From Running ‘Shine to Talladega Nights: The 9 Most Popular NASCAR Bets

By in NASCAR on
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As a child, NASCAR was barely on my radar. I knew of a few stars at the time, like Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt, but I didn’t pay much attention to it.

As an adult, I enjoy watching NASCAR. I enjoy betting on it too. Many times, I’ll find myself at a motor speedway hanging among friends who’ve been camping out at the track for most of the week and making friendly wagers with them. At least, when I can make it out to the racetrack.

But a lot of the time, I’m betting with sportsbooks or at the best online betting sites.

I went to my first race in 1997. I live in the Dallas area, and at that time, the Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) had just opened up in northern Fort Worth.

It Was Like a Whole New World

I had a distant cousin who traveled the country with NASCAR. He sold “gimmicks,” as he called them. They were NASCAR-themed souvenirs.

At night, after the races were done, he stayed in the camping section of the speedway. The camping section consisted of hundreds, if not thousands, of tents, campers, and RV vehicles parked in a way that made the edge of the speedway look like a small town.

He knew his neighbors because they traveled to all the big races and essentially toured with NASCAR for about ten weeks out of the year.

By the time we got there, the after-race parties were in full swing. People I didn’t know offered me food and drink. My cousin Jack told me this was the norm. He said that they were like nomadic hippies that liked Dale Earnhardt.

I noticed that some of the inhabitants of the caravan were taking prop bets for the next day’s races. I honestly didn’t know much about racing, but obviously, my cousin Jack did since he had been traveling with the show for about a decade (and he was about 15 years older than me).

I saw them take all sorts of weird bets. Jack even placed a bet on a rain delay because “he could feel it in his bones.”

I stayed until about 3 in the morning, and then I headed home, telling Jack I’d catch up with him the next day.

I woke up late that morning and started getting ready to go back to the TMS. I hopped in my car and started my 45-minute journey back to Fort Worth.

Something I should say is that Texas weather is crazy. You could be 30 minutes away from a place, and it could be sunny and fine. However, once you hit the road, that can all change.

I got on the road to the TMS, and about 15 minutes away, the skies opened up with a torrential downpour. I managed to get to the speedway, and I ran to where Jack was set up. He had a big smile because the race was delayed. He made $500.

While I didn’t take any action on the race, Jack showed me that there was money to be made on NASCAR racing, and thus, my journey started.

NASCAR Origins

On January 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution went into effect. This amendment banned the sale of alcoholic beverages.

This led to the rise of bootleggers, people who transported alcohol illegally. The bootleggers needed fast vehicles to evade local and sometimes even federal authorities.

At the time, cars had only been readily available and affordable to the public for about 15 years. But in that time, people learned how to tear down and rebuild them.

Among the reasons people learned how to tear down and rebuild cars was to repair them, and in the case of bootleggers, modify them.

These modified cars would play an important role in bootlegging as the improvements to the vehicles added increased weight capacity (after all, they were transporting products), horsepower, and most importantly torque, which in a vehicle equals speed.

While prohibition ended in 1933, the taste of bootleg liquor in the South remained. The business of running moonshine would boom. While alcohol was now legal, homemade alcohol was not. Plus, the shine runners would run afoul of tax agents (commonly referred to at the time as revenuers).

This led to a continued need for speed.

By the end of World War II, many of the shine runners were racing cars, sometimes with moonshine, other times without.

These races became extremely popular throughout the South. It led to the races being more organized and offering prizes for the races. It also provided an opportunity for spectators to place friendly bets with each other, informally (and illicitly) introducing gambling to the events. These races became known as stock car races.

In 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was established by several stock car racers. The following year, the first official event under the NASCAR banner was held.

Betting on NASCAR

Gambling on NASCAR and stock car racing goes back to the 1940s. At the time, these bets were usually done between two people or made via an illegal bookmaker. But as the years progressed and NASCAR grew in popularity, Las Vegas took notice and started taking action.

Today, sportsbooks all over the world take action on NASCAR races. These oddsmakers offer numerous betting options to satiate the needs of any NASCAR gambler and fan.

1 – Outright Betting

Outright betting is a type of moneyline. For this type of bet, you choose the overall winner of the race.

If you’re familiar with moneyline betting on a sport such as football, hockey, or even boxing, you’re picking the moneyline winner based on two teams or opponents.

For NASCAR races, it is a bit different. Instead of the choice of two teams, you’re choosing among all the race participants.

So for a race, you may see something that looks like this:

  • Jimmie Johnson +550
  • Chase Elliott +680
  • Kyle Busch +300
  • Austin Dillon +1000
  • William Byron +2000

You’ll notice that all bets are “+” bets, whereas in regular moneyline bets, you’ll see a “-” bet. This is because it is extremely hard to pick a winner of a race. After all, these drivers are driving for up to 500 miles in a race. Anything can happen such as accidents, breakdowns, or just poor performance.

So, with these bets, you’re going to win whatever the amount is if you bet $100. If you bet $100 on Byron to win, you win $2,000.

Experienced NASCAR gamblers tend to minimize losses by placing several bets. These bets would include a few favorites and a few long shots. After all, if six bets are placed at $100, most of the field will cover those odds.

2 – Top 3/Top 5 Finish

These are two separate bets, but they’re structured in the same manner. In a top 3 bet, you’re betting that the racer you choose finishes either in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. In a top 5 bet, you’re betting that the racer finishes either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th.

Much like the outright bet, a top 3 or top 5 bet is made as a moneyline bet. Also, on a top 3 or top 5 bet, you’ll not see a racer’s moneyline as negative.

The moneyline for each bet will vary greatly from the moneyline on a top 3 or top 5. The moneyline on a top 3 will also differ from a top 5 bet. The reason is that you have more options as to how the driver will finish. Thus the choices become less difficult.

It only makes sense. If there are 60 racers, an outright bet means you have a 1 out of 60 chance. A top 3 bet is a 1 out of 20 chance. The top 5 bet gives you an even better chance with a 1 out of 10 chance.

Because the difficulty is decreased with each type of bet, the moneyline odds are decreased.

Using the example we used earlier, a top 3 bet will have lower odds than an outright bet and may look something like this:

  • Jimmie Johnson +360
  • Chase Elliott +290
  • Kyle Busch +160
  • Austin Dillon +600
  • William Byron +650

A top 5 bet will have even lower odds, as seen here:

  • Jimmie Johnson +300
  • Chase Elliott +210
  • Kyle Busch +120
  • Austin Dillon +490
  • William Byron +510

All three of these (the outright, top 3, and top 5) are for the same race on the same day. But because they’re for different types of outcomes, the odds are different.

3 – Qualifying Matchup Bet

A qualifying matchup up bet is one of two types of matchup bets that are offered in a race. In a NASCAR race, you’ll notice that it isn’t a one-day event. This is partially because, for each race, the drivers must qualify to be able to enter.

The qualifiers usually take place the Thursday or Friday before the race, and the actual race usually takes place on Sunday. This can vary due to a variety of reasons. But you can count on the qualifier and race being at least one day apart.

The qualifier isn’t just a race to determine who’ll be in the main race, but it will also determine the position that the racer is given.

Since the track generally has four lanes, cars are “stacked” behind each other to start the race. This gives the person in front the advantage over the person in the last slot. But the slot assignment is based on how a racer finishes in the qualifying race. So it’s not a random assignment. It is earned.

The qualifying matchup bet isn’t like the outright bet. You’re not choosing a racer to beat the field.

In this type of bet, you’re selecting a winner based on a head-to-head finish. This isn’t to say that two racers will get on the track and face each other one on one.

In this bet, you’re betting that one racer will have a better finish in the qualifier for the race.

For these bets, you may see a standard moneyline option with positive and negative signs, although sometimes you’ll see both racers as positive and some as both negative.

So you could see qualifier matchups that look like this:

  • Jimmie Johnson -250
  • Kyle Busch -300


  • William Byron -200
  • Chase Elliott +410


  • Chase Elliott +150
  • Austin Dillon +400

In the first example, you’re betting that either Jimmie Johnson finishes ahead of Kyle Busch or vice versa… If you bet on Jimmy Johnson, you bet $250 to win an additional $100. If you bet on Kyle Busch, you’ll have to bet $300 to win an additional $100.

The moneylines on this option are both negative because oddsmakers expect them both to qualify and to finish fairly close to each other.

In the second example, for Byron, you’ll have to bet $200 to win an additional $100. For Elliott, if you bet $100, you can win $410 if Elliott finishes ahead of Byron.

In the third example, if Elliott finishes ahead of Dillon, a $100 bet will win you an additional $150. If Dillon finishes ahead of Elliott, a $100 bet yields $400.

4 – Full Race Matchup Bet

This bet works just like a qualifying matchup bet. The difference is that this bet is for the actual race.

It’s important to know that the odds given for the main race can vary wildly from the qualifier. This can be due to the performance of the racer during the qualifying race.

Other factors can play a role in the odds given for the main race, including the weather, racers that didn’t qualify for the main race, and changes that are made between the qualifier and the main race by the racers (i.e., engine tweaks made between the qualifier and the main race). The practice sessions can also affect these odds.

But regardless of the changes, it is still a head-to-head bet, and aside from the items I mentioned, it works just like the qualifier matchup bet.

5 – Futures Betting

If you’re familiar with futures betting in other sports like football, baseball, or even golf, then you won’t be surprised that NASCAR also has futures betting.

A futures bet, for those who’re unfamiliar, is a bet that’s based on a future event or series of events. The most common futures bet is that of who’ll win the season’s championship.

NASCAR has two main futures bets. The first one is for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The NASCAR Xfinity Series is a series of races that occur during the year where racers receive points based on how they finish each race in the series.

The other main futures bet is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and is the more popular of the two. Much like the Xfinity Series, the Monster Energy series assigns points for each finish in the series. These races include the more popular races like:

In either series, you’re betting on the person with the most points at the end of a season.

These bets usually have great odds and pay off well because of the difficulty in predicting who’ll win each championship cup.

6 – Group Matchup Bets

In a single matchup bet, you’re betting on which one of two racers will beat the other. It can be on the qualifying race or the main race.

In the single matchup bet, you can win if your racer finishes 49th and the other racer finishes 50th in a field of 50, just as long as your racer beats the opponent listed in the matchup by a slight margin.

But there is another type of matchup bet. This is the group matchup bet. In a group matchup bet, the oddsmakers list a group of several racers, usually a minimum of five, and you pick the winner out of that group of racers.

These bets usually pay better than the head-to-head matchups as they’re harder to pick than a head-to-head matchup.

7 – Pole Position

This is a bet that’s based on the qualifying races. As I said earlier, the qualifying race determines what position a racer is given in the main race.

The qualifying race uses the finish time of each racer to determine the spot they start in during the main race.

So the person with the fastest time will have the pole (or first) position, the second-fastest will be second, etc.

A bet you can place is who’ll have the fastest time in the qualifier. This is the pole position bet. With this bet, you’re choosing who’ll be the lead in the main race.

This bet pays great odds because of the number of possibilities as to who’ll be in the pole position.

8 – Fastest Lap Time

The fastest lap time is simply that, the driver who records the fastest time on a single lap on the track. This can be in the qualifier or the main race (so yes, you can place one of these bets on each race).

This is a great bet for a few reasons:

  • In a qualifying bet, the racer doesn’t need to qualify for you to win
  • In the main race, the racer could crash and not finish, and as long as they record the fastest lap, you win
  • The possibilities of who’ll have the fastest lap are numerous. It’s possible a complete unknown will have the fastest lap. Because of this, picking the racer with the fastest lap usually pays very well

9 – Prop Bets

Prop bets or proposition bets are available for most sports. The bigger the event, the more prop bets that are usually available.

These bets are non-standard bets that aren’t based on the outcome of the race. Some past prop bets that have popped up in NASCAR races include:

  • How many cautions in the race? (over/under)
  • Will a (insert car manufacturer) win the race?
  • Will Kyle Busch lead the most laps?
  • Which rookie will have the most wins?
  • Total wins for (insert racing team) racing team (over/under)
  • Number of lead changes in a race (over/under)
  • Number of first-time winners for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (over/under)
  • Number of first-time winners for the NASCAR Xfinity Series (over/under)
  • How many yellow flags will there be during the race? (over/under)
  • Will (insert driver name) get a DNF (did not finish)?

Some prop bets may be hard to come by as some sportsbooks may only offer a few of these bets while others may not offer any.

Some sportsbooks may only offer prop bets upon request.

The big thing to know is that the odds for these types of bets can fluctuate wildly.

It is always best to shop around for the best odds on these bets and to ask if you don’t see what you’re looking for.


NASCAR is now celebrating 70 years since the first official race in 1949. In those years, they’ve provided generations of fun and excitement for fans around the country.

Despite its shady beginnings, NASCAR has developed into a legitimate sports powerhouse in the US and as a popular pastime to bet on.

Both physical and online sportsbooks take action on every major NASCAR event.

The unpredictability is one of the reasons I love betting on NASCAR. In any given race, the top contenders may not finish, allowing unknowns to claim a prize.

And with that unpredictability, the odds and the ability of bettors to make more money both increase, making it even more fun.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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