No matter how many times you flip a coin, the odds of it coming up heads on a given toss is 50 percent. The odds of picking an outright winner this week are not much better.
We have seen top odds posted in the +200 range a few times in the past year. Often they are saved for someone like Chase Elliott on a road course or Kevin Harvick at Phoenix Raceway. This week, the heavy favorite will be Kyle Larson at +250. The only problem with this enthusiastic line is that Larson will not be alone on the track.
There is a reason that most dirt track series limit fields to somewhere in the 20s. There will be a lot of carnage over the course of 250 laps. If you can find a Prop Bet that predicts an over/under on caution laps, aim high because the Food City Dirt Race could easily spend more than a quarter of its time under yellow.
The field won’t be circling as fast as they would on the paved track, but there will be heavy traffic throughout the race. And as tough as these cars are, they are not indestructible. Larson’s odds of surviving are certainly better than if he was on an aero-restricted superspeedway – but not by a wide margin enough margin to gamble on such an unprofitable line .
Under normal circumstances, Larson and Christopher Bell would be the class of the field. The circumstances this week will not be standard.
In our estimation, Bell (+625) has just as good a chance to win the Food City Dirt Race as Larson. Both Larson and Bell will be in equal equipment. Both drivers have the same risk of damage by a driver with less dirt experience anytime they get shuffled back in traffic because of pit stop strategy. Both return to their roots often enough to not get rusty. But since Bell’s odds are notably higher, so there is a much greater upside to starting him.
These two drivers have raced head-to-head many times as they pay their respect to regular dirt track stars. Perhaps the most epic of these came this January in the Chili Bowl Nationals. Gunning for a fourth victory in the last five editions of the Midget classic, Bell pushed too hard and wrecked. He was forced to run that hard because Larson was setting such a blistering pace, but it’s worth the gamble that Bell learned a very valuable lesson that night which will pay huge dividends on Sunday.
Best Bets for a top five
Larson (+250) has more going for him than simply his dirt track prowess. He has momentum on his side with a victory in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and was the driver to beat for most of the QuikTrip 500 last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. While it is unlikely that anyone will get on the kind of roll that Harvick experienced last year, we will not be surprised to see Larson win at least five times before the season is out.
Momentum and skill on a track type is a great combination and there is no way he should not be the oddsmakers’ favorite. He’s not going to be ours this week, however. In the Truck series at Eldora Speedway, he’s shown that the best driver and fastest vehicle doesn’t always win, so we want a slightly better Return on Investment (ROI) for our top pick.
Longshot: It wasn’t that long ago that Chase Briscoe (+1200) was regularly racing on dirt. He joined the Truck series in 2017 and then ran a partial schedule in Xfinity in 2018 before going full time in 2019/2020. His rapid ascension means that car owner Tony Stewart – a great dirt track racer in his own right – sees something special in the kid. We would like to see more wins in the dirt track series that he’s run, but a Briscoe bet will be backed by determination. If he can sniff the lead in the closing laps, he will be more than willing to turn the driver in front of him for a chance to make the playoffs in his rookie season.
One tends to forget how often Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2000) returns to his roots. He cut his teeth on dirt tracks throughout the Deep South and has the aggression and skill to gouge his way to the front. Just as aero-restricted superspeedways and road courses are considered ‘opportunity races’, the drivers with dirt under their nails believe this is their best chance to win a race. That attitude will be both a strength and weakness. It’s going to be hard to predict who will step over the line.
Austin Dillon (+1100) was one of the dirt track ringers whenever the all-stars would head to Eldora for the Prelude to the Dream. In 2012, he finished third in that race. The next year, he won the Truck race on that same track. Dillon has enough laps in a Dirt Modified to be comfortable on the surface. Dillon does not have anything to prove at the moment. He is still basking in last year’s win on a 1.5-mile track and a strong showing in the early part of the 2020 playoffs. But this is one of his best opportunities to make the playoffs again, and he won’t want to waste it.
Best Bets for a top 10
Longshot: Spire Motorsports has done it before. Justin Haley pulled the winning ball out of the 2019 Coke Zero lottery sluice. Since he was not a full time driver, Haley did not make the playoffs. The team expects lightning to strike twice with Stewart Friesen (+1400). The Northeast Big Block Modified driver earned his first Truck win at Eldora in 2019 – and he came close on a few other occasions. He followed that up with another win on the slippery 1-mile flat track of Phoenix.
While it will be covered in dirt, underneath it’s still Bristol, baby. With very limited stats in equal equipment, it is impossible to compare someone like Kyle Busch (+1800) to Larson or Bell. The driver of the No. 18 returns to lower-division short track races a lot – on asphalt. His experience on dirt is minimal. He is one of the most adaptable drivers in the field, however, and if he can keep from tearing up his equipment early, Busch will figure out how to get through the corners.
Longshot: No risk, no reward. Brad Keselowski (+5000) is liable to be a fish out of water this week, but he deserves a modest wager because of just how strong he is on short tracks. Kez won last year’s Food City 500 on the paved track. He lost his power steering in the fall race and finished 34th, but that is the only time in his last eight attempts on courses less than a mile in length that he failed to crack the top five. He’s way down the odds’ ranking this week, so a $10 bet will net you $500 if he can stay out of trouble and somehow find a way to win.
Like Busch, Denny Hamlin (+3000) spends a lot of time racing short tracks. The car control is different on dirt versus asphalt, but the attitude is the same. A driver simply can’t allow himself to be rooted out of the way. Hamlin protects his position on course better than many in the field. That will put him in a position to challenge in the final stage of the race.
Longshot: Ty Dillon (+6000) is another longshot with a big upside. Like his older brother, Dillon has a lot of experience on dirt. Unlike Austin, Ty does have a lot to prove as he mostly sits out the 2021 Cup season because of limited opportunities. The best way to get noticed by sponsors and potential owners is in Victory Lane.
Harvick (+3300) has made no secret of the fact that he is not looking forward to racing on dirt. Attitude matters and a bad one on a dirt track is liable to get you wrecked.
We won’t be surprised to see Chase Elliott (+1800) finish in the top 10, but since he has absolutely no momentum on his side, it seemed prudent to elevate some high-return longshots this week over the usual suspects.
Just because his uncle Dale Blaney is one of the greatest dirt track drivers in the history of the sport doesn’t mean it’s in Ryan Blaney’s (+2000) DNA. Wait for another unrestricted, intermediate speedway before wagering on the No. 12.
If Joey Logano (+3500) wins this week he will cover a year’s worth of wages. We wouldn't want to bet on it, however.
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