Friday, May 11, 2012

NASCAR Betting: Analyzing The Bojangles' Southern 500 Driver Matchups

By Frederic Crespi

With both practices in the books and only qualifying yet to go, let’s get to handicapping the matchups that the folks at Don Best ( have loaded for this Saturday Night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at the famed Darlington Raceway.

Although Regan Smith shocked the NASCAR world last year with arguably the most improbable victory since Derrike Cope in the 1990 Daytona 500, Darlington Raceway, with its unique shape and very tight racing grooves, is a true “drivers” track. The cream usually rises to the top and the matchup prices will reflect this much more so than usual.

NOTE: All driver averages and driver ratings mentioned will refer to only the LAST 7 races run at Darlington, or since NASCAR went to one race per season (2005).

NOTE #2: I will update prices if need be based upon qualifying results later this afternoon.

As usual, I will quote my prices on these matchups based upon a 30 cent line (-150 favorite = +120 underdog).

#48 Jimmie Johnson vs. #16 Greg Biffle: Looking at Darlington numbers and season numbers through the first ten races, this is a very close matchup. Johnson holds the edge in terms of average finish (11.4 vs. 14) but “The Biff” has the edge in driver rating with a 109.7 to 100.6.  The 2012 season is also very close, but Biffle has been too much of a top 5 machine not to make him a favorite in this battle.  Biffle -145 in this one.

No driver has been better recently at Darlington (Getty)
#16 Greg Biffle vs. #24 Jeff Gordon: “The Lady in Black” sure seems more like the “Lady in Teal” to Jeff Gordon and his Dupont team. Absolute domination at a track this difficult to handle is simply amazing.  Outside of last year’s 12th place finish, Gordon had amassed six straight top 5’s to the tune of an overall average of 4.14.  His driver rating of 116.7 is also very stout, but looking at 2012 results, it is still very difficult to make Gordon the favorite he deserves to be at Darlington. Biffle has just dominated statistically so far this year and is a perfect 10-0 vs. Gordon in head to head matchups so far.  Let’s knock Biffle a little lower than his price over Johnson based on Gordon’s Darlington dominance.  Biffle -140 in this one.
#24 Jeff Gordon vs. #18 Kyle Busch: Outside of three top 10’s including a win in 2008, the “Lady in Black” has not been very kind to Kyle Busch to the tune of an average finish of 17.1. Without Kyle’s current run of three straight top 10’s this year, Gordon would be at least a favorite of -150, but let’s give Kyle and his momentum some love and install the Dupont team at -140 in this one.
#18 Kyle Busch vs. #99 Carl Edwards:  This should be a very competitive matchup based upon both Darlington history and 2012 performance.  Edwards came in 2nd last year and also 2nd behind Kyle in 2008, and so far this year, Kyle has an average finish of 14 vs. Edwards’ 14.3 with very close driver ratings as well.  I like the way this No. 18 team has been running lately, so let’s install him as a slight -120 favorite in this one.  This could easily be Edwards -120 to -125 though.

#99 Carl Edwards vs. #14 Tony Stewart: “Smoke” has a slightly better overall performance at Darlington and also through the first 10 races of 2012 than Edwards.  However, outside of a 39th and 32nd place finish in the last seven, Edwards would easily have the edge at Darlington.  Stewart can be spectacular for sure, but this will be Edwards’ matchup to win.  Edwards should be installed as a favorite of -140 in this one.

#14 Tony Stewart vs. #17 Matt Kenseth:  Once again, both these drivers are very close in terms of Darlington performance, but Kenseth has been much more consistent so far in 2012. Edwards has been better than Kenseth in terms of Darlington driver rating (92.4 to 85.1), so let’s go a little lower than the previous matchup with Kenseth at -130 in this one.

#17 Matt Kenseth vs. #29 Kevin Harvick:  Even though Harvick has only one top 10 finish at Darlington in the last seven years, he is only behind Kenseth by 0.8 in driver rating. Kenseth does have the edge in 2012 performance both in average finish and driver rating, so he has to come as the favorite, and basically what he should be against Stewart, as both Stewart and Harvick are pretty dead even.  Kenseth -140 in this one.

#29 Kevin Harvick vs. #11 Denny Hamlin:  Based upon Darlington performance, Hamlin would be -180 in this matchup. His average finish of 6.5 and driver rating of 108.3 dwarf the 29 car’s numbers of 20.1 and 84.3.  This season’s results are much closer but with Hamlin holding a slight edge nonetheless.  Hamlin has been just too good at Darlington, so let’s go with the No. 11 car at -155 in this one.

#11 Denny Hamlin vs. #2 Brad Keselowski:  Yeah, okay, Keselowski has the third best average finish of 7.3 at Darlington (albeit with only three races run), but looking into his 3rd place finish last year, he did not have that good a car as evidenced by his 88.5 driver rating. Hamlin came home 6th with a rating of 104.6 and also holds the edge so far in 2012 performance. Hopefully, based upon that sexy average Darlington finish and last week’s win, the number comes a lot shorter than it should, but Hamlin should start no less than -175 in this matchup.

#2 Brad Keselowski vs. #5 Kasey Kahne:  The old Red Bull Racing boys sure as fire brought one hell of a piece for Kahne last year at Darlington.  Even though he finished a disappointing 4th, he spent each and every lap in the top 15, led the most laps, and killed it with a 135.2 rating. However, that performance sure was an aberration to that point with no Darlington finish higher than 20th the previous five years. This 2012 Hendrick team has finally turned things around (at least in terms of solid races finishes) with four straight top 10’s and they sure know how to qualify up front as well.  BK and his Miller Lite Dodge have the edge on both track and season performance, but this 5 car is coming on for sure. Keselowski as a small -125 favorite in this one.
#5 Kasey Kahne vs. 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.:  Who doesn’t love the crowd reaction at Talladega when Dale Jr. leads the field in 1st? It looks like they all collectively got the news that they won the lottery or something.  No way anyone can argue how solid this 88 team has been so far this year, as they head to Darlington with six straight top 10’s and a solid track history as well.  Based upon track and season numbers, this should be a Junior steamroll over his teammate for sure, but these two are drivers are 2-2 vs. each other the last four races. Dale Jr. and his team are dialed in for sure, but the 5 team has it going as well, so let’s go with Junior as a favorite of -145 in this one.

#88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. vs. #56 Martin Truex, Jr.:  Both on track and season long performance, these two drivers are basically bump drafting each other the whole way. Dale comes into Darlington with a 12.0 average finish compared to Martin’s 12.3 with just as close of a driver rating. Junior has gained a bigger edge in season average finish largely due to the 56 car’s most recent 25th and 28th place finishes.  This is as close as it gets in my opinion but with more recent consistency, Junior should be -130 in this matchup. 

#56 Martin Truex, Jr. vs. #55 Mark Martin:  These two Michael Waltrip teammates are also very statistically close both in terms of track and 2012 season.  However, with Martin being the only active driver to start each and every Darlington race, we know he brings that “sperience” factor with him.  Just kidding around Mr. “Epic Swag!” This matchup is a complete toss-up to me, but let’s give the 56 car the small edge as a favorite of -125 in this one. 

Great chance at odds of 20-1 or higher (Getty)
#55 Mark Martin vs. #39 Ryan Newman:  Not by very much, but Mark Martin holds a slight advantage in season performance, but remember that Martin gave way to Brian Vickers for two races and Michael Waltrip for one.  Where this matchup separates itself is in Darlington performance even though both their average finishes are very close, with 39 holding a slim 10.0 to 11.1 over the 55. However, Newman has six top 10’s and four top 5’s at Darlington over that same seven race time span giving him the edge here.  Newman is a sneaky 20-1 or higher possible race winner as well.  Let’s go with “Rocket Ryan” -145 in this one.

#39 Ryan Newman vs. #15 Clint Bowyer:  This is basically a dead even matchup based upon season performance, but taking a look at Darlington performance, you would have to think there is not enough 5-Hour Energy in the world that could make Bowyer beat Ryan Newman this Saturday night (unless there is the old 5-Hour Energy in Newman’s gas tank trick…basically a 21st century version of the banana in the tail pipe).  Ryan Newman at -180 in this matchup.

#15 Clint Bowyer vs. #51 Kurt Busch:  Now this is a much more competitive matchup on paper for sure.  Kurt has an average of 18.0 with a rating of 78.8 vs. Bowyer’s 24.5 and 73.6 rating. Both are racing for new teams this year but Bowyer surely has the advantage with MWR three car operation over the single car team of James Finch and Kurt Busch.  We know Kurt can wheel around Darlington for sure (greatest finish ever??) but this team is simply at a disadvantage.  Bowyer at -140 in this matchup.

#51 Kurt Busch vs. #1 Jamie McMurray:  This appears to be slightly closer than the previous matchup, but McMurray and his team have fared very well at Darlington over the last two years with finishes of 9th and 2nd and an overall average of 15.43 (includes a 42nd). Add that to four straight top 15 runs this season, and McMurray has to be installed as a favorite of -150 in this one. I doubt this 1 car will get this type of love though…which would be good for a solid wagering opportunity.

#1 Jamie McMurray vs. #31 Jeff Burton:  This is as dead even as it gets for a Darlington matchup as both are right on the heels of each other in both track and season performance.  Without a crazy price attached to either of these drivers, you gotta have a serious need for action betting this one.  Each driver at -115 in this one.

#48 Jimmie Johnson vs. #18 Kyle Busch:  This matchup price looks to be a little less than the one vs. Jeff Gordon.  While Johnson holds a solid 11.4 to 17.1 average Darlington finish edge, they are much closer in terms of driver rating with Johnson only holding a 1.0 advantage.  Johnson -130 in this one.

#56 Martin Truex, Jr. vs. #1 Jamie McMurray:  This matchup is not as much of a slam dunk as it looks, although based upon 2012, it sure does look like a “Chocolate Thunder” special could be in store for McMurray. But as mentioned, Jamie Mac has been very solid at taming Darlington recently, so let’s go with the 56 as a favorite of -140 in this one. (Dating myself a little with the Darryl Dawkins reference?)

#99 Carl Edwards vs. #2 Brad Keselowski:  Even though BK has the edge in average finish at Darlington, Edwards simply has more track time and has been very close to bringing home the hardware here.  This seems to me as a very similar price of Edwards vs. Stewart, so let’s go with Edwards -145 in this one.

#48 Jimmie Johnson vs. #14 Tony Stewart:  This one doesn’t get any closer if track and season numbers are any indication at all.  Average Darlington finish of 11.4 to 11.7 in favor of Johnson, and average season finish all tied up at 12.5 apiece. The Lowe’s Chevy does hold a decent driver rating edge at Darlington, so let’s give Johnson the edge to the tune of -135 in this matchup.

#29 Kevin Harvick vs. #88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Dale Jr. and his 88 team look to have a decided edge in this matchup in all track and season long statistical categories, so let’s go with Dale Jr. as a -150 favorite.

#17 Matt Kenseth vs. #5 Kasey Kahne:  Even with a three position advantage in average finish for Kenseth at Darlington, Kahne has a solid 11.6 better average driver rating. That however is largely based upon last year’s dominating performance by Kahne.  Kenseth in the -140 to -150 range in this matchup.

#18 Kyle Busch vs. #14 Tony Stewart:  This is pretty much the same matchup as Edwards over Stewart in my opinion, only slightly less, so let’s go with Kyle Busch as a favorite of -130 in this one.

Have a great and profitable race everyone!

Frederic Crespi has been in the Las Vegas sports book industry since 1994. His favorite sport to bet on is NASCAR and the prices listed above are his opinion on what the rotation matchup odds should be. His betting notes will be available weekly after the final practices.

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