It’s unusual for sports to pop up out of nowhere and become a regular staple on the Las Vegas odds boards, but NASCAR has created its own niche with the betting public, and that all occurred when a young kid from Vallejo, Calif., named Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.
At the time, the only NASCAR event that sports books posted regularly was the Daytona 500. There wasn’t a demand for odds on races outside of the series’ biggest race of the year.
But when the sport started garnering national attention because of the California kid, West Coast fans vacationing in Las Vegas wanted some action and began asking for odds on races at places such as Martinsville, Dover and Rockingham.
Today will be Gordon’s 18th and final start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’s the only driver to have started all 18 Vegas races, and it’s only fitting that he set a track record by winning the pole Friday, even though he’ll start from the rear after wrecking his primary car Saturday in practice.
Usually when we see star athletes at the end of their careers, we see them as a shadow of their former selves. And while we may never see anyone win 40 races in four years like Gordon did from 1995 to 1998, he consistently has been posted as one of the favorites to win weekly, just as he is today as the third betting choice in the Kobalt 400 at 7-1.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is usually the most popular wager at the windows, but in the first two races this season, Gordon has attracted the most attention.
Although he’ll be driving a backup car today, Gordon still can win the race. Hendrick Motorsports backups are just as good as most teams’ primary cars.
■ BETTING ADVICE — Last week’s race at Atlanta gave us a nice blueprint for Las Vegas because it was the first time we got to see anything with the new rules package on 1.5-mile tracks, where the cars have 125 less horsepower and also less downforce because of a 2-inch reduction on the rear spoiler.
Just like in previous years when the car or aero-package has been altered, the Hendrick organization usually has things figured out the quickest, and last week at Atlanta saw Jimmie Johnson win and Earnhardt finish third. It’s a good bet that we’ll see similar racing today from those who did well in Atlanta.
■ PRACTICES PIVOTAL — The winner each year at Las Vegas usually can be found via Saturday’s final practices, and in this year’s case, Johnson had the fastest lap in both Saturday sessions. Kevin Harvick had the best 10-consecutive lap average, a great indicator of which driver will be good on longer runs when the race is actually won. Kyle Larson had the fastest 10-consecutive laps during happy hour.
■ CAUTIONS EFFECT — If similarities to Atlanta hold true, we should see quite a few cautions, which have a ripple effect on several propositions offered at places such as William Hill sports books.
There were 10 cautions last week, and the number posted for today is 6.5. If there are more than seven cautions, the correlation is with average speed being less than the posted number of 145.5 mph, over 9.5 drivers to lead a lap, over 21.5 number of lead changes and under 19.5 drivers on the lead lap. Since LVMS made the banking steeper in 2007, six of the eight races have had seven or more cautions with a track record 14 in 2009.
Look for more cautions again and the ripple effect occurring in the other props. Unfortunately, the books will not allow you to parlay them all together because of the strong correlation.
■ TOP MANUFACTURER — Chevrolet has won six times at LVMS and is minus-170 to win today, according to William Hill odds, and that looks like a bargain.
Ford (13-5) has won eight of the 17 LVMS races, including last season with Brad Keselowski, but seven of those wins came from Roush Fenway Racing, which looks nowhere close to recapturing past glory. Toyota (7-2) has won twice at LVMS and has upgraded its 1.5-mile track program, but it still appears a bit behind Chevy.
Joey Logano, driving a Ford, appears to be the stiffest competition for Chevy. But with Chevy, you get five strong drivers — Johnson, Earnhardt, Gordon, Harvick and Kasey Kahne — who can win. There are simply more opportunities to win with Chevy than the other two manufacturers.
■ ORGANIZATION — MGM Resorts will give you 3-2 odds if any of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers win. Every time there is any change to the cars or rules package, Hendrick is always ahead of the curve for a few weeks until the others catch on. It happened last week at Atlanta, and it’s likely to happen again today. The biggest threats to derail this bet are Harvick and Logano, but with Hendrick you get Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt and Kahne.
■ OVER-UNDER FINISH POSITION — Johnson has a number posted at 6.5 at William Hill and Westgate Las Vegas, which looks attractive considering he has a track-record four wins. He’s finished sixth or better in eight of his 13 career starts, including the past three years.
■ ROUSH FENWAY WOES — Jack Roush has been the King of Las Vegas in all series, including a record seven LVMS Cup wins, but his chances look bleak today. Greg Biffle is RFR’s top driver and is posted at Westgate Las Vegas with an over-under finish at 20.5 and odds to win at 100-1. Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne are each 300-1.
■ JOE GIBBS BACK TO PAR — There was a noticeable change with the Gibbs team at Atlanta. It was competitive on a 1.5-mile track, something we didn’t say often last season. After winning seven of 11 races on the 1.5s in 2013, the team didn’t win any last season.
But the new rules package has wiped the slate clean, and the Gibbs team should be a major player on these tracks this year. Matt Kenseth (8-1) is a three-time winner at Las Vegas, and Carl Edwards (10-1) has won twice.
■ BLACKJACK PROP — MGM Resorts has an interesting prop that allows you to bet among 20 options on the combined finish of Earnhardt and Carl Edwards. Over the past four LVMS races, Junior has averaged a finish of 6.7, and Edwards is at 4.0. If they combined for their average of 10th, the payout is 12-1. If they finish exactly with a 10th and 11th place (blackjack), MGM will pay 50-1. But if they combine to go over 21, bettors spin out into the black hole, where the house wins just like in blackjack.
■ WELCOME BACK, BRIAN VICKERS — After missing the first two races following heart surgery in December, Vickers jumps back into the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota that finished eighth with first-time NASCAR starter Brett Moffitt last week in Atlanta.
Vickers’ 60-1 odds to win might not be the best you can make, but he should be fighting for a top 15 finish and fare well in most matchups, most notably the plus-120 against a struggling Tony Stewart.
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports book director, has been setting NASCAR odds since 1995. For more post-practice analysis, visit the Linemakers on SportingNews.com or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.
ODDS TO WIN KOBALT 400
Kevin Harvick 9-2
Jimmie Johnson 6-1
Jeff Gordon 7-1
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 8-1
Matt Kenseth 8-1
Brad Keselowski 8-1
Joey Logano 8-1
Carl Edwards 10-1
Kasey Kahne 10-1
Denny Hamlin 15-1
Kyle Larson 25-1
Ryan Newman 30-1
Clint Bowyer 40-1
Jamie McMurray 40-1
David Ragan 40-1
Tony Stewart 40-1
Martin Truex Jr. 40-1
Paul Menard 60-1
Brian Vickers 60-1
Greg Biffle 100-1
Austin Dillon 100-1
Regan Smith 100-1
AJ Allmendinger 200-1
Aric Almirola 200-1
Trevor Bayne 300-1
Sam Hornish Jr. 300-1
Danica Patrick 300-1
Ricky Stenhouse 300-1
Field (any other driver) 300-1
Casey Mears 500-1