By Micah Roberts
Over the last decade, when wagering on NASCAR has really taken off, Talladega is one of the few sporting events where the popularity doesn't match the wagers through the betting windows.
Restrictor-plate racing only takes place four times a year, two each at Daytona and Talladega. Compared to all 20 other tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, the plate races draw the least action in matchup betting just because there isn't the normal quality data heading into a race like the others compounded by the major possibility a wager could be knocked out by one of the massive wrecks.
Odds to win action still gets the normal type of wagers, and in some cases exceeds other tracks in ticket counts, but the amount wagered by many is far less thanks to a sizeable decrease in matchup wagers and downgrading of a normal unit wager in odds to win.
On a normal week, most of us look at the past history, recent trends with each team, and then use the information gained from the final practice sessions at that particular track to get a great read on who the top candidates are. Usually on race day, those top drivers that are found from all the data gained perform well, and in some instances they even win.
At Talladega, we have to throw all the conventional handicapping out the window. Practice matters very little just because most of speeds are skewed somewhat because of most cars driving in packs are 7 mph, or faster, gained from practicing in the draft, as opposed to what they would be by themselves.
The cars are all so bunched up and shuffling position constantly throughout that any gain a car may have on it's own is negated because of the masses surrounding it.
Between people feeling it was almost pointless to bet on another driver and those that didn't want Junior at such a low return, the betting action suffered in the sports books.
Last season, we saw just the opposite at Talladega where Brad Keselowski won at odds of 100/1 and higher in the spring and Jamie McMurray won with odds of 35/1 in the fall. There weren't too many bettors that can say with a straight face that they had Keselowski to win, but the positive was that it showed that other drivers could win. It showed not only that other drivers could win, but that the win could be huge by taking a chance on some of the others in the field.
One of the better strategies I've seen when betting Talladega is to take a look at every underdog in the matchups and take a shot with them. You won't get the big prices like some of the other tracks, but with so many opportunities to have an unsuspecting great car get wiped out, taking plus money is the smart move. Laying a price for any plate race isn't very wise unless it's a short price and Dale Jr. from 2002 is who you bet.
Earnhardt Jr. is one of the interesting choices this week. The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book is just daring people to bet him, hoping bettors use their heart and past memories to induce a wager, but at 15 to 1, how can you not? True, he hasn't won at Talladega since 2004 which is also the last time he's won a plate race, period. Heck, he hasn't won a race of any kind in 65 races. But maybe this is the week it happens. Maybe because of current state of mind, which should be on the upswing because of sitting seventh in points, is at it's best since 2004.
The Hendrick cars were the ones to dominate following the DEI-Junior reign. From 2004 to 2007, they totaled nine wins between the team in plate races. Since then, they have been rather ordinary outside of Junior's finish this season at Daytona.
The team that has taken it up a notch like never seen before has been the Fenway-Roush program. Prior to 2007, Roush had won sparingly in plate races. Mark Martin grabbed two at Talladega with the last coming in 1997. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle each won a Firecracker at Daytona, but Jamie McMurray set off the fireworks with his fall Daytona win in 2007. The 2008 season saw several Roush cars perform well enough to win, but come up short, but last season, a Roush car took two of the four plate races including Roush's first Daytona 500 win.
The two drivers I like initially coming in are pretty much the same drivers I always like in plate races. Maybe it's because I'm biased being from Las Vegas mixed in with them actually being very good in plate races, but Kyle and Kurt Busch are who I'm looking at this week.
Kyle Busch has very nice, fair odds at 10/1 with Kurt Busch getting 15/1. It looks like Kyle Busch has his team going in the right direction and he knows what it takes to get up front, or at least make the winning move late. Kurt Busch still remains the best plate racer to not have a plate win.
Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
2) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (15/1)
3) #2 Kurt Busch (15/1)
4) #16 Carl Edwards (18/1)
5) #29 Kevin Harvick (10/1)