How to Handicap NASCAR and Golf

Following last weekend’s thrilling victory for Jeff Gordon at the Daytona 500, and Adam Scott’s rain-wrecked sudden death win at the Nissan Open, I thought this would be a great opportunity to cover both NASCAR and golf betting. Both sports have just started their respective seasons, and with summer approaching, both will become an important source of business to books.

Betting on NASCAR

As with golf, betting on NASCAR used to be almost exclusively on who would win the overall event. However, wagering on the odds to win has become a distant second to wagering on which of two competitors will have the better head-to-head results. Books typically offer match-ups based on drivers (and their cars and teams, of course) of similar skill, and will offer anywhere from a dozen to 50 match-ups on a race.

Picking the winner of a race is difficult, but the payoff is high. For example, Mark Martin might be 25/1 to win the entire race, and hitting that would be a nice payoff, but remember there are 42 other drivers in the race!

Picking the winner of a head-to-head match-up is much easier, but the payoff is much smaller as well. For example, Mark Martin (lets say he is 25/1 to win the race) might be matched up against Jeff Burton (20/1 to win the race) for wagering purposes. For such a match-up Martin only has to beat Burton. He could finish 42nd and still the bet could be a winner! In a case like this the line might be Martin +120 and Burton -140, so your $100 on Martin only pays $120 if he beats Burton. If Martin wins the race, you would still only get the $120 instead of the $2500 it would pay if you had picked him to win the race.

How to handicap a race

When it comes to handicapping a race, there are a couple of major factors to consider: recent performance of the driver, and past history of the given track. Recent performance is just what it sounds like. How has this driver done over the last three, five or ten races? Look for consistent strong finishes, which show that the driver and his crew are in synch. These teams are always in the hunt near the end of the race and that will give you a chance to win every week. Also look for consistent improvement. A driver that finished 32nd, 23rd, 15th, 8th and 5th respectively over the last five races is likely someone you want to keep an eye on over the next couple of races.

Track histories are probably even more important and not used enough by bettors, in my opinion. Just like golf courses, or baseball stadiums, there are different tracks. There are pure ovals, D-ovals (which have only one real straightaway), super speedways (where speeds can get so fast that for safety reasons “restrictor plates” are placed on the carburetors to physically slow the cars down) and road courses (which requires cars to turn in both directions as well as way more braking and thus a slightly different set of skills from traditional NASCAR tracks).

Each driver will have a certain type of track they are better at, and many will have a particular track or two where they are outstanding, as the length, speed, slope of the turns, etc all just seem to fit their particular skill set the best. Ideally, when you are betting, you will be able to find a few drivers who do very well at the current track and that have also been running well in recent weeks.

Once you have your drivers picked, you have to decide whether you want to bet on the entire race or on the match-ups or both. If you prefer match-ups, check through the list to see if there are any situations where your chosen drivers may be up against opponents who are big names, but are running cold or on a track they struggle on. These situations will bring you the best value for your dollar.

If you prefer to bet the odds to win, there are a couple of ways to bet. One is to simply pick one driver and put your money down. Another is to pick a few drivers and stagger your bet sizes to make sure you profit a similar amount if any of your picks win. For example, lets say you like three drivers and their odds are 5/1, 15/1 and 25/1. You could bet 8 units at 5/1, 3 units at 15/1 and 2 units at 25/1 and then you would win 35, 35 or 39 units respectively.

Betting on Golf

As a book manager, golf is an enigma. The sport represents a books’ ideal target market, as golfers tend to be Internet savvy and affluent. I am sure most golfers wouldn’t pay $50 to play basketball, baseball or football for four hours, but they think nothing of dropping that much, or several times that much, to play a round every weekend. Also, golfers are natural bettors.

I think the main reason golf betting hasn’t taken off is that unlike betting on team sports, it is incredibly hard to pick the winner of any specific tournament (except maybe for betting on Tiger at the Bay Hill Invitational). That is why I want to focus not on odds-to-win an entire tournament, but rather on the head-to-head match-ups between individual players that have become very popular in the last couple of years.

When you bet on team sports, you have at least five and as many as 50 players that will affect the outcome of a game. In golf, there are just the two players to consider (do the caddies really count?). If Tiger is on fire and Els is slumping, it’s much easier to know where to put your money. Also, in golf head-to-heads, there is no clock to run out, referee decisions are rare, and the match is held over four days so breaks, good or bad, tend to even out.

How to handicap a match-up

Golf match-ups are easy to handicap. You can view a player’s performance in recent weeks to see if he is hot or cold or you can view previous year’s results on the same course. Every player has a slightly different set of skills and play better on some courses than others.

Similar arguments exist for auto-racing match-ups but you never have to worry about a golfer blowing a tire on the last lap or running out of gas. Injuries are also less of a concern in golf than they are in other sports. If a golfer cannot play, he doesn’t get paid so they take good care of themselves (and hopefully nobody is running into them), and if they are injured, they tend to take some time off and make sure they are fully healed before participating to prevent permanent injury. How many times have you bet on a team and then found out a key player is hurt? Yeah, I hate that feeling too.

If you want to be a more profitable sports bettor, especially if you are a golf fan (or just plan on watching the final round on TV and want it to be a little more exciting), spend some time looking through the weekend’s PGA match-ups as thoroughly as you would the baseball or basketball card. Many bettors don’t like golf wagering because their money is tied up for four days, but I consider this a poor excuse and it is indicative of poor money management. With a little research and a little planning, betting golf head-to-heads can make you a more profitable bettor and make rainy Sunday afternoons a little more exciting.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino