NASCAR betting: There's a crowd near the playoff bubble ahead of Bristol

The Cup Series is making its first trip to the concrete half-mile at Bristol this weekend.

Saturday night’s race (7:30 p.m. ET, USA) is the second race at Bristol this year. But it’s the first on the track’s normal surface. The spring race was held on a temporary dirt surface for the second year in a row.

That means we’re all flying blind a bit when it comes to betting Saturday night’s race. There isn’t anything to take from what happened on the dirt that will translate to the race on concrete.

Combine that with NASCAR’s new car and the way that it races at short tracks along with non-playoff drivers winning each of the first two playoff races and we’re entering this race wondering if chalk is the way to go.

Playoff drivers finished in the top seven spots and in 10 of the top 12 spots a season ago at Bristol. Tyler Reddick, who finished 12th, was the top-finishing driver of the four drivers who were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs.

Only the top nine drivers in this year’s points standings seem safe entering Saturday night’s race. Ross Chastain is in ninth and 32 points back of points leader Christopher Bell. He’s also 20 points ahead of 10th-place Daniel Suarez and Suarez is just six points ahead of 13th.

The drivers in 10th through 15th are separated by just 13 points in the standings and Chase Briscoe in 15th is just nine points out of 12th. There could be a lot of movement at the bottom of the standings over the course of Saturday night’s race and a crash or three will go a long way to determining who is in and who is out of the playoffs heading into the second round.

Here’s a look at what you need to know to bet Sunday’s race. Before we get to the odds from BetMGM, here’s a quick refresher on the points standings. The bottom four drivers in the standings will be eliminated after Saturday night’s race and no driver has locked himself into the second round.

Points standings

1. Christopher Bell, 2,108 points

2. William Byron, 2,098

3. Denny Hamlin, 2,097

4. Joey Logano, 2,090

5. Ryan Blaney, 2,086

6. Alex Bowman, 2,080

7. Chase Elliott, 2,078

8. Kyle Larson, 2,077

9. Ross Chastain, 2,076

10. Daniel Suarez, 2,056

11. Tyler Reddick, 2,052

12. Austin Cindric, 2,052

13. Kyle Busch, 2,050

14. Austin Dillon, 2,049

15. Chase Briscoe, 2,043

16. Kevin Harvick, 2,017

The favorites

Chase Elliott (+700)

Denny Hamlin (+700)

Kyle Larson (+700)

Kyle Busch (+800)

Christopher Bell (+900)

Kevin Harvick (+900)

Elliott has three top fives and five top 10s in 11 Bristol starts. He was outside the top 10 in 2021 when he infamously took Kevin Harvick’s line away and helped teammate Kyle Larson win the race. Larson’s victory was his first at Bristol and he has finished in the top 10 eight times in 13 concrete starts. Hamlin has two wins and 15 top 10s in 31 starts and his average finish is inside the top 15. Harvick has three wins and 21 top 10s in 41 starts and shouldn’t be counted out in a must-win situation until the final lap. Bell, meanwhile, has just one top 10 in three Bristol concrete starts but enters as the points leader and is very good at short tracks.

Good mid-tier value

Martin Truex Jr. (+1600)

William Byron (+1800)

Truex started on the pole last season and finished seventh. His odds would be better if he didn’t have a history of Bristol struggles but he should be fast again. Byron has two top-10 finishes in seven Bristol starts.

Don’t bet this driver

Ross Chastain (+1400)

We’re wondering if Saturday night is the time and place for some revenge on Chastain. Short tracks are the best place to pay a driver back and with Chastain near the playoff bubble, his competitors aren’t going to be naive to his playoff status.

Looking for a long shot?

Erik Jones (+3300)

Jones has four top fives and five top 10s in nine Bristol starts and has the best average finish of any active driver at the track. He was the top non-playoff driver at Bristol last season with an eighth-place run.