire falloff and the cars are slipping around, Bowman pops.
Bowman's podium odds are still long, too, at +900, so I'd add that in pursuit of additional safety in case he can't quite topple Larson and Bell.
Addition After Practice 2: Denny Hamlin to Win (+1600)
Hopefully you got on Bowman earlier because he's down to +1200 now. The value is gone. But we can still find some via Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin was the guy who led my model prior to practice. I didn't plan on using the model this week because it was such a unique race, but the top five drivers in it prior to the first practice were all in the top seven in 10-lap averages for the first practice. So it's possible it's less of a dud than I was expecting.
Hamlin still leads it after the second practice thanks to his ranking second behind Larson in 10-lap average. Hamlin was sixth there in the first session, so he showed some serious skill throughout Friday.
Personally, I'd rank Larson ahead of Hamlin still by a pretty wide margin. Larson led both sessions in 10-lap average, so he's the guy to beat. But getting the guy who leads my model at +1600 -- even in a week where I'm not putting stock into it -- is hard to pass up. As recommended previously with Bowman, I'd also add a podium bet on Hamlin at +500.
Sunday Addition: Chase Elliott Over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-112)
Based on the data we got in practice Friday, it seems like we can play things pretty straight for this week. And if we're doing that, putting Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on equal footing is borderline absurd.
After practice, Elliott ranks third in my model. Stenhouse is 28th. Part of that is his performance on the non-dirt tracks, but he also didn't put up blazing speed in practice. He ranks 27th in the practice-only segment of my model whereas Elliott is third.
We can see the gap in these two via the outrights market. There, Elliott is +1200 to win while Stenhouse is +2000. This head-to-head is treating them as peers. Even after accounting for the vig, it seems obvious we need to hammer this line while we still have the chance.