NASCAR Betting Guide: Dixie Vodka 400

If you love longshots, the first two weeks of the NASCAR Cup Series season have been a blessing.

We don't often see big-time darkhorses pull through in NASCAR's highest rank. But Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell both got the checkered flag at longer than +5000, so if you had a ticket, you're playing with house money the next few months.

This week is a different animal.

The Cup Series is in Homestead, a 1.5-mile track where speed is paramount. We did see a couple longshots win at 1.5-milers last year, but for the most part, this is where the big teams thrive. That plays a role in how we bet the race.

You can still justify taking swipes at longshots, as evidenced by the Austin Dillon and Cole Custer wins in 2020. For the most part, though, this is picking your spots on drivers in elite equipment and digging into alternative markets for the non-favorites.

With that in mind, let's run through what stands out to me based on the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Denny Hamlin to Win (+500)

I'm not usually inclined to lay a number as short as this unless it's for Chase Elliott or Martin Truex Jr. on a road course. But this number on Denny Hamlin is actually a bit longer than it could be.

Hamlin has the best projected average finish in my simulations by 0.99 positions over second place. Drivers with similar rankings in the model since the start of 2019 have won 18.4% of the time, and the simulations have Hamlin doing so 16.0% of the time. That latter number is technically below his implied win odds of 16.7%, but I'm actually okay eating that lost value.

The main reason is that Hamlin was electric on the flatter 1.5-mile tracks last year (the category in which Homestead falls). Across six races, Hamlin had two wins (one of which was in Homestead) and a third-place finish in which he led 121 of 267 laps. He was dominant in these spots, and there's no reason to think that'll change this year.

This is Hamlin's age-40 season, and drivers typically hit their peak at age 39. These are Hamlin's most productive years, and he's with a team that will give him the ponies to compete. In this spot, I'm good betting him at +500.

Ryan Blaney to Win (+1400)

In discussing Hamlin, we looked at how he performed on the flatter 1.5-mile tracks. Ryan Blaney didn't win any of those six races, but he was in the mix time after time.

Here are Blaney's average running positions last year at tracks like Homestead: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, and 8th. Pretty snazzy. That third-place mark came when he led 70 laps and finished third right here in Homestead.

The problem with Blaney goes back to the opening statement here: he didn't win any of them. Blaney has won just four times in his Cup Series career, and none of them have come at a 1.5-mile track. Something has consistently happened to prevent him from capitalizing on quality runs, and at some point, that has to matter.

It's a fair argument to make, but that's also likely why we can still get Blaney at +1400 despite his blazing speed. My model accounts for that as he ranks fourth in it straight up but is just sixth in win odds. Even with that, his 10.2% win odds there are a healthy amount better than his implied odds of 6.7%. It can be frustrating to bet someone who comes up short so often, but Blaney's due for progression soon. Once it does happen, you can kiss +1400 on tracks like this goodbye.

Matt DiBenedetto to Finish Top 10 (+230)

There were some big bumps for Matt DiBenedetto in his first year with Wood Brothers Racing. He struggled over the summer, and it nearly cost him a playoff spot. Now he knows he needs to earn a new ride for next season.

The big bright spot for DiBenedetto last year was on tracks like this, and it could help him build his case for getting a promotion in 2022.

Across 36 races, DiBenedetto had three top-five finishes. All of them came on flatter 1.5-mile tracks. He finished on the podium in both Las Vegas races and in Kentucky, giving him a 50% top-five rate. We can get him at +230 just to finish in the top 10.

If we expand the sample to look at other 1.5-mile tracks, you can understand why the number is longer. In 11 total races at 1.5-milers, DiBenedetto had four top-10s, a 36.4% clip. His implied odds here are 30.3%, and he does have to start 37th, so you see where this number is coming from.

But passing doesn't figure to be an impediment at a track with so many viable grooves, and DiBenedetto has plenty of time to work his way through the pack. You can consider him in more aggressive markets (+6600 to win or +1600 to finish top three), but the value and flexibility combo in this market is hard to pass up.

Chase Briscoe to Finish Top 10 (+250)

We haven't seen Chase Briscoe on a track like this in the Cup Series yet. But his equipment and his record on these tracks in the Xfinity Series make him an easy buy.

Briscoe's driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, which means he'll have plenty of speed. As mentioned, Custer won in Kentucky last year and was seventh in the first Kansas race. Fellow teammate Aric Almirola notched top-10s in Kentucky, Kansas, and Homestead, justifying all the finishes by recording a top-10 average running position in each, as well. The speed isn't a concern.

The talent on these tracks shouldn't be, either. The Xfinity Series ran eight races at flatter 1.5-mile tracks last year. Briscoe won half of them -- including one in Homestead -- and was second in another. Similar to DiBenedetto, Briscoe will have to work his way forward from the back of the pack, but with his combo of skills and equipment, that's not a big enough concern to keep us away.

Aric Almirola to Win Group 3 (+370)

As mentioned with Briscoe, Almirola had an impressive run here last year. He turned a ninth-place average running position into a fifth-place finish, justifying his inclusion in a pretty solid group for this week.

DriverOdds to Win Group Three
Christopher Bell+320
Kurt Busch+320
William Byron+320
Aric Almirola+370
Austin Dillon+370

Those drivers, coincidentally, are the exact group ranked 11th through 15th in my model. Almirola is the guy in 12th, trailing just Kurt Busch. So, why back Almirola? It all comes down to his performance on this track type.

This group of drivers combined for six top-10 average running positions on the 1.5-mile tracks. Almirola had half of those, including the best mark of the bunch when he led 128 laps in Kentucky. William Byron was the only other guy to have a pair of top-10 average running positions, and Busch did so just once. That puts Almirola ahead of that group.

The biggest contender for him to deal with is Bell, who is likely to have better speed under the hood than Almirola. But there's more volatility in Bell's profile, and that won't go away as he slides into better equipment. This makes Bell the better outright bet between the two, but if we can lean on floor and safety over upside in a group bet, then Almirola is the guy who grades out the best.