NASCAR Betting Guide: Pala Casino 400

Erik Jones nearly won in Fontana last year and did win in Darlington. Can he keep the magic going this Sunday?

Unlike for the Daytona 500, my general mindset for betting NASCAR is to slow-play things this week.

At Daytona, we knew what to expect. We have a general gist for superspeedway racing and who tends to excel, so I can bet early without the crutch of additional on-track information.

Fontana is different.

Here, speed matters more. Thus, the offseason changes to each manufacturer's hood and nose will be more prominent. If a manufacturer made gains via the re-tooling, this would be our best indicator yet of that.

As such, outside of a few wagers, I want to see cars on track before I fill out a sizable betslip for the Pala Casino 400. That could get complicated with rain in the forecast for Saturday, meaning we may not see cars post times before the green flag drops. But I'd rather have fewer bets for one weekend than more bets based on bad info.

So, for right now, I'm going to pick off just a few numbers where I'm showing a healthy amount of value. That way, even if last year's data is a bit tainted, it may not skew things to the point where the bets are suddenly -EV.

Let's dig into those now, outlining markets where I'm seeing value in FanDuel Sportsbook's NASCAR Cup Series odds. Then, if we get more data later in the week, we can circle back then and add on.

Erik Jones to Win (+3200)

(UPDATE: Jones has since shortened to +2800, implied odds of 3.5%. As referenced below, I have him at 5.5%. This is still more than a big enough edge for me to bet, though be sure to shop around on Jones as you can still get him at +3000 elsewhere.)

In general, I'm most wary of Chevys this weekend. They seemed to have the edge on the faster tracks last year, meaning they have the most ground to lose with the new noses.

I just can't ignore Erik Jones at this number despite the fact he's in a Chevy.

Jones announced his presence with a bang in this race last year, qualifying second, finishing third, and boasting a fourth-place average running position. He carried that speed the rest of the season with top-10 runs in both Michigan and Pocono, and he won at Darlington, another track with massive tire degradation.

My model has Jones winning 5.5% of the time, above his implied odds of 3.0%. It's possible leaning on 2022 data will have me overestimating this manufacturer. But this is a big edge, and I'm a believer in Jones' talent. So at least for now, he's the one guy I'm willing to roll with and override my concerns around the Fords and Toyotas catching up.

Denny Hamlin Over Chase Elliott (-112)

(UPDATE: Hamlin has since shortened to -118 here, 54.1% implied odds. That's still a value in my model, though obviously the enthusiasm decreases the more it moves.)

In 20 career trips to Fontana, Denny Hamlin has never won. Despite that, my model views him as the most likely winner this weekend.

I'm not quite to the point where I can bet him outright at +800. But I can take him in this matchup against Chase Elliott.

Last year, the Cup Series ran seven races at either big tracks (Fontana is two miles long) or non-short tracks with heavy tire degradation (similar to Fontana). In those seven races, Hamlin had a top-10 average running position each time, and he crossed the finish line first twice (though he was later disqualified in one, giving the win to -- ironically -- Elliott).

In other words, Hamlin showed upside on this track type and was super consistent. Hamlin finished ahead of Elliott in five of these seven races with one of the two losses being the disqualification. Clearly, Elliott had speed; he just wasn't converting as often as Hamlin.

Thus, this is my preferred market for Hamlin. I'm showing value here even before accounting for the anecdotal potential bump to Toyotas and Fords, so I'm fine locking it in now before cars are on track.

Christopher Bell Over Kyle Busch (-108)

(UPDATE: Bell has since shortened to -116. I have a thinner gap between him and Busch than between Hamlin and Elliott, so I'd pass at -116 if you aren't already in.)

This is a similar spot: I'm showing value in Christopher Bell to beat Kyle Busch now, and that gap would widen if, indeed, some of the Chevy dominance has worn off. And I agree with the numbers here.

Busch is shifting over to Richard Childress Racing. They were phenomenal at this track last year as Tyler Reddick had the race's dominant car while Austin Dillon finished second. But across our seven relevant races (so, a total of 14 races across two cars), they had just four top-10 average running positions. Bell had four all by himself.

He converted those into good finishes, too. Bell finished inside the top six in four of seven races, and he had an eighth-place average running position in one of the others. He's a good driver on arguably the best team in the sport. Even acknowledging Busch's immense talent, I do think the edge should belong to Bell.

It's possible Busch's move to RCR boosts the entire organization and nullifies this gap. I just need to see it before I buy into it. And until that time, I'm happy to bet a JGR car to top one at RCR at just 51.9% implied odds.

Mid-Week Addition: Toyota to Win (+200)

As you can tell from the two above bets, I'm higher on Toyota than Chevrolet this week.

So, why not just lump them all together and bet Toyota to win the race at +200?

As mentioned before, I'm a bit worried Ford could show better speed this week. That impacts both Chevy and Toyota.

But there's also reason to think books may be undervaluing Toyota. They were also behind the eight-ball with late aerodynamic changes last year, and it took them a while to get going. They also had overheating issues in this race last year, so the track history for all of them is likely lower than it should be.

If I wanted to buy low on Ford, I could check them out at +220. But their win odds in my model are just 20.3% with only Joey Logano topping 5% win odds. At Toyota, their odds are 37.7% with four drivers at 6.0% to win or higher.

The implied odds at +200 are 33.3%, so I've got a decent gap for wiggle room here. I'm above the implied win odds or within 0.3 percentage points on 4 of 6 drivers, so I might as well just put them all in a bunch and bet the manufacturer as a whole to win.

Late-Week Addition: Daniel Suarez to Finish Top 10 (+270)

Earlier in the week at a different book, I took Daniel Suarez to finish top 10 at +170. Clearly, I'm an idiot as I could have gotten a better number once FanDuel posted top-10 markets on Thursday night.

Lucky for you, you are a genius, did not bet Suarez then, and can get him at a juicy number now.

The reason I bet Suarez to finish top 10 at +170 is because my model has him in the top 10 44.9% of the time. The implied odds there are 37.0%. The implied odds at +270 are 27.0%, giving you a full 10 extra percentage points of cushion.

This could mean my model is just too high on Suarez. I'm receptive to that. But it's high for a reason.

In the seven-race sample mentioned above, Suarez had four top-10s, including one here in Fontana. In two of the exceptions, he led 30-plus laps before having issues. Suarez's average running position was 14th or better in all but one race, so he wasn't simply luck-boxing his way into those quality runs.

Prior to last year, Fontana was never a good track for Suarez, even when he had elite equipment. That's likely why the market is lower on him, and it's a fair critique. But when Suarez raced on tracks that checked similar boxes last year, he was consistently hovering near the top 10. I'm fine riding with the model here and saying that +270 is too long for Suarez.

Late-Week Addition: Michael McDowell to Finish Top 10 (+650)

This bet requires some serious blinders.

Last night, when things first opened, you could have gotten Michael McDowell at +1400 to finish top 10. His implied odds have more than doubled since then, getting up to 13.3% at his new number.

That could scare you off as it'd require a pretty brutal pricing mistake at open for McDowell to still be a value. But I do still have him being one.

The reasoning here is similar to with Suarez: McDowell ran well on tracks that check similar boxes. He had four top-10s in seven races, all of which were eighth or better.

The concern with McDowell is speed. Front Row Motorsports isn't the most well-funded organization, so you'd expect them to lag on such a big track.

But McDowell finished sixth in Pocono, another spot that requires huge top-end speed. It's not a "comp" for Fontana, but they both are areas where you'd expect FRM to lag. McDowell still cobbled together a good finish.

So, as with Suarez, it's possible my model is just too high on these guys. It's early in the season, so that's always within the range of outcomes. But this is a good driver in good-enough equipment, so I do still think +650 is a good number here.