|The No. 88 team is pumped about using 'Amelia' this week at Talladega Superspeedway. The chassis won twice in 2015.|
Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 10:20 am (PT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Practice 2 Qualified Daytona 500*
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 4/1 32nd 7th 3rd 36th
Series leading 960 laps led and six wins, including last spring -- using same chassis (Amelia).
2. Denny Hamlin 12/1 24th 15th 8th 1st
2014 spring winner; dominated Daytona speedweeks winning both Sprint Unlimited and 500.
3. Jimmie Johnson 15/2 39th DNP 5th 16th
Two-time winner, runner-up last spring; led 168 of 578 laps in past three Talladega starts.
4. Matt Kenseth 12/1 21st 18th 4th 14th
The 2012 fall winner is still looking for his first top-five of 2016 -- this ideal spot for him.
5. Kevin Harvick 10/1 6th DNP 29th 4th
2010 winner, 15.3 average finish; using chassis from past two Daytona races (fourth in each).
6. Carl Edwards 12/1 23rd DNP 9th 5th
No wins in 46 career plate races, but has finished fifth in past two. Riding two-race win streak.
7. Martin Truex Jr. 15/1 22nd 22nd 12th 2nd
Career-best fifth, twice, including 2015 (seventh in fall). Lost Daytona 500 by 0.01 seconds.
8. Joey Logano 12/1 8th 1st 22nd 6th
Won first two plate races of career in 2015, including fall 'Dega race. Junior won other two.
9. Kyle Busch 12/1 15th DNP 17th 3rd
Won two plates races in 2008, but none since; 21.8 average finish in 21 Talladega starts.
10. Brad Keselowski 12/1 31st 11th 7th 20th
Three-time winner using three different manufacturers. Yes, he likes this track very much.
* Results from Feb. 21, 2016 Daytona 500, the only race run this season using a restrictor-plate package like is used at Talladega.
Odds courtesy of the William Hill sports books.
Micah Roberts, a former Las Vegas sports book director, has been setting NASCAR odds since 1994. Follow him on twitter @MicahRoberts7
Dale Earnhardt Jr. always has edge at Talladega
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been runner-up three times through nine races, and despite no wins in 2016, he's got the fattest resume of any candidate to win Sunday's Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway which is why William Hill sports books have him as the 4-to-1 favorite. Only one other driver, Jimmie Johnson (+750), has odds posted in single digits.
Junior has a series leading six wins and 960 laps led in 32 Talladega starts. His father won a track record 10 times. From the moment (2000) the Intimidator's son stepped into a Cup car on the 2.66-mile monsterous layout, he's been one of the best at manuevering through the draft. It's in his blood. No one in the series got the type of teachings on how to work the air like he got from his father.
Those skills have helped him win three of the past nine restrictor-plate races. Another factor is that he has lots of friends on the track. He's respected by his collegaues and everyone wants the chance to follow him knowing he's going to get towards the front. They all want to beat him, but they know they have a better chance for success by hanging around the top of the food chain, kind of like the remora fish swimming with sharks.
What's amazing about him being such a big favorite for this race is that up to 35 drivers can win as opposed to only about 10 in the 32 races on other type of tracks. This is why the likes of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, who have combined to win the past four races on the schedule, are each at 12-to-1 odds. Talladega is volatile with more random wrecks wiping out unsuspecting drivers, which makes the ratings less true, with the exception of Earnhardt Jr.
Junior using 'Amelia'
When a team names a car, you know they're pretty happy with it and the No. 88 team beams with confidence anytime the chassis they're using this week comes off the hauler. Earnhardt Jr. drove "Amelia', named after trailblazing pilot Amelia Earhart, to two victories last season -- at Talladega in May and Daytona in July -- and she also won in the first Daytona Duel qualifying race in February. With no major changes to how the plate package runs since the start of the 2014 season, it's another reason to make Junior such a big favorite this week.
Hamlin offers best value
It's bizarre to see the sports books once again offer large odds on Denny Hamlin after he dominated Daytona speedweeks, when he won the Sprint Unlimited and Daytona 500 at 15-to-1 odds each. He's at 12-to-1 this week lumped next to several drivers that simply don't measure up to his plate racing statistics. In nine plate races since the beginning of 2014, he has a series-best ninth-place average finish with five top-fives and two wins. Junior has a 12.7 average over same span, if that gives any indication to how consistent the No. 11 has been. Should he win, it would be five straight wins for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Best long shot
Jamie McMurray has won seven races over his career and four of them came in plate races. He last won at Talladega in the fall of 2013 and has the ability and a good enough car to be right up front in the lead pack as the last lap comes around. At 40-to-1 odds with so many cars being almost equal, that's all you can for in this type of racing.
Stay away from driver match-ups
You may look at all the driver match-ups this week and wonder why there are no huge favorites like in the 32 other non-plate races, and it all stems from the randomness of plate racing. Driver ratings don't hold true like elsewhere. Practices are also meaningless, which is why a few drivers don't even bother running a lap in 'happy hour'. The best bet is to reduce your normal wagering bankroll by 40 percent and take your shot at a couple of drivers to win.
Start position surprisingly important at Talladega
It's been 17 races since the pole winner won a Talladega race and its happened only once (Jeff Gordon, 2007) in the past 35. Overall, 13 of the 93 winners have started on the pole. Chase Elliott (20/1) in the No. 24 will start from the front Sunday -- also on pole for Daytona 500. The No. 2 start position has been the most successful with 20 wins, or a 36 percent success rate which is very strong for just one slot among 40-plus positions. Austin Dillon (30/1) starts second and is a good long shot candidate. Despite being able to move through the field quickly on a single lap, only eight drivers (8.6%) have won from outside a top-20 starting position.