As the pool of NASCAR drivers in the Cup Series playoffs continues to shrink, betting fans and fantasy NASCAR players will need to look beyond the championship contenders for potential picks.
Even though the 12 drivers still in the playoffs are among the best, it’s realistic to imagine one of the other 28 cars on the track winning at some point. That’s especially true this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, where literally anything could happen – including, hypothetically, “the big one” knocking all 12 playoff drivers out of the race.
So who are the safe drivers to bet on or pick for fantasy NASCAR in the Alabama 500? According to VegasInsider.com, of the five drivers with the best odds of winning this weekend, three of them are in the playoffs, and none of them are named Martin Truex Jr.
Let’s break it down.
5. Denny Hamlin, 11-to-1 odds
(Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
As the No. 11 Toyota driver explained to FTW this week, the best way to succeed at this crazy race track is to stay near the front and hope for the best. He’s one of six drivers with one win at Talladega – which came back in 2014 – and he needs a third victory this season to lock himself into the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
Through 23 starts at the 2.66-mile track, he’s had plenty of ups and downs, but earlier this season, he qualified and finished 11th in the GEICO 500. If he can stay out of trouble, there’s a great chance he’ll be fighting for the stage wins as well as the checkered flag.
4. Joey Logano, 10-to-1 odds
If there is any driver out there who is long overdue for a win – a real win – it’s Logano. Disappointment is all over the No. 22 Ford driver’s face nowadays after missing the playoffs with his lone race win being encumbered.
But he’s ultra-competitive and enters the weekend with a Talladega streak he’d like to extend, winning this race in both 2015 and 2016. He also crashed and didn’t finish in the spring race, so he’ll likely be aggressive to make up for that.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10-to-1 odds
You can’t ever discount Dale Jr. at Talladega – a track nicknamed Earnhardt Country. He followed in his father’s footsteps winning at the track, and his six victories are the most among active drivers and second to his dad’s 10 on the all-time list. He knows how to win at this track – he once took four consecutive checkered flags – and, as NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip told FTW, Junior has “a real knack for figuring out what to do and when to do it.”
Unfortunately, the No. 88 Chevrolet driver’s most recent win at the track was in 2015, and he came in 22nd in the GEICO 500 earlier this year. He’s also not in the playoffs. But Earnhardt is hungry and doesn’t want to retire at the end of the year without one last trip to Victory Lane. Of the six race tracks left on the schedule, Junior will never have better odds to win than this weekend.
2. Kyle Busch, 9-to-1 odds
This guy is having a stellar second half to his season and an impressive yet not unexpected playoff run. He already won two playoff races in the Round of 16, and his No. 18 Toyota – along with Truex’s No. 78 Toyota – is always among the cars to beat.
Although Busch finished third in the GEICO 500 earlier this season, he only has one win at Talladega on his resume, and that was back in 2008. But his car this season is exceptionally fast, and if he can stay away from chaos and wrecks, he’ll easily be able to maintain his speed through the stages and as those 188 laps wind down.
1. Brad Keselowski, 7-to-1 odds
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
This makes perfect sense. Among active drivers, Keselowski has the second-most wins at the 2.66-mile track with four – most recently in 2016 – along with 10 career top-10 finishes.
Also, even though Keselowski’s two 2017 wins seem wildly overshadowed by Truex’s six or Busch’s four, his No. 2 Ford has been consistently fast this year. He’s earned 12 top-5 finishes this season, and nearly 60 percent of the time, he’s been in the top-10 – including this year’s spring race where he came in seventh. Get in a strong qualifying round, and there’s a great chance Keselowski is looking at his seventh Talladega win and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs’ Round of 8.
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