Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Joey Logano
- The NASCAR season starts with the Daytona 500 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX).
- Matthew Freedman gives his 20 favorite season-long driver matchup prop bets for the 2019 season.
Each day, I publish at least one quick-n’-dirty piece highlighting a favorite prop of mine. See my master list of 2019 prop bets for more information.
Also follow me in The Action Network app, where each day I post additional, official player prop picks: Today we have a massive 12-game NHL slate to bet on.
2019 Year-to-Date Record
104-79-8, +26.63 Units
- NFL: 21-13-0, +11.72 Units
- NBA: 42-33-2, +5.30 Units
- NHL: 31-28-5, +6.22 Units
- Golf: 3-3-1, +0.50 Units
- NASCAR: 2-1-0. +1.25 Units
- NCAAF: 0-1-0. -1.00 Units
- Exotics: 5-0-0. +2.64 Units
Freedman’s 20 Favorite 2019 NASCAR Driver Matchups: Season Points & Wins
The start of the NASCAR regular season is upon us with the upcoming Daytona 500 (Feb. 17, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX).
Some sportsbooks have released driver matchups for the entire 2019 season. For instance, we can now bet on how Kevin Harvick will do compared to Kyle Busch in the categories of season points and season wins.
Using the RotoViz NASCAR Splits App and five years of data, I’ve backtested how driver point and win totals from one season correlate with a number of statistics from the previous campaign.
- Driver rating
- Running position
- Starting position
- Finishing position
- Quality pass percentage
- Laps led percentage
- Fastest laps percentage
- DraftKings points
While all of these factors have had greater than a 0.50 correlation with following year performance, in weighted combinations they have proved even more predictive.
Historically, a combination of driver rating, quality pass percentage and DraftKings points has had more than a 0.80 correlation with driver points for the next year.
Similarly, a combination of driver rating, laps led percentage and fastest laps percentage has had a correlation in excess of 0.80 with following season driver wins.
In looking at 2019 driver matchups, I’ve relied heavily on the eight stats mentioned above.
Of course all of this comes with a caveat: I have my mathematical models, but for 2019, NASCAR is introducing some new aerodynamic packages, which could drastically impact the way that cars race. It’s possible that last year’s data will be far less predictive of this year’s performance than we otherwise would expect.
Even so, I’ve tried to account for more randomness and unknowns when analyzing these matchups, which are listed in no particular order.
Let’s get to it.
Kurt Busch vs. Denny Hamlin: Season Points
- Kurt Busch: +115
- Denny Hamlin: -145
After a half decade with Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch has moved to Chip Ganassi Racing on a one-year deal for what seems likely to be his final full-time season.
With the move, Busch has likely taken a step down in the quality of team and equipment, but throughout his career, regardless of what team he’s been on or what car he’s driven, Busch has always produced.
He has only six wins over the past five years, but he consistently competes. In 36 races last year, he had 22 top-10 finishes.
Hamlin is still with one of NASCAR’s top teams in Joe Gibbs Racing, but Busch’s transition doesn’t change the fact that since 2013 (when NASCAR introduced the Generation 6 car), Busch has easily been the better driver, ranking fourth with a 97.1 driver rating while Hamlin has ranked 10th with his 93.6 mark.
Last year, Hamlin had more top-five finishes (10 vs. 6), but Busch was still the superior driver.
- Driver rating: 98.4 (4th) vs. 91.4 (11th)
- Quality pass percentage: 66.4 (3rd) vs. 59.3 (9th)
- DraftKings points: 39.32 (8th) vs. 37.47 (12th)
In 2018, Busch was seventh with 2,350 driver points; Hamlin, 11th with 2,285.
I’d bet Busch to +105.
The Pick: Busch (+115)
NOTE: I freely admit that my knowledge of NASCAR is limited. Almost all I know about motor sports I’ve learned from Nick Giffen, who has a great piece on his five favorite season-long 2019 NASCAR bets. In this particular driver matchup, he prefers Hamlin. Given that he’s the expert, I won’t blame you if you ignore me and follow Nick’s guidance. Click below to see the rest of Nick’s best bets.
Kurt Busch vs. Jimmie Johnson: Season Points
- Kurt Busch: +110
- Jimmie Johnson: -140
Johnson already has a win this year thanks to his controversial victory last Sunday, but the Clash at Daytona is just a chaos-filled exhibition race, and Johnson was outright bad in 2018, failing to get a win for the first season of his career and finishing in the top five just twice.
And now Johnson is without his longtime crew chief Chad Knaus.
Last year, Busch had the the edge on Johnson in all eight of the aforementioned stats, and he easily had more driver points.
- Kurt Busch: 2,350 (7th)
- Jimmie Johnson: 2,242 (14th)
Busch is with a new team, but Johnson also finds himself in new circumstances without Knaus, and Busch is probably the better driver at this point in their careers.
I’d bet Busch to +100.
The Pick: Busch (+110)
Denny Hamlin vs. Jimmy Johnson: Season Wins
- Denny Hamlin: -115
- Jimmie Johnson: -115
Neither Hamlin nor Johnson won a race last year, but Hamlin had 10 top-five finishes while Johnson had just two.
The extent to which Hamlin outraced Johnson in 2018 is apparent.
- Driver rating: 91.4 (11th) vs. 78.5 (14th)
- Laps led percentage: 3.7 (10th) vs. 0.5 (19th)
- Fastest laps percentage: 3.6 (7th) vs. 1.5 (17th)
Of the two, Hamlin seems much likelier to win a race this year.
I’d bet Hamlin down to -130.
The Pick: Hamlin (-115)
Kurt Busch vs. Ryan Blaney: Season Wins
- Kurt Busch: +115
- Ryan Blaney: -145
I understand why Blaney is favored.
He’s with the superior Team Penske. He had more top-five finishes last year (8 vs. 6). He also led a higher percentage of laps (7.7% vs. 7.3%).
But they tied with just one win each, and Busch overall had the better numbers.
- Driver rating: 98.4 (4th) vs. 94.3 (8th)
- Fastest laps percentage: 4.3 (6th) vs. 3.5 (10th)
- Running position: 9.8 (3rd) vs. 10.7 (7th)
Most likely, this bet will end in a push, but I give the edge to Busch, whom I’d bet to +100.
The Pick: Busch (+115)
Ryan Blaney vs. Kyle Larson: Season Points
- Ryan Blaney: +110
- Kyle Larson: -140
I think this bet is basically a coin flip. Larson had a notable edge last year in some key stats.
- Driver rating: 95.7 (7th) vs. 94.3 (8th)
- DraftKings points: 45.75 (4th) vs. 33.14 (13th)
But Blaney had a couple edges of his own.
- Running position: 10.7 (8th) vs. 11.8 (10th)
- Quality pass percentage: 61.7 (8th) vs. 56.6 (12th)
And their point totals were almost identical.
- Ryan Blaney: 2,298 (10th)
- Kyle Larson: 2,299 (9th)
Given how even I think they are, I’ll take Blaney at plus odds, down to +105.
The Pick: Blaney (+110)
Ryan Blaney vs. Chase Elliott: Season Wins
- Ryan Blaney: +115
- Chase Elliott: -145
Last year, Elliott had more wins (3 vs. 1) and top-five finishes (11 vs. 8), so it’s easy to prefer Elliott.
But when it comes to race-winning metrics, Blaney is hardly Elliott’s inferior.
- Driver rating: 94.3 (8th) vs. 94.2 (9th)
- Laps led percentage: 7.7 (4th) vs. 4.3 (9th)
- Fastest laps percentage: 3.5 (10th) vs. 3.5 (9th)
Elliott is widely considered the better driver, but Blaney offers value at plus money.
I’d bet Blaney to +105.
The Pick: Blaney (+115)
Martin Truex Jr. vs. Chase Elliott: Season Points
- Martin Truex Jr.: -115
- Chase Elliott: -115
Not to seem like an anti-Elliott analyst, but this line is an insult to Truex, who led all of NASCAR in 2017 with 5,040 points and was second last year with 5,035.
Truex had 20 top-five finishes to Elliott’s 11, and he outclassed him in almost every category, often significantly.
- Driver rating: 100.6 (3rd) vs. 94.0 (9th)
- DraftKings points: 49.14 (3rd) vs. 37.39 (11th)
The son of a former NASCAR champion, Elliott is a strong driver with a bright future.
But Truex has been one of the best drivers in NASCAR over the past two years.
I’d bet Truex all the way down to -145.
The Pick: Truex (-115)
Joey Logano vs. Chase Elliott: Season Wins
- Joey Logano: +100
- Chase Elliott: -130
For crying out loud, this is ridiculous.
Logano is the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion. It’s as if bookmakers are expecting Elliott to do to NASCAR this year what Patrick Mahomes did to the NFL last year.
Logano and Elliott both won three 2018 races, so they are theoretically on equal footing, but under no scenario should Logano be a dog here.
Last year Logano had more top-five finishes (13 vs. 11) and also top-10 finishes (26 vs. 21).
He has the edge on Elliott in a couple of key race-winning categories.
- Driver rating: 97.3 (6th) vs. 94.2 (9th)
- Laps led percentage: 7.5 (5th) vs. 4.3 (9th)
In Elliott’s three full seasons, he’s won three races. In his six years with Team Penske, Logano has won 19.
I’d bet Logano down to -130.
The Pick: Logano (+100)
Martin Truex Jr. vs. Kyle Busch: Season Points
- Martin Truex Jr.: +115
- Kyle Busch: -145
Busch won a NASCAR-high eight races last year and has finished top-four in points in each of the past four years.
- 2018: 5,033 (4th)
- 2017: 5,035 (2nd)
- 2016: 5,035 (3rd)
- 2015: 5,043 (1st)
And last year he outproduced Truex in every metric.
But Truex was top-three last year with his 100.9 driver rating, and over the past two years he’s been the best points racer in NASCAR.
- 2018: 5,035 (2nd)
- 2017: 5,040 (1st)
Busch is probably the better overall racer, but Truex’s +115 odds give him a 46.5% implied probability of finishing with the greater point total, whereas I think his true odds are closer to 50%.
But I should say that this is more of a gut call than a numbers-based decision.
And I wouldn’t bet Truex at any odds less than +115.
The Pick: Truex (+115)
Martin Truex Jr. vs. Kyle Busch: Season Wins
- Martin Truex Jr.: +165
- Kyle Busch: -205
I guess I’m all in on Truex over Busch.
As previously mentioned, Busch had the better numbers last year, and he won a NASCAR-high eight races.
But over the past two years, Busch and Truex have respectively led NASCAR with 13 and 12 wins. And over the past three years, they are first and second with 17 and 16 wins.
In recent memory, they have basically been neck and neck.
Entering his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex has never been in a better situation. And given that Busch is also with Joe Gibbs, any significant technological edge he might have had over Truex in the past is now gone.
Busch deserves to be favored, but +165 for Truex is just too much value for a guy who has been only marginally less dominant.
I’d bet Truex down to +150.
The Pick: Truex (+165)
Joey Logano vs. Brad Keselowski: Season Points
- Joey Logano: +100
- Brad Keselowski: -130
In their six years together as teammates on Team Penske, Logano has finished ahead of Keselowski in the points standings five times.
- 2018: Logano – 5,040 (1st), Keselowski – 2,343 (8th)
- 2017: Keselowski – 5,030 (4th), Logano – 930 (17th)
- 2016: Logano – 5,037 (2nd), Keselowski – 2,267 (12th)
- 2015: Logano – 2,360 (6th), Keselowski – 2,347 (7th)
- 2014: Logano – 5,028 (4th), Keselowski – 2,361 (5th)
- 2013: Logano – 2,323 (8th), Keselowski – 1,041 (14th)
Last year, Keselowski had some slight edges.
- Driver rating: 97.6 (5th) vs. 97.3 (6th)
- Quality pass percentage: 64.0 (5th) vs. 62.5 (7th)
But Logano was the superior fantasy driver.
- DraftKings points: 43.06 (5th) vs. 39.62 (6th)
And he’s the reigning points champion.
Given how consistent Logano is — last year he had 26 top-10 finishes to Keselowski’s 20 — I like Logano once again to finish with more points.
I’d bet him to -115.
The Pick: Logano (+100)
Joey Logano vs. Brad Keselowski: Season Wins
- Joey Logano: +100
- Brad Keselowski: -130
Keselowski is more of a boom/bust racer, so he naturally seems like the guy likelier to get more wins, but last year they tied with three each.
And in their six years as teammates, Logano has had the slight edge with 19 wins to Keselowski’s 18.
I think Logano has slightly better than a 50% chance of winning the bet, so I’ll take him at plus odds, but I wouldn’t bet him any lower.
The Pick: Logano (+100)
Denny Hamlin vs. Aric Almirola: Season Points
- Denny Hamlin: +115
- Aric Almirola: -145 (+105 arbitrage)
I’m counting this as two driver matchups and/or two worthy bets.
Hamlin has the edge over Almirola in literally every category except DraftKings points (39.60 vs. 37.47).
If you want to take Hamlin at +115, where he’s available at a popular sportsbook, go for it.
I’ll arbitrage by also taking Almirola at +105, where he’s available at most books.
The Pick: Hamlin (+115), Almirola (+105)
Clint Bowyer vs. Aric Almirola: Season Wins
- Clint Bowyer: +110
- Aric Almirola: -140 (+105 arbitrage)
As with the other Almirola prop, I’m counting this as two driver matchups/bets because I like both sides in conjunction.
Neither guy is a renowned speedster, but Bowyer won two races last year. Almirola has just two wins in his 12-year career.
Last year, Bowyer had the clear edge in race-winning stats.
- Driver rating: 93.0 (10th) vs. 88.6 (12th)
- Laps led percentage: 3.5 (11th) vs. 1.6 (13th)
- Fastest laps percentage: 3.6 (8th) vs. 2.7 (11th)
Bowyer is available at +110 at a popular book. If you want to bet on just one side, Bowyer is the driver to back.
I’ll arbitrage by taking Almirola at +105, where he’s widely available across the industry.
The Pick: Bowyer (+110), Almirola (+105)
Clint Bowyer vs. Erik Jones: Season Points
- Clint Bowyer: -115
- Erik Jones: -115
In each of his two full NASCAR seasons, Jones has trailed Bowyer in points.
- 2018: Bowyer – 2,272 (12th), Jones – 2,220 (15th)
- 2017: Bowyer – 871 (18th), Jones – 863 (19th)
And last year Bowyer’s edge over Jones was probably larger than their point totals suggest.
- Driver rating: 93.0 (10th) vs. 84.7 (13th)
- Quality pass percentage: 63.7 (6th) vs. 51.9 (13th)
- DraftKings points: 39.32 (9th) vs. 30.48 (15th)
Given how thoroughly Bowyer dominated Jones last year, I’d bet him down to -125.
The Pick: Bowyer (-115)
William Byron vs. Alex Bowman: Season Wins
- William Byron: +125
- Alex Bowman: -155
Neither driver has a win in his young career, but the Hendrick Motorsports teammates both have the upside to find the winner’s circle in 2019.
Although Bowman had more top-10 finishes last year (11 vs.4), Byron flashed as a 20-year-old first-timer, winning the Rookie of the Year award thanks to his solid racing.
While Bowman has just one career win in the Xfinity Series (NASCAR’s “minor league”), Byron dominated the series in 2017, winning four races in his one year at that level. And the year before that he rolled through the truck series, racking up seven victories.
In 2018, Bowman had the better driver rating (77.6 vs. 68.1), but Byron actually had the higher laps led percentage (1.2 vs. 0.8).
Bowman was the superior driver last year, but I’m willing to bet this is the year the preternatural Lord Byron overtakes him.
I’d bet him down to +110.
The Pick: Byron (+125)
Austin Dillon vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Season Wins
- Austin Dillon: -115
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: -115
Over the past five years, both drivers have just two wins (all of which are since 2017), so this could easily end in a push, but “Wrecky Ricky” has the kind of volatile racing style that might make him likelier to steal a victory.
A strong restrictor plate racer, Stenhouse’s victories at Daytona and Talladega suggest that he could thrive in the pack racing we’re expected to see with the new aerodynamic packages.
And last year he had the overall edge in race-winning statistics.
- Driver rating: 71.3 (19th) vs. 72.0 (17th)
- Laps led percentage: 1.7 (12th) vs. 0.3 (21st)
- Fastest laps percentage: 1.6 (16th) vs. 1.0 (21st)
I wouldn’t bet Stenhouse any lower, but I like him at -115.
The Pick: Stenhouse (-115)
Kyle Busch vs. Kevin Harvick: Season Wins
- Kyle Busch: -115
- Kevin Harvick: -115
Oh, baby. Here we are. The two best drivers in NASCAR.
In the Gen-6 era, Busch and Harvick respectively have a dominant 27 and 26 wins.
Last year, Harvick was the most impressive driver in NASCAR, ranking first in driver rating (115.5), laps led percentage (20.5%) and fastest laps percentage (13.2). Based on those numbers, I should favor Harvick.
But Nick Giffen prefers Busch, calling him a “no-brainer bet” because of his marked superiority in the Xfinity Series, which the 2019 style of racing is likely to resemble because of the new aerodynamic packages.
Since 2013, Busch has won 41 of 101 Xfinity races; Harvick, eight of 56.
Harvick is so strong that I don’t feel comfortable betting Busch lower than -115, but I’ll back him at those odds given the new NASCAR environment we’ll see in 2019.
The Pick: Busch (-115)