Saturday, March 5, 2011

NASCAR In Vegas Usually Won By The Favorites, But Here's a Few Who Could Pay Large

Kenseth has a fast car and nice odds in the Vegas sports books
One of the most unique things about NASCAR in Las Vegas is being able to legally bet the races, something the thousands of fans who annually flock to the city have become adept at during 13 years of Sprint Cup racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The goal for most is to bet a little to win a lot. Unfortunately, that strategy has rarely paid off because the favorite almost always wins.
Regardless of configuration -- whether it's the relatively flat track the speedway was when it opened or the faster, banked track of the past four races, the speedway has been one of NASCAR's more predictable tracks outside of Martinsville.
In the last six Cup races in Las Vegas, the winning driver has paid out at odds of 7-1 or less -- not the big-bang return on investment NASCAR bettors are seeking. What they want is Trevor Bayne-Daytona 500 type of payouts at 50-1 or higher.
Again this year, it will be difficult to make a case for any driver not named Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon or Carl Edwards. All are listed at 10-1 or less.
But, heck, this is Las Vegas, so let's gamble a little:
■ Kevin Harvick (12-1): The first thing that stands out is how well Harvick raced on all 1.5-mile tracks last year. Of those 10 races, he was one of two drivers to finish in the top 11 at least eight times, including a runner-up finish in Las Vegas. Harvick is an attractive wager also because he brought his third-place chassis from last year's season finale at Homestead. Many of the teams are bringing new cars, and there is a sense of uncertainty until seeing them run for the first time. Unlike some of the others, we know Harvick's car is already stout.
■ Matt Kenseth (18-1): He finished 13th or better in nine of 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2010, including runner-up finishes at Charlotte and Texas. He brought a new car this week, but after finishing fastest in Friday's practice and then winning the pole, there isn't much debate about whether he'll do well Sunday.
■ Greg Biffle (22-1): The overall resurgence of the Roush program began with Biffle at Indianapolis last year and carried throughout the season, in which he compiled two wins, just as Edwards did. Biffle's 12.9-average finish in Cup races in Las Vegas adds to a nice resume that includes victories here in the Nationwide and Truck series.
■ Clint Bowyer (25-1): Bowyer is bringing a race-proven chassis this week, one that finished second in the fall at Fontana and later took seventh at Texas.
■ Jamie McMurray (25-1): It would have been a slam dunk in betting on McMurray had he brought his winning chassis from the fall Charlotte race, a track perhaps most similar to Vegas, but he didn't. But the combination of an Earnhardt-Childress Racing engine under the hood -- like Harvick and Bowyer have -- and a knack for winning big races makes McMurray the ultimate wild card.
Incidentally, Kyle Busch and Johnson finished second and third, respectively, behind McMurray in that Charlotte race, and they brought those same cars.
A final note: A great tool to complete your betting strategy for Sunday is to closely follow today's final practice session. It's not necessarily about who has the fastest single lap time, but who can sustain high speeds over the duration of 10- or 20-lap runs.
In Sunday's Review-Journal, we'll have our weekly top-10 driver ratings that will be based partly on today's practice.
Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more of Roberts' insights and postpractice analysis on the race, go to

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