Betting guide for 2017 NASCAR playoffs
PJ Walsh

When the checkered flag was waved at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, it not only signaled the end of the race but also closed the books on the 26-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

Sixteen drivers qualified for NASCAR's playoffs, with Martin Truex Jr. taking the regular-season crown and earning a bonus of 15 playoff points that he will carry through to the final race of the postseason at Homestead-Miami Speedway, if he advances. Truex dominated the regular season, securing four race wins while also leading the Series in both laps led and fastest laps run, so it's no surprise to see him listed as the championship favorite at 2-1.

The table below includes the drivers who qualified to run for the 2017 NASCAR Cup series championship, the point standings heading into Sunday's first playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway, and the current championship odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Current Championship Odds From Westgate
1 Martin Truex Jr. 2053 -- 2-1
2 Kyle Larson 2033 -20 5-1
3 Kyle Busch 2029 -24 5-2
4 Brad Keselowski 2019 -34 15-1
5 Jimmie Johnson 2017 -36 10-1
6 Kevin Harvick 2015 -38 10-1
7 Denny Hamlin 2013 -40 10-1
8 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2010 -43 100-1
9 Ryan Blaney 2008 -45 60-1
10 Chase Elliott 2006 -47 30-1
11 Ryan Newman 2005 -48 100-1
12 Kurt Busch 2005 -48 60-1
13 Kasey Kahne 2005 -48 200-1
14 Austin Dillon 2005 -48 200-1
15 Matt Kenseth 2005 -48 25-1
16 Jamie McMurray 2003 -50 100-1

In order to determine which drivers are providing betting value, I turned to the statistics wizard at that offers customizable race results and loop data. Included in this data are average running position (RP), laps led and fast laps run, which I find to be very valuable statistics when attempting to project future performance.

Loop data analysis

Average running position, as opposed to average finish, quantifies how drivers perform over the course of an entire race, while average finish includes only the result after the final lap. For example, a driver may run in the top 5 for 90 percent of a race but then experience engine failure that results in a 30th-place finish. Average finish would show a 30th-place result when that driver actually performed much better.

Laps led are exactly what one would expect: the number of laps led by each driver. This statistic gives insights into which drivers dominated certain races but may not have gotten the result they deserved. One driver can lead the majority of a race but have a bad pit stop late that puts him or her back in the field and causes a finish that is lower than the speed of the race car.

Finally, fast laps run refer to how many times a driver ran the quickest lap of all drivers on a single lap. This is another statistic that helps us dig deeper than simply using average finish to handicap how drivers historically perform at certain racetracks.

In order to apply loop data, I combined the data for the seven racetracks in the playoffs that the Cup series has already visited this year with 2016 data from Chicagoland Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. These two racetracks host only one Cup series race each year, so 2016 reflects the most recent results.

Please note that I did not include any data from Talladega in the analysis because restrictor-plate racing results in large packs of cars drafting closely together, which skews average running position and fast laps data.

Value picks

Kyle Larson (5-1)

Larson enters the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, trailing Truex by 20 points. Not only does Larson rank third in RP, laps led and fast laps over the races we analyzed, but he will also be the clear favorite when the series gets to Homestead, which is arguably his best racetrack (most laps led and fast laps over the last two seasons), if he advances.

Denny Hamlin (10-1)

After a slow start, Hamlin has shown consistent top-5 speed, resulting in two wins over the last eight races. Denny is also known for his flat-track prowess and will be among the favorites at New Hampshire (where he won in July) and Martinsville. He also ranks sixth in RP based on the loop data we analyzed, making him a very solid value at 10-1.

Matt Kenseth (25-1)

Kenseth opened the season at 12-1 to win the championship, but did not perform up to his standards or our expectations. With that said, Kenseth ranks seventh in RP in our loop data sample, eighth in top-5 finishes and seventh in laps led this season. There is no doubt that he has a big hole to dig out of (48 points behind Truex), but this team is very capable of getting hot and knocking off a few wins to claw its way to Homestead.

Chase Elliott (30-1)

Similar to Kenseth, Elliott opened the 2017 season with high expectations, yet could not earn a win during the first 26 races of the season. He was consistent enough to earn a playoff berth on points alone, fueled by 14 top-10 finishes (only five drivers scored more top-10s). But the biggest reason to be optimistic about Elliott's chances, especially at a price of 30-1, is his ability to get out front and lead laps at playoff racetracks. Chase ranks sixth in both laps led and fast laps in our loop data sample, which is encouraging for a driver who is considered a long shot to win the championship.