Here’s who the sportsbooks are betting on to be the next NASCAR champion

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There are 10 regular-season points races remaining in NASCAR’s Cup Series schedule that precede 10 playoff events, which means there is still a while to go before a champion is crowned at Phoenix.

The crew chief of the No. 5 car, Cliff Daniels, called it “a long summer.”

“We all know that this is the Cup Series; things go in cycles,” Daniels said, reflecting on the late-season success of Chase Elliott’s No. 9 team that manifested in a title last year.

Although it’s early, glances are already being cast toward Daniels and driver Kyle Larson as the favorite team to win the championship in 2021. VegasInsider.com is giving Larson the best odds to win this November (+450) over Martin Truex Jr. (+550), Denny Hamlin (+700) and Chase Elliott (+700). Other sites such as PointsBet Sportsbook, NASCAR.com and Odds Shark also have Larson listed as the front-runner after winning his fourth race this season, including last Sunday’s non-points All-Star event at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Larson puts on a cowboy hat as he celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Kyle Larson puts on a cowboy hat as he celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

“This is definitely the best opportunity I’ve ever had to win the championship,” Larson said last Sunday. “But there’s still a long season left, and other cars and teams are going to get better, and so will we.

“Just got to keep working hard, and hopefully we can have ourselves in position come October or November.”

If the pressing question through the early races of the 2021 season was, “Will there be more than 16 winners?” it is now, “Who can beat Kyle Larson?” And a couple of names come to mind, not the least of which is Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott, who sits 26 points behind Larson in the standings. Larson is 47 points behind series leader Denny Hamlin.

Following the top-three in points are William Byron, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, respectively, in the top 10. Neither Hamlin nor Harvick have won a race in 2021, while three drivers out of the top 10 in points have at least one win: Alex Bowman (two wins), Christopher Bell (one) and Michael McDowell (one). That brings the number of different race winners this year to 11.

Rank

Driver

Car No.

Points

Points Behind Leader

1

Denny Hamlin

11

664

0

2

Kyle Larson***

5

617

-47

3

Chase Elliott*

9

591

-73

4

William Byron*

24

564

-100

5

Joey Logano*

22

548

-116

6

Martin Truex Jr.***

19

527

-137

7

Kyle Busch*

18

520

-144

8

Ryan Blaney*

12

509

-155

9

Kevin Harvick

4

483

-181

10

Brad Keselowski*

2

473

-191

11

Alex Bowman**

48

447

-217

12

Austin Dillon

3

436

-228

13

Tyler Reddick

8

398

-266

14

Chris Buescher

17

391

-273

15

Christopher Bell*

20

364

-300

16

Michael McDowell*

34

355

-309

17

Matt DiBenedetto

21

331

-333

18

Kurt Busch

1

328

-336

19

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

47

309

-355

20

Ross Chastain

42

307

-357

21

Bubba Wallace

23

298

-366

22

Daniel Suárez

99

293

-371

23

Ryan Newman

6

287

-377

24

Ryan Preece

37

281

-383

25

Erik Jones

43

272

-392

26

Chase Briscoe

14

271

-393

27

Cole Custer

41

253

-411

28

Aric Almirola

10

205

-459

29

Corey LaJoie

7

187

-477

30

Anthony Alfredo

38

171

-493

31

Quin Houff

0

78

-586

32

James Davison

15

77

-587

33

Josh Bilicki

52

71

-593

* denotes number of wins

Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher round out the drivers in the top-16 in points, with Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain outside the top 16, which is the number of drivers that will eventually advance to the playoffs. Points bubble drivers Dillon, DiBenedetto and Stenhouse have competed at Nashville Superspeedway in 2010 and 2011 in the Xfinity Series, which could give them an advantage when the Cup Series races for the first time at track this Sunday.

Stenhouse recognized that many drivers have completed test sessions on the 1.33-mile oval, but said that there’s “a little bit of a comfort feeling knowing that you’ve been there before.” He also called the track “it’s own beast” with the fully concrete and relatively flat surface.

Given the unique surface and size of Nashville, it’s probably not the best predictor for the rest of the season, but the limited laps on the track could make for a more even playing field among teams topping the standings and those further down, meaning it could help buffer points for drivers on the bubble.

Additionally, after the upcoming Pocono doubleheader weekend, three races out of seven before the playoffs will be on road courses, which means more teams could start emphasizing those types of tracks. For example, Dillon plans to drive in the Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen and the Indianapolis Road Course for Our Motorsports, the team announced Friday.

The upcoming road-course races could also be an opportunity for defending Cup champion Elliott to surge ahead of Larson in points before the playoffs. The Hendrick Motorsports drivers have finished either first or second in the past three points races, with Elliott leading at Circuit of the Americas and Larson winning at Sonoma.

Kurt Busch, left, and Chase Elliott (9) head down the front stretch during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)
Kurt Busch, left, and Chase Elliott (9) head down the front stretch during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, June 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

“While we have the cycle going our way now, when we get into the end of the summer and into the playoffs we need to keep it going,” Daniels said. “Because our competition is certainly not taking their foot off the gas, so we’re going to keep ours on it, too.”

Besides Elliott, who has won three out of the past five road course races, two other drivers to watch in the second half of the regular season are Logano and Bowman. Both drivers finished in the top 10 in all road course races so far this year, and Logano hasn’t finished lower than fourth in any of those three events. He’s ranked fifth in points. Bowman, who recently signed a two-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2023, is ranked 11th in points but he has the third-most wins in the series and could find momentum late in the year as his team did in 2020.

Among the teams on the bubble, keep an eye on Chastain, who finished fourth at Circuit of the Americas and seventh at Sonoma. His road-course racing prowess could put him in position to make a points jump before September.

Given Larson’s dominance since late May, it’s fair to wonder whether we’re watching his championship season unfold, but it’s also fair for an organization that knows how quickly the tides can turn (à la Elliott) to hedge the expectation for that to continue.

How to watch NASCAR at Nashville

Race: Ally 400

When: Sunday, June 20

When: race at 3:30 p.m. ET, qualifying at 11:05 a.m. ET (single vehicle, one lap)

TV: NBCSN

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 399 miles (300 laps) with stages ending on laps 90, 185 and 300

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