Talladega is one of the biggest wildcards drivers face each year.
The vicissitudes of the draft and ever-present danger of a 'Big One' crash get added to the normal hazards placed in the path of handicappers to make this an incredibly difficult track to predict. Often, we like to look at Daytona International Speedway as a comparative – and rightfully so – but there are differences between these two courses.
In some ways, Talladega is a little easier to predict than Daytona. The course is wider, which allows for a little more room for error. Those extra fractions of inches between the drivers and a little more space to pull left or right when things get dicey can mean the difference between an accident and a near-miss.
The difference also shows up in the number of first-time winners. Talladega has hosted 12 first time winners since Richard Brickhouse performed the feat in the inaugural race on this track in 1969. Only two of these came in the past five years and only four since the turn of the century.
On the other hand, Daytona has hosted 22 first timers with four in the past five years and nine since 2000. Last year, both courses had first time winners with Michael McDowell punching his ticket to the playoffs with a Daytona 500 victory and Bubba Wallace picking the right time to lead when rain shortened the YellaWood 500.
In 2021, both Talladega winners had odds greater than 10/1. Brad Keselowski was the spring winner at +1100 with Wallace posting at +3300 in the fall. And that is a trend very likely to remain in 2022. One big reason is because the race is such a crapshoot, PointsBet Sportsbook traders have been limiting the low odds to only a couple of drivers each week.
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In both races last year, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano were the favorites. Hamlin opened under 10/1 in each race. Logano was +900 in the spring and closed at +1100 in the fall. In the YellaWood 500, he was joined at 11/1 by Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.
One thing you always see written around Talladega is that nothing is predictive on the plate tracks. Driver finishes, Average Running Positions, Driver Ratings, and even the betting odds may steer you in a direction, but they are not going to predict a winner and the traders are too smart to leave you with decent odds for top-10 finishes. They know anyone with a decent amount of skill and a reliable motor will be in contention for that result until the final lap.
That doesn't necessarily mean there aren't bets to be had, however.
Wallace's win was weather-aided, but he had to be in contention to pull the upset. His time at the head of the pack was not entirely surprising because his first race on this track type in 2018 at Daytona saw him finish second in a closely fought battle with his current car owner Hamlin. It took 10 races for Wallace to earn another top-five, which also came at Daytona in summer 2020. He finished second in that same race last year before winning at Talladega.
Keselowski came one position short of sweeping Talladega's Victory Lane with a second-place finish in the fall. He was listed at +1300 for that race.
Still, bettors want to be careful on plate weekends. Over the course of the last 18 races on the big tracks, only two drivers have a top-10 percentage greater than .500 and one of them does not currently have a full-time ride. Dating back to 2017, Hamlin and Ryan Newman have 11 top-10s to bat .611.
The next closest competitors are several racers with a .388 top-10 percentage on the strength of seven such results. They are Logano, Blaney, Elliott, Chris Buescher, Aric Almirola, and Erik Jones, so that might be where you wish to concentrate your efforts.
October 2, YellaWood 500 (Round of 12, Race 2)
9: Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin
8: Kevin Harvick
6: Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
5: Aric Almirola
4: Chase Elliott
3: Ryan Blaney
2: Erik Jones, Michael McDowell, Martin Truex, Jr., William Byron
1: Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Preece, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman
Brad Keselowski: 2 top-fives; 4 lead lap finishes
Kevin Harvick: 2 top-10s; 5 lead lap finishes
Ty Dillon: 8 lead lap finishes (in 8 starts)
Chris Buescher: 4 lead lap finishes
Austin Dillon: 3 lead lap finishes
Chase Elliott: 3 lead lap finishes
Aric Almirola: 2 lead lap finishes
Christopher Bell: 2 lead lap finishes
Ryan Blaney: 2 lead lap finishes
Chase Briscoe: 2 lead lap finishes (in 2 starts)
Kyle Busch: 2 lead lap finishes
Cole Custer: 2 lead lap finishes
Corey LaJoie: 2 lead lap finishes
Michael McDowell: 2 lead lap finishes
BJ McLeod: 2 lead lap finishes
Daniel Suarez: 2 lead lap finishes
Bubba Wallace: 2 lead lap finishes
Carburetor-restricted superspeedways: Daytona [https://www.nbcsportsedge.com/edge/article/statistically-speaking/daytona-international-speedway], Talladega
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