NASCAR Betting Guide: Busch Light Clash

This weekend is a whole lotta "firsts" for the NASCAR Cup Series at the Busch Light Clash.

It's their first time running the Next-Gen car. Teams are all supplied identical parts, which could in theory level the playing field across teams more than in past years.

It's their first time running at the LA Coliseum. It's a temporary, quarter-mile setup, much different than any track currently in the Cup Series' rotation.

It's our first time seeing this type of format where heat races will decide who races in the main event and gets a crack at the win.

This leads to a whole lot of uncertainty entering the weekend, and it should impact our confidence in betting the race. It's a long season, and we don't want to blow our bankrolls in a race where we may have less of an edge.

However, this is also potentially a spot where we'll get soft markets. Bookmakers are just as restricted in their info as we are, so if we can make educated guesses, we might have a leg up we don't typically get.

As such, I'm still willing to dabble in these waters in some spots where my numbers are showing value. There are some bets I like now and want to place before cars are on the track Saturday for practice and qualifying for the heat races. Then, if any more value springs up over the weekend as we get more data, I'll circle back here and update the post.

For now, though, these stand out as bets I like over at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Ryan Blaney Outright (+1300)

It's true that there are lots of unknowns entering this week. But it's indisputable that the LA Coliseum setup is a short, flat track. Drivers who did well on that track type last year are likely to have an edge over those who struggled.

Ryan Blaney is one of those guys, even if the finishes weren't always there.

There were seven races at what I would classify as "short, flat" tracks last year. Across those seven, Blaney's best finish was 4th, and he finished 10th or 11th a whopping 5 times. However, he led 60-plus laps twice, and he had a top-5 average running position in 4 of those races. He was fast but just didn't always cash in with good finishes.

The betting markets seem to be leaning more on where he finished than where he ran, something I'm always down to target. My simulations give Blaney a 9.6% shot to win, up from his implied odds of 7.1%. Those simulations are accounting for the heavy degree of uncertainty around this race, as well. Thus, I'll take the value and bet Blaney outright and hope that he's able to capitalize on that speed this time around.

Christopher Bell Outright (+2400)

Christopher Bell is a dirt racer, meaning he's familiar with heat racing and adapting to new tracks. My simulations don't care about that as the value of that narrative is marginal at best. But they still show value on Bell's outright.

Right now, I've got Bell at 6.2% win odds, up from his implied odds of 4.0%. That stems largely from Bell's speed on the short, flat tracks last year where he had 2 podiums, 3 top-5s, and an aggregate average running position of 9.3. It was his best split by a wide margin.

This isn't a surprise based on Bell's track record in lower series. Nine of his 17 career wins in the Xfinity Series have been on short, flat tracks. We should have expected this to be a strength.

Bell's entering his second year with a hyper-competitive, heavily funded team. That positions him to make a leap this year. If that does happen, we'll likely see flashes of it here, so I'm fine trying to get out in front of it by taking a swipe at +2400.

Aric Almirola to Podium (+1600)

Aric Almirola has already announced that 2022 will be his final season as a full-time driver in the Cup Series as he'll retire to spend more time with his family. Despite that, he has gotten lots of betting buzz for this race, and that betting buzz hasn't translated to his podium odds yet.

Almirola's outright odds opened at +10000, in the same range as drivers on teams with lesser funding than Stewart-Haas Racing. My win simulations have him at 2.2% to win, so it was an obvious spot for value.

Bettors reacted, and as a result, Almirola's outright odds are down to +4500 at FanDuel. That takes most of the value out of his outright, but his podium odds have been slower to shift.

For example, Austin Cindric and Tyler Reddick surround Almirola in the outright markets at +3800 and +5000, respectively. But their podium odds are +900 and +1000, respectively, while Almirola is all the way out at +1600.

You don't often find podium markets this long relative to outright markets in NASCAR. Podiums are an even higher-hold market than outrights, so it can be hard to find value here unless you also have massive value on the outright. Almirola is an exception.

My simulations have Almirola on the podium 9.0% of the time compared to his implied odds at 5.9%. His market should be closer to that of Cindric and Reddick, but it's not. As such, this is a spot where I will buy into a high-hold market, as it seems like Almirola's specific odds have slipped through the cracks.

Kevin Harvick Over Brad Keselowski (-112)

Last year, Kevin Harvick versus Brad Keselowski on short, flat tracks was pretty event. Harvick's aggregate average running position was 8.4, just a smidge better than Keselowski's at 8.7.

But there's a lot of uncertainty around Keselowski for 2022, and this market allows us to exploit that.

Keselowski is moving over to Roush-Fenway Racing as a part owner, forming RFK Racing. This team struggled on the short, flat tracks last year, though going to Keselowski from Ryan Newman is a massive, massive talent upgrade.

Still, we don't know what Keselowski's performance will look like this year, even in equipment that -- in theory -- should be more even than it was in the past.

As for Harvick, SHR struggled all of last year after a change in the inspection process forced them to play catch-up from the jump. Now, they've had an offseason to reset. The team has typically produced fast cars, and they may be due for a bounce-back.

Entering the year, we have reason to be interested in Harvick and skeptical of Keselowski. That pushes me to make a bet on Harvick over Keselowski, as it would be roughly a coin-flip if we were to assume everything was status quo from 2021.