Saturday, October 18, 2014
Talladega Practice Note: Not much gained, still a crap shoot
Of all the tracks on the Cup circuit, practice at Talladega means the least which is why 25 drivers opted not to participate in the final practice session. Normally, on a regular type of track, one not so beastly as Talladega’s wide high banked 2.66-mile layout, the final practice is where the teams have their last chance at tinkering with the race set-up until race day.
But at Talladega, the cars are basically set-up and ready to go when they leave their team shop in Charlotte. They come off the hauler ready, run a few laps to confirm the car is ready and then park it for fear of wrecking the car due to the volatile nature of the track.
All the top practice times are done while in the draft, which doesn’t give a true read to how good the car is and it’s pointless to run laps alone for qualifying because qualifying doesn’t mean anything and on race day they won’t be running laps alone by themselves. So what’s the point of even having two sessions if most of the drivers don‘t need it?
Handicapping Talladega is the hardest of any track just because the bettor really has no edge. Most of that edge coming into each race comes from little indicators witnessed in practice, but at Talladega, that all goes out the window.
Then when you factor in about 38 drivers having a chance to win because the cars are more equal with restrictor-plates on than anywhere else, it puts another snag into any betting equation. Sure, the odds offered for the top drivers are higher just because of the equality across the board, but it’s almost as difficult as picking the correct number on a roulette wheel, and it‘s almost as random.
The little edge the bettor has is by reviewing what teams have consistently run well in plate races over the past two seasons and also identify what drivers have fared the best over their careers. Some drivers just have a knack for running well in these type of races. They see the air in the draft well and know when the perfect time at each angle of the track where they can maximize their speed by using the draft.
Those drivers are a special bunch and they’re identified by having the lowest odds on the board. And for the most part, despite most cars being equal, those drivers do come through with the win. But every once in a while we get the big underdog cashing in at high odds like Brad Keselowski in 2009 when he won his first career race or David Ragan last spring. It truly is a crap shoot and there is no formula to help finalize the wagers.
The drivers at the lowest odds in Las Vegas are favored mostly because of supply and demand. The drivers who the sports books know will be bet the most are offered at the lowest odds. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the best in plate-races and has won five times at Talladega, but none since 2004. He comes in as the 10-to-1 favorite in desperation mode of having to dig deep and recreate some of those winning move from a decade ago. In all likelihood, he’ll need to win to advance to the next round of the Chase.
The most encouraging note for bettors backing Junior is that the last time he won at Daytona before this years Daytona 500 was in 2004, so at least you know the Hendrick Motorsports plate program is dialed in for success this season. This also bodes well for teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon, a six-time winner at Talladega, can coast around and stay out of trouble and make his move late when the field is smaller because of wrecks.
Johnson doesn’t have that luxury and we’re close to seeing the six-time Cup champ exit the Chase if he doesn’t get a win, or else get lots of help from contenders ahead of him wrecking. He’s won at Talladega twice before, but never in the fall when he’s usually points racing.
The drivers with the best chances at 20-to-1 odds or higher are Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer. McMurray and Bowyer are both two-time winners while Biffle will be looking for his first Talladega win. However, Biffle did lead the most laps in the spring race.
The most consistent team over the past two seasons of plate racing has been Joe Gibbs Racing, even though Denny Hamlin’s win at Talladega in May is their only victory over that span. Between Hamlin dominating Daytona speed weeks and Matt Kenseth leading the most laps last season in plate races, they have shown to have just a slight advantage over the other teams.
Good luck and may whatever formula you use to picking the winner be the right one. There really is no wrong one, at least until the race is over.
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