William Byron
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NASCAR betting: Does playoff-influenced odds pricing create value on Martinsville longshots?

The oddsboard for Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) falls off a cliff, from the drivers in title contention to the also-rans. All eight drivers whose playoff hopes remain alive are priced with single-digit odds; William Byron, who has already been eliminated, is the first non-playoff driver listed, ninth on the betting board at 14-to-1 odds, despite back-to-back stand-out performances.

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway is the penultimate race of the 2021 season, narrowing the field from eight to the Championship 4 ahead of Phoenix.

RELATED: NASCAR BetCenter | Odds for Sunday’s Martinsville race

Here are odds to win Sunday’s race from four sportsbooks around the betting market (as of Friday morning):

Driver Barstool BetMGM WynnBET SuperBook
Martin Truex Jr. +400 +400 +375 +350
Denny Hamlin +600 +600 +600 +600
Kyle Larson +600 +650 +800 +800
Chase Elliott +650 +650 +650 +700
Ryan Blaney +700 +700 +700 +700
Kyle Busch +900 +900 +800 +800
Brad Keselowski +900 +800 +800 +800
Joey Logano +900 +800 +800 +800
William Byron +1400 +1400 +1400 +1400
Kevin Harvick +2500 +2500 +2800 +3000
Christopher Bell +2800 +2500 +2500 +2500
Alex Bowman +4000 +3300 +3300 +5000
Kurt Busch +4000 +4000 +4000 +5000
Tyler Reddick +5000 +6600 +6000 +10000

Sure, the eight still in the playoffs are generally the better drivers – that’s why they’re still in the hunt – but there’s another factor at play in the odds pricing: the notion that eliminated drivers will stay out of contenders’ way.

“In the Cup Series, you just don’t have non-playoff guys win,” Ed Salmons, who handles NASCAR oddsmaking duties at the influential SuperBook USA in Las Vegas, said in a text message to NASCAR.com.

Last week at Kansas Speedway, Byron finished second in Stage 1, won Stage 2, and led 57 laps along the way, but ultimately finished sixth; his title-contending Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were first and second, respectively. Two weeks ago in Texas Motor Speedway, the No. 24 came in second, again behind Larson.

“Byron has had the best car the last 2 weeks and hasn’t won,” Salmons added. “(Kevin) Harvick, who’s running much better, has finished top 5.”

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule: Kyle Busch won in the Round of 8 at Texas last year after having already been eliminated. 

Austin Dillon got into Ryan Blaney late in last weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas, hurting the No. 12’s chances of advancing to the Championship 4. 

“After what Dillon did to Blaney, it’s tough for the non-playoff guys because they don’t want to be that guy,” said Salmons.

Value on the longshots?

The bookmaker’s reasoning, though, begs the question: Do the longer-than-usual odds on out-of-contention drivers present betting value on guys like Byron, Harvick and even Christopher Bell?

Well, yes, but even for quantitative handicappers, there is a smell test to pass.

“My model does not adjust for whether or not a driver is in the playoffs,” Jim Sannes, a NASCAR betting and fantasy analyst at numberFire, said in a direct message. “…. As a result, my numbers do show some outright value on Kevin Harvick and Christopher Bell this week. However, I’m not, personally, betting those outrights. …. There is some value on the non-playoff drivers, but it’s not enough for me to bet them rather than sticking with the narratives and taking an undervalued playoff driver.”

The undervaluing of non-playoff guys, though, necessarily means at least some contenders are overvalued by the bookmakers. 

“If (a bookmaker) prices non-playoff guys at longer odds, he’s certainly making up for it by shortening the playoff contenders’ odds,” texted professional bettor Zack White.

There may be some value to be found, however, among the playoff field – the No. 22 at 10-to-1 odds at FanDuel, for example.

“(I’m) opting to ride with Joey Logano, who shows value (11.0% in my simulations versus 9.1% implied) even after the playoff bump,” Sannes said.

Marcus DiNitto is Senior News Editor at Gaming Today and has been covering sports business for more than 20 years and sports betting for about 10. NASCAR is among the many sports he bets – and typically loses – onFollow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.