NASCAR Betting Guide: Food City Dirt Race
Entering Sunday's race on Bristol dirt, we don't have a great idea of what to expect.
But we do at least have a better idea than we had entering last year's race. And I think there are some key takeaways for betting that we can apply to Sunday's Food City Dirt Race.
The first one is that races on tracks with heavy tire falloff mattered a lot. There was a high correlation between a driver's average running position at Homestead and Atlanta and how they ran on the dirt at Bristol. It was actually a higher correlation for both of those than there was between practice times and the race.
This makes sense anecdotally. Rather than racing like a traditional dirt track, Bristol is basically just slick. That's similar to the feel you get when the tires wear down. So if a driver runs well on a track with heavy tire falloff, they're likely to run well on this type of dirt track, too.
For that reason, I am still running a betting model for this race, even if I have less confidence in it than usual. We still saw a lot of the usual suspects running at the front, and we can make tweaks based on what the data said about last year's race.
Which drivers stand out when we lean on these insights? Here are some bets I like at NASCAR odds for the second running of the Bristol dirt race.
Ryan Blaney to Win (+1600)
This is a spot where my model and a stupid, unimportant narrative align. But it's a weird race, so what better time to indulge on said stupid narratives?
That narrative is that Ryan Blaney is the son of dirt racing legend Dave Blaney. Ryan didn't grow up racing on dirt, but if he's not a moron, he'll be leaning on pops for some advice at the dinner table. Ryan did finish third at Eldora in the Camping World Truck Series during his age-20 season, so it's possible the elder Blaney has shared at least some of his knowledge.
The bigger thing, though, is the data. If we're going to emphasize slick tracks, Blaney should get bumped up. He won in Atlanta last year, and he had a top-seven average running position in both Fontana and Richmond in 2022. Overall last year, Blaney had the fourth best aggregate average running position on tracks with heavy tire falloff.
When I run my model, it pins Blaney at 7.3% to win, up from his implied odds at 5.9%. Like I said, I don't know how much to buy into the model for this week. But I don't disagree on Blaney, specifically, so I'm fine betting him to win this race.
Ross Chastain to Win (+3500)
Like Blaney, Ross Chastain doesn't have the dirt background most people are looking for. Other data points to his being a fine bet at +3500, though.
Once again, we're leaning here on the slick tracks. It started last year when Chastain nearly won in Darlington. Few tracks have more tire degradation than Darlington, and Chastain finished third in the fall race there. He has also had a top-eight average running position in each of the past two Richmond races to bolster that resume.
In last year's Bristol dirt race, Chastain had worked his way up to 12th after starting 17th. But he got caught up in someone else's wreck, ending his day prematurely. With how fast Chastain has been this year, I wouldn't be shocked if he's up there competing for a win in the second running.
Martin Truex Jr. Over Joey Logano (+130)
If you read this piece often, you know my numbers tend to slobber all over Joey Logano. It's, quite honestly, annoying.
And they do have him as the favorite to win this week. Shocker. I just don't buy that, and I especially don't buy that Logano should be such a heavy favorite over Martin Truex Jr.
This number likely is at this spot because Logano won the dirt race last year. But it's important to remember that Truex dominated that race. He led 126 laps before a late issue ruined his day. Truex also won the Truck Series race that weekend, helping alleviate concerns that his strong run was a fluke.
Truex last year had the second best aggregate average running position on slick tracks, trailing just Denny Hamlin. Logano was third in that metric, so he's no slouch. And he did earn the win last year, even if Truex needed issues for it to happen.
This isn't an anti-Logano bet. It's buying into a driver in Truex who ran much better last year than his finish would indicate. At +130, Truex is an easy bet for this matchup.
Post-Practice Addition: Kyle Busch to Win (+1600)
I'm a bit surprised that Kyle Busch's outright odds are still this long. He was fast in practice, and his dirt background seems to be going overlooked.
Busch finished top three in single-lap speed in both of Friday's practice sessions. He also was top-11 in 10-lap average for both sessions. In the practice-only segment of my model, Busch ranks third behind Tyler Reddick (+1000) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2500).
Busch has never run on dirt in the Truck Series, but he has shown his talent on it before. He won the 2012 Prelude to the Dream at Eldora, beating out dirt legends like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, and Dave Blaney.
After practice, my model has Busch's win odds up to 7.7% versus his implied odds of 5.9%. I'm more than happy to plug him in while he sits at this number.
Post-Practice Addition: Todd Gilliland to Finish Top 10 (+250)
As of now, my model doesn't see value in this one. I've got Gilliland at 27.3% to finish top 10 versus 28.6% implied. But I'm fine overruling the model in this instance.
There are two key reasons for that. First, Gilliland could easily wind up a value if he performs well enough in the heat race on Saturday night. I'd like to get ahead of any movement there.
Second, Gilliland was super fast in practice on Friday. He ranked inside the top 10 in 10-lap averages for both sessions and was top-eight in single-lap speed for both, as well. He's right behind Busch in the practice-only portion of my model.
Gilliland does have good experience on dirt. He ran four Camping World Truck Series races on dirt, and he finished top five in three of them. That includes last year in Knoxville when he led 61 laps. There's enough here where I'm okay going with my gut and betting Gilliland at this number.