NASCAR

NASCAR Betting Guide: South Point 400

Denny Hamlin doesn't have the best history in Las Vegas, but his odds are too long for someone with his current form. Which other drivers stand out as profitable bets for the South Point 400?

The pressure is going to be high this weekend for teams in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Sunday's South Point 400 is the first race of the second round. We've got 12 drivers left, and in three races, that championship field will be trimmed to eight.

With just three races in each round, every race is always huge. This round, though, is especially wonky.

Las Vegas is the only "regular" track in this round. The remaining two races are in Talladega and the Charlotte roval. Those are spots where anybody can win and punch their ticket into the round of eight, but it's far more likely they'll wind up on a wrecker instead.

If you want to give yourself more wiggle room heading into those high-chaos spots, you've gotta run well on Sunday. A win would be even better.

Which drivers could put their minds at ease by finding victory lane on Sunday? Let's check it out based on the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Denny Hamlin (+800)

Track history has value in NASCAR. Some drivers' skillsets are better suited at one track than another, and track history can help illustrate that. We shouldn't toss it out the window.

But in this instance, track history is letting us get Denny Hamlin at a much longer number than where he should be.

It's true that Hamlin's history in Las Vegas is short of dazzling. He has just two career top-fives in 17 races, and none of those top-fives have come since 2015. It's not a good track for him.

Hamlin has been mopping up overall in 2020, though, winning six total races. Importantly, two of those wins were at tracks similar to Las Vegas. He won in Homestead and Kansas, both of which are moderately banked, 1.5-mile tracks, and Las Vegas fits in that same bucket.

If Hamlin can win there, he can win here, too. And yet we're getting him fifth on the odds board for Sunday's race. That's too long for someone with as much speed as Hamlin has shown this year, so if you're not pulling the trigger on Kevin Harvick at +500 -- a number that likely undervalues his form, as well -- Hamlin is your best option among the favorites.

Alex Bowman (+3700)

It seems like Alex Bowman should be due for regression. He has just one top-10 finish in eight races at 1.5-mile tracks this year, which is superbly disappointing. He has been running much better than that number would indicate, though.

Bowman has been competitive in all eight of these races. His average running position has been 13th or better in each, and he has had a top-10 average running position four times. He just hasn't cashed that in with good finishes.

That hasn't always been Bowman's fault. In the first race in Las Vegas, Bowman was battling Ryan Blaney (+1300) for the win late. But a caution came out with a few laps left. Blaney and Bowman pitted while others stayed out, and the strategy did not work. Bowman finished 13th there despite having one of the best cars in the field.

Bowman's got speed. He just needs to put together a full race. His first career win came in Chicago, another moderately banked, 1.5-mile track, and he proved he can run up at the front here in the spring. That's enough to justify backing him at this long number.

Austin Dillon (+4400)

Pressure isn't going to crack Austin Dillon's team. In 25 regular-season races, Dillon had two top-five finishes. He matched that in the first two races of the playoffs, but we can still bet him as a semi-longshot.

Dillon's good runs came in Darlington and Richmond, two tracks that are very different from Las Vegas. But he has been good on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, too. He won in Texas thanks to some nifty pit strategy, and he has three other top-10 runs on the year.

Among the remaining playoff drivers, Dillon may be the one with the most incentive to build a point cushion on Sunday. His average finishes in Talladega and at the roval are 20.8 and 31.0, respectively. He's not going to advance based on the strength of those races, meaning he needs a good run in Vegas. We've seen this team parlay strategy into wins already this year, so finding Dillon at such a long number is certainly enticing.

Erik Jones (+5500)

The playoff drivers aren't the only ones with pressure this weekend. Erik Jones is looking for a ride in 2021, and those available options are drying up with each passing week. He needs a good run to bolster his stock in the closing months. But a good run is easily within his range of outcomes.

Jones didn't make the playoffs largely because his team was inconsistent. Upside wasn't the issue. He has seven top-fives this year -- most among non-playoff drivers -- and he grabbed two of those after the playoffs began.

Another of the top-five runs came in Kansas, one of the moderately banked, 1.5-mile tracks we've been keying in on for this weekend. He had a ninth-place average running position both there and Texas, the two most recent races at 1.5-mile tracks. He's got the upside we want when we're betting outrights.

Like Hamlin, Jones' history at Las Vegas is bloody, with more finishes outside the top 35 (two) than top-10s (one). But it's a small sample, and we've seen Jones run well at similar tracks recently. If anyone's going to spoil the fun of the playoff drivers, there's a good chance it's Jones.