NASCAR Betting Guide: Food City 500

Jim Sannes
Jim Sannes@JimSannes
NASCAR Betting Guide: Food City 500

It's the week of the comeback in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The most obvious one is the Bristol spring race on concrete. After a three-year experiment on dirt, this year's Food City 500 will be back on its typical surface, giving us once again two traditional Bristol races on the Cup Series schedule.


The second one is less obvious and, frankly, not a lock to happen. But I think the buying window on a driver in a massive slump has finally opened. One of NASCAR's superstars has a shot to be back in victory lane, and my model has him as a value in FanDuel Sportsbook's NASCAR betting odds for Bristol.

Who is that driver, and why does the model think now is the time to buy in? Let's dig in to that and then lay out any other spots where I'm showing value prior to practice and qualifying.

Food City 500 Betting Picks

Chase Elliott to Win (+2000)

(UPDATE: Elliott has since shortened to +1200 to win. My model has his new win odds at 5.5%, down from 7.7% implied. So I feel good about the original bet at +2000, but it's not one I'd make at +1200.)

As of Wednesday, it has been 529 days since Chase Elliott's last Cup Series win. His last win on a non-drafting track was in July of 2022, and he won that race only because both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified in post-race inspection.

I think he can snap that streak on Sunday.

The obvious explanation for Elliott's downturn is the broken leg that cost him six races last year, leading to his first winless season since 2017. Ever since then, his form has been off as he has led more than 50 laps just once in that span.

Two things lead to some optimism out of the model this week.

The first is that there have been signs of improvement. The one race where Elliott did lead significant laps was the playoff race in Martinsville, the second to last race of the year. He carried that into Phoenix last week when he qualified third and ran up front most of the day before getting mired deep in the pack due to pit strategy. That third-place qualifying run was Elliott's best on an oval since the injury.

The second factor is how good Elliott is on concrete. He won at both Dover and Nashville in 2022 -- the other non-Bristol concrete tracks on the schedule -- and he won the 2020 All-Star Race at Bristol. Although Elliott has never won a points race at Bristol, he has led 100-plus laps twice, and he has had a top-10 average running position in 10 of 13 races (4 of which were top-5 marks).

That speed has been present since the injury, too. Elliott finished fourth in Nashville last year and seventh in Bristol, both of which occurred in the midst of this slump.

My model knows Elliott is struggling. And yet, due to the strength on concrete, it has his win odds at 5.4%, up from 4.8% implied at this number. I don't think we'll get many more chances to bet Elliott to win at +2000 or longer, so I don't want to pass up the chance to do so on a surface that has given him so much success.

Ryan Preece to Finish Top 10 (+750)

(UPDATE: Preece has since shortened to +500 to finish top 10. My model now has him at 16.5%, a smidge below his new implied odds of 16.7%. Thus, I wouldn't look to add Preece at his shortened number.)

Ryan Preece isn't in a year-long slump; it's his entire career with just 11 top-10s in 155 Cup Series races.

But the performance has been best at short tracks, and with Stewart-Haas Racing looking sporty, I think +750 odds for a top-10 is intriguing.

Back in 2022, Preece was out of a full-time job. He drove a part-time schedule while acting as a reserve driver for SHR.

Part of that schedule included a Craftsman Truck Series race in Nashville. Preece won that one, leading 74 of 150 laps (49.3%), helping him land the full-time Cup ride in 2023.

Preece carried that concrete speed with him to his new role. He had a top-17 finish in all three concrete races, including a 12th-place run and 12th-place average running position in Bristol. It was Preece's third career top-12 in six Bristol races, including a top-10 in 2020 with JTG-Daugherty Racing.

History tells us Preece top-10 bets are not profitable investments. But that thinking changes on a track like this, enough so that I'm willing to bite. My model has Preece at 19.9% to finish top-10, up from 11.8% implied, meaning I'll be hoping his gains on concrete continue on Sunday.

Post-Qualifying Addition: Brad Keselowski to Win (+2400)

(UPDATE: Keselowski has since shortened to +2000 to win. That's still below my model's mark of 6.7% -- his new implied odds are 4.8% -- so Keselowski to win is still a viable bet even at the shortened number.)

I had interest in Brad Keselowski earlier in the week, but his outright odds were hovering in the low-teens.

Now that he's +2400? Game on.

Keselowski lengthened thanks to a 17th-place starting spot. But he had solid speed in practice (once you adjust for the fact that he was in the slower of the two groups), so my model's rating on him is actually a smidge higher now than it was going into the weekend.

The reason for the interest earlier is how well Keselowski ran on tracks with Bristol-like characteristics last year. He was a contender for the win in both Darlington races (high banking, tire wear), had a fifth-place average running position in Richmond (tire wear), and was solid in Dover (concrete). There's no perfect comp track for Bristol, but seeing Keselowski run well at those spots is encouraging.

All in all, my model has Keselowski at 6.7% to win, up from 4.0% implied. I'll happily take the discount on him at this number.

Post-Qualifying Addition: Bubba Wallace to Win (+3200)

(UPDATE: Wallace has since lengthened to +4000, putting his implied odds down to 2.4%. That's obviously a value by my model. But I also think his top-five odds are enticing, as laid out below.)

Bubba Wallace was in the faster of the two groups during practice, which made me think he'd be overvalued when markets re-opened. He was fast there, but if books put a lot of weight in practice, they'd shorten his odds.

Nope. Still a value.

Even after making group adjustments, my model has Wallace ranked sixth or better in single-lap, 5-lap, and 10-lap speed. He was top-five in the latter two metrics, keeping pace with now-favorite Ryan Blaney before falling off later in the run. That could mean that Wallace will struggle on long runs, but it's also possible he ran into traffic later in his run, masking his times.

Bristol has never been Wallace's best track, and that matters. But he made big strides last year at Darlington and Richmond, both of which have some overlap with Bristol, and we don't have a huge sample on him here in quality equipment. My model has Wallace at 5.4% to win, up from 3.0% implied at +3200.

Post-Qualifying Addition: Bubba Wallace to Finish Top 5 (+550)

As discussed above, this isn't Wallace's best track. I just think this number is too generous to ignore.

The implied odds here are 15.4%. My model has Wallace above that to finish top three (15.6%), and we get two extra spots of leeway here. Wallace is 26.1% to finish top five, by my sims.

To cash a top-five, Wallace doesn't have to be perfect. He just needs to survive and show decent enough speed. He pulled out a top-five in Darlington last year (and was seventh in the other Darlington race), so he can make it happen at tough tracks. If forced to choose, I'd now happily pick this top-five market over betting Wallace outright.

(UPDATE: Right after publishing, FanDuel posted top-10 odds. Wallace is +170 there, putting his 37.0% implied odds well below my model's mark of 49.5%. Wallace looks like a good candidate for a ladder bet where you bet the largest amount on his top-10 odds and progressively smaller bets on the more ambitious markets to give yourself upside should he truly flash. Just be sure to do so at a smaller unit size than usual so that you are not overexposed to a single driver at a track that features plenty of wrecks.)

Post-Qualifying Addition: William Byron to Finish Top 5 (+240)

Similar to with Wallace, William Byron's strongest track is not Bristol. That's fully accounted for in this number, though.

In nine career starts on Bristol concrete, Byron has never led a lap. He has been solid, though, finishing on the podium in two of the past three runnings. He was ninth last year with a career-best seventh-place average running position.

Byron's speed was about what you'd expect in practice. He was top-10 in single-lap, 5-lap, and 10-lap speed and qualified 8th. He didn't blow you away, which is why I'm not itching to bet him outright at +1600, but he'll be able to push for a quality finish.

Post-qualifying, my model has Byron at 38.0% to finish top 5, up from 29.4% implied. That's more than enough value to overcome the lack of laps out front here.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.