NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs 2021 Odds, Tips & Drivers to Bet
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Though the final few positions in this year’s 16-driver Cup Series Playoffs field were determined by points, NASCAR betting fans should not be fooled: Drivers typically advance though this postseason format by winning races, and for seven straight years the champion has won the final event.
So, drivers who have consistently won races throughout the regular season remain the best bets to consider when checking out the latest NASCAR odds for the championship.
The long NASCAR season is a grind, and teams that have struggled to lead laps and win races don’t tend to find a magic bullet this late in the game. If anything, the opposite is true: The teams that can reliably win races tend to establish themselves and set up a collision course on the final weekend in Phoenix.
That’s why Kyle Larson remains such a clear odds favorite for the championship at sportsbooks and betting sites. His five race victories, most on the circuit, were scattered throughout the season and came on a variety of tracks. If you haven’t been winning races, you’re unlikely to start now; and if you can’t win races, you can’t win the title.
Sure, some of these value prospects you see scrolling through your betting apps may be alluring (past champion Brad Keselowski for +1600!). However, they also shape up as unrealistic.
NASCAR Playoff Odds
|Martin Truex Jr.||+800|
Odds via BetMGM are current as of publication and subject to change.
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NASCAR Playoffs 2021 Betting Tips
Top pick: Kyle Larson to Win
Odds: +225 at BetMGM
This playoff field isn’t as deep as it looks. You have five drivers with virtually no chance, and four more who just haven’t shown enough performance over the regular season. Of those remaining, the clear choice is Larson, who leads the Cup Series not just in wins, but also top-5s, top-10s and laps led, evidence of just how outstanding he has been almost every week.
He’s excellent on intermediate tracks, which comprise four of the 10 playoff venues. If there’s a weakness, it’s that he has but one career victory on a short track — although that was at Richmond.
Alternative pick: Chase Elliott to Win
Odds: +650 at BetMGM
If not Larson, then who? You could certainly make a case for Kyle Busch, though his finishes toward the end of the regular season were inconsistent at best.
Our alternative would be Elliott, who has finished worse than eighth just once in his last seven races, and knows how to handle the pressure cooker of the playoffs — not only did he win the finale last year, he won at Martinsville to clinch his berth in the “Championship 4.” And the presence of that Roval in the Round of 12 can’t be overlooked. Barring something unforeseen, the sport’s best road racer seems bound for a spot in at least the final eight.
Value pick: Alex Bowman to Win
Odds: +1400 at BetMGM
No driver has won three races in a single season and remained more overlooked than Bowman, who is excellent on fast, 1.5-mile intermediate tracks. He also won earlier this season at Richmond, which hosts the second event of the playoffs.
The knock on Bowman is that he hasn’t run up front enough — just six top-5s on the season, and no laps led since Pocono in June. But winning is in the DNA of that No. 48 team, and that unparalleled Hendrick Motorsports performance can take anyone a very long way (Elliott, Larson and fellow playoff driver William Byron also race for the team).
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How Do NASCAR Playoffs Work?
Of the 16 drivers who qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs, 13 punched automatic tickets by winning a regular-season race, while the final three were determined on points. The field was set last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway with Tyler Reddick grabbing the final spot. Points for the playoff drivers were then reset, with bonuses added for race and stage victories. Larson is the No. 1 seed and opens with a 28-point lead on the field.
The 16-driver field is gradually cut down as the playoffs progress: To the top 12 in points after the first three events; to the top eight after the next three; then to the top four after the three races that lead into the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Winning a race automatically qualifies a driver for the next round, and points are again reset before each round. In the finale, it’s really simple: The driver who finishes the best of the four remaining title contenders wins it all.
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NASCAR Playoffs Schedule
Round of 16
- Cook Out Southern 500, Sept 5., Darlington (S.C.) Raceway: Darlington is arguably the most difficult oval track on the circuit, and its race winners typically hold championship pedigrees. The Southern 500 is a long, tough race that should quickly weed out drivers who got into the playoffs via an upset or a longshot victory.
- Federated Auto Parts 400, Sept. 11, Richmond (Va.) Raceway: Richmond is a three-quarter-mile short track that’s fast and physical and can test the mechanical limits of any car. Alex Bowman won here in April, so don’t be surprised if the attrition allows a mid-level playoff driver to punch his ticket to the next round.
- Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Sept. 18, Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway: Although things aren’t quite as crazy at Bristol as they used to be, the night race is still often splendid theatre that leaves bent sheet metal and hurt feelings in its wake. Forget about that gimmicky dirt race in the spring; Kyle Busch is among the best on the Bristol asphalt.
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Round of 12
- South Point 400, Sept. 26, Las Vegas Motor Speedway: The first race of the playoff’s second round places the 12 remaining drivers on a super-fast intermediate track. The Penske duo of Joey Logano and Keselowski are historically among the best here — but they’ll need a serious step up in performance just to reach this far.
- YellaWood 500, Oct. 3, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway: We all know what awaits at Talladega: The Big One, which can end any driver’s playoff chances on this big roulette wheel of a race track. If Reddick or Aric Almirola have made it this far in the playoffs, here’s their chance to punch a ticket into the final eight.
- Bank of America 400, Oct. 10, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval: The playoff’s second stage ends at Charlotte’s “road-oval,” which incorporates part of the infield and speedway layouts. Chase Elliott has won two straight here and expect him to be the driver to beat again at the only road course in the postseason.
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Round of 8
- Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, Oct. 17, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Eight drivers remain, and the gimmicky race tracks are all in the rearview mirror. The third round opens at big, fast Texas, where four different drivers have won the last four races, and underperforming cars tend to get left behind in a hurry.
- Hollywood Casino 400, Oct. 24, Kansas Speedway, Kansas City: The third round continues at another 1.5-mile intermediate track, and there’s a reason for that: They don’t tend to produce upset winners. Kyle Busch won here in May; if he does it again, he’s booked for a run at the title.
- Xfinity 500, Oct. 31, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway: The third stage closes at a flat, half-mile oval that some drivers develop a knack for. That includes Martin Truex Jr., who has won three of the last four events here. Martinsville almost always has a major impact on the playoff, as it did last year, when No. 1 seed Kevin Harvick was knocked out.
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- NASCAR Cup Series Championship, Nov. 7, Phoenix Raceway: The title is decided on a beloved 1-mile oval with a dogleg on the front stretch and lots of opportunity for passing. For seven years running, the champion has locked up the title by winning the final race, most recently Elliott last season.