Welcome to our weekly "Hunting The Race Track" betting strategy series, where we will look for ways to build an edge with our wagers in all of motorsports, and more specifically, in NASCAR. From taking advantage of driver vs. driver matchups and offseason team changes, to finding value in Cup Series underdogs and more - there are no shortage of ways to break down professional stock car racing and cash more tickets in the process. We will also publish a separate weekly "NASCAR Sunday Betting Preview" article here at the Betting Predators website, which covers the main race/event of each weekend, throughout the entire racing season. Now, without further adieu, let's dive into this week.
This week I'll be examining pre-race and post-race inspections, and what we can do to avoid having our best bet/top DFS driver start in the back due to a failed inspection. Before I begin, I'd like to say that it's pretty hard to find a sport that "cheats" more than NASCAR. In the 1980’s, pit crews would fill the frame with lead shot (BB’s or pellets) to reach the required weight of the car. During a given race, drivers would open a trap door for the pellets to fall out, subsequently making their car hundreds of pounds lighter.
During their impressive run in the 1990’s, Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham said that he would do 10 illegal things while hoping that he would get away with seven of them. Jeff Gordon knew - and publicly admitted - that if his car passed inspection easily, then his team simply didn’t have a good car.
To make cars better, teams cheat. And that might often impact us as bettors and as DFS players.
Let’s start off with something relatively easy to explain: post-race inspection. After each race, NASCAR officials will inspect the cars to make sure they are "legal" - for example, a high majority of post-race inspection penalties will simply be a monetary fine for a loose lug nut. This penalty does not impact where the driver finished. What does have a major impact is when a driver fails post-race inspection. A failed inspection will disqualify the driver from the race, resulting in a last place finish and the loss of all playoff points accumulated in the race. This can be a scary thought, especially if one of your drivers finished well.
But how often does this happen? Thankfully, for our case, not a lot.
Last year it happened only once, when the now-retired and legendary driver Jimmie Johnson was disqualified from his second place finish after his rear alignment did not meet standards. So far, not one Cup Series-level driver has reached that level of inspection failure in 2021. In the lower series (Xfinity), Tyler Reddick was stripped of his second place finish a few weeks ago after he failed post-race inspection. In this case, that failed inspection resulted in my personal losing ticket becoming a winning ticket.
Check your sportsbook for rules and regulations on scoring these NASCAR/racing bets. You might have to email a book's support team with a copy or link of the official announcement from NASCAR. For daily fantasy, on the other hand, DraftKings will not adjust drivers finishing positions if they are disqualified.
FanDuel, however, will adjust if a driver is disqualified. Again, these failed inspections tend to not happen very often, so this isn't something that should take up too much of your time in handicapping a race. But it's something to know how to handle, especially in the event of a potential loser-turned-winner ticket.
Now onto the big one: pre-race inspection. NASCAR will inspect cars on either Saturday night or Sunday morning, depending on the location and start time of a race. If it’s an east coast 3:30 (ET) start time, then the inspection will be on the morning of the race. A west coast start time inspection, on the other hand, will occur on Saturday night. Teams have three chances to pass inspection, and if they fail the first time, then there's actually no penalty and the team can to go to the back of the inspection line and try again.
Fail a second time, however, and NASCAR will send that car to the rear of the field. What about failing a third time? In this case, drivers must start at the rear and the car has to serve a pass-through penalty on pit lane at the start of the race. These second-and-third-time failures are what you need to pay attention to, as NASCAR will announce these inspection failures on their website and twitter page @NASCAR.
For betting purposes, these inspection penalties and how they affect our wagers will all depend on the track. For Daytona or Talladega (the biggest tracks), it's not a concern. Teams will cycle around all day because the cars are in one large pack. Short tracks, however, can cause issues, simply because it’s so tight to maneuver through traffic. Penalty-stricken drivers can get stuck behind lesser talent here, while the leaders can catch the back of the pack quickly. If a driver must serve a pass-through penalty on a short track, they will go a lap down and be forced to fight their way back to get on the lead lap. Pocono and Indianapolis are especially tough to complete passes, making it more difficult to move through the field.
It’s also best to know the situation at hand - Chase Elliott, for example, had two pre-race inspection failures before the championship race last year. It didn't take long for Elliot to take the lead though, as his car was far better than that of everyone else. The best betting advice here is to wait until all the inspections are complete to place any bets. When it comes to DFS, if a driver had to start from the rear, that driver will be scored from his original starting position. Place differential points will not come into effect until the driver reaches that position. Drivers can still record fast laps, but valuable lap time is lost while maneuvering through the field. But it all still comes back to the track type at the end of the day.
Big, easy-to-pass tracks? Don’t worry 'bout it.
Smaller, harder-to-pass, flat tracks? Switching to another driver might be our best option.
In racing, crew chiefs and engineers will always find a way to have an edge over their competition. They don’t say cheating, they call it "being innovative." If a team is running well for a few weeks, then look for that team to get hit with some pre-race inspection failures as well. The team that I talked about in my last article, Hendrick Motorsports, three out of the four drivers failed inspection twice. It was only a matter of time, because they were running so well. But the track type and driver history at Phoenix Raceway did not change my thought process Sunday morning when placing my bets. And by the way, those three drivers all finished in the top 10, while Alex Bowman, who easily passed inspection, finished in 13th place...