Three NASCAR Prop Bets for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jimmie Johnson
One of the shortest, loudest, and most popular tracks on the NASCAR circuit, Bristol Motor Speedway is a venue unto itself. With its steep banking, concrete surface, two pit roads, and surround seating, Bristol is unlike all other tracks.
As a result, in addition to all the standard metrics we normally consult . . .
- Projected finishing position
- Starting position
- Short- and long-run practice times
- Year-to-date performance
- Short-track history
. . . track-specific history is important this week: How drivers have performed at Bristol in the past is predictive of how they are likely to do at the Food City 500.
Because of its steep banking in particular, Bristol is a high-variance track. It’s not as random as the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but cars at Bristol go faster than they ordinarily do at other tracks of similar size and length, so we should expect to see an elevated degree of randomness in the race. With that in mind, the drivers I’m highlighting are those with significant plus odds.
Per usual, I rely on the machine learning statistical models and similarity scores at RotoViz. For more on the race, check out the podcast I recorded this week with Nick Giffen (RotoDoc).
Jimmie Johnson (+180) over Chase Elliott (-240)
Elliott is in fine recent form with three top-12 finishes in his past six races, and he had the second- and fourth-fastest single- and 10-lap averages in final practice — but Bristol is its own beast, and no one over the past four years has a better average finishing position at the track than Johnson (8.0). He won this same Bristol race last spring, and in his past eight races at the track he has four top-four and six top-12 finishes. Elliott has the highest projected finishing position in the RotoViz model (10.5), but Johnson is close behind him in third (10.95), and he actually has the higher median sim score (11.5 vs. 12.5). Given their similar projections and starting positions (Elliott starts 16th; Johnson, 17th), it’s probably sharp to take one of the best Bristol drivers in the world at massively positive odds.
Kurt Busch (+160) over Ryan Blaney (-195)
Blaney is off to a smoking start to the season. Including the preseason races at Daytona (The Clash and Duels), Blaney has eight top-12 finishes in his nine events this year. In his five most-recent races, he has he three top-five finishes. The dude right now is straight gasoline — but Bristol hasn’t been a strong track for him over the past four years. Although on average he has started at Bristol at 10.6, his finishing position is 22.2, and his 77.9 driver rating, 18.0 running position, and 66.4 quality pass percentage are unexceptional. Busch hasn’t been great at Bristol, but he’s been better than Blaney, starting at 16.3 and finishing at 16.7 with an 89.7 driver rating, 14.0 running position, and 69.7 quality pass percentage. Kurt has the superior median sim score (6.5 vs. 8.5) and projected finishing position (13.56 vs. 15.42), and he has the edge in starting position (second vs. fifth) as well as final-practice 10-lap speed (second vs. ninth).
Austin Dillon (+170) over Alex Bowman (-215)
I’m going deep for this one. Bowman and Dillon are similar in that this year they have the circuit’s 10th- and 11th-highest finishing positions (13.5 and 13.8), but Dillon has actually won a 2018 race (Daytona), while Bowman is yet to finish higher than seventh. On top of that, Dillon has the clear edge at Bristol: Although Bowman has more advantageous starting position (eighth vs. 21st), Dillon had superior final-practice single- and 10-lap speed (17 vs. 19; 15 vs. 21), and over the last eight Bristol races he has the better finishing position (17.5 vs. 26.0), driver rating (71.9 vs. 50.2), running position (18.0 vs. 28.5), and quality pass percentage (44.4 vs. 0.0). That’s right: Bowman has a 0.0% quality passing rate at Bristol. Put gently, that’s not good. In the RotoViz models, Dillon has a projected finish of 14.23; Bowman, 19.97. That difference might not seem like much, but at a random race like this one that delta is enormous.
Pictured above: Jimmie Johnson