|Does Denny Hamlin's great Daytona run translate well to Talladega?|
Why such a disparity? Because anyone can win with the restrictor-plates on, which means drivers like David Ragan who are normally priced at 500-to-1 as part of the field are now reduced to 75-to-1. Last spring at Talladega, Ragan was pushed to victory by Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliand. Ragan paid out at 100-to-1 odds. Then in the fall, Jamie McMurray won at 20-to-1 odds.
Because Talladega races have been such a crap shoot, it may seem like a tougher process to make the odds. But it’s actually quite the opposite.
“These plate races are pretty simple,” said Superbook manager Ed Salmons. “I could have probably just cut and pasted the odds from Daytona and been fine with it. Really, almost anyone can win, so it’s not anything like the preparation needed by us for a place like Richmond.“
The “anything is possible approach” doesn’t just apply from a bookmaking standpoint — it also applies for the bettors. Driver ratings are truer at the 32 other non-plate races, so with Talladega’s volatile nature where any driver can be wiped out unexpectedly and having up to 38 drivers being near equals, driver match-ups are played very little, which reduces the weekly handle.
“Why would you play the match-ups in these races, there’s no edge, “said Salmons. “We may see some plays from those trying to scalp prices, but not any real bets from the regulars that normally bet them.
It’s not uncommon to see a driver priced more than -200 over another in a weekly match-up, but Salmons says his highest priced pairing has Joey Logano -125 to finish better than Tony Stewart.
Throw some darts, pull numbers out of a hat or roll the dice, Talladega is a crap shoot and there is no bad bet made until it actually loses on Sunday. But Salmons is starting to wonder about one specific driver.
“I’m starting to come to the realization that Danica Patrick might not ever be good in NASCAR,” said Salmons who posted her at 75-to-1. “Even at Daytona throughout speed weeks she was nothing, and that was the one place she really showed promise at last year.”
Salmons isn't the only one having doubts. I couldn't have been more wrong when suggesting before the season that she could compete for a top-20 points finish this season. The expected progression just hasn't been there. Danica is currently 29th in points with a best finish of 14th at Fontana. She finished 40th in the Daytona 500 with her only top-10 Sprint Cup finish coming last season in the Daytona 500 (8th).
So far this season it’s been a wild ride with seven different drivers winning in the first nine races, and surprisingly, we’re still waiting for four past champions to grab their first win. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are all searching for their first trophy of 2014. Each have won at Talladega before, with Gordon doing it six times. Last season, Johnson and Kenseth combined to win 13 of the 36 races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes in as the LVH's lone favorite at 10-to-1, while nine drivers are co-second choices at 12-to-1 odds. Junior led six times for a race high 54 laps in the season-opening Daytona 500, which was his first win there since 2004. He’s won five times at Talladega over his career, and ironically, his last victory came in 2004. Is there a 2004 theme here? Maybe, but to match Gordon’s six wins on the track — most among active drivers —he’ll have to do it in a different car. The winning Daytona 500 car is on display at Daytona USA, the same process as in 2004.
A driver that should be seriously considered to win this week is Denny Hamlin at 12-to-1 odds. He’s never won a points plate-race, but he was amazing at Daytona in February where he won the Sprint Unlimited (Shootout), one of the Budweiser Duels, and then finished second in the Daytona 500. After not being as strong as the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing would have liked in the past eight races, look for the team to do all they can to recapture the speed with restrictor-plates strapped on like they had at speed weeks.
We’ll have some final Talladega notes on Saturday following all practice and qualifying sessions, even though the times mean absolutely nothing, or at least not on the scale of importance like other tracks.
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