Every year motorsports fans around the world look forward to Memorial Day Weekend in the United States when three of the most prestigious races are run. I'll handicap all three races and try to present the best betting opportunities that exist for this great day of racing.
The day kicks off at 8 a.m. ET with the Formula 1 Monaco GP. The race has been run since 1929 and most motorsports fans in Europe claim it is the premier race in the world bar none. In fact Alain Prost and Nigel Mansel both claimed that to them a win at Monaco was worth 2 anywhere else. In Monaco Grand Prix day is actually a national holiday. The Monaco course is very narrow, has several tight turns and a tunnel. The speeds are extremely slow and passing is virtually impossible which means that the driver who takes the lead usually wins unless he crashes. But fortunately for the drivers who don't start up front, crashes are the norm at Monaco. Michael Schumacher crashed out on the first lap while leading a few years back and in one race the leaders crashed or blew engines on 5 separate occasions in the race. That said, the safest bet is to bet on the car on the pole. In the last 10 years only once (2008) did the pole winner not win the race when Felipe Massa won the pole but Lewis Hamilton won the race and in the last 25 years 92% of winners started on the pole.
The key, of course, is to figure out who will start on the pole and in most years that is a guess. This year, however, there's no difficulty figuring out who will start up front. In the 5 races run so far this year Mercedes have won every pole position by a wide margin and Lewis Hamilton won 4 of those poles. The Red Bulls have been closing in on Mercedes but right now Mercedes are in a class of their own and there's no reason to expect that Hamilton or Rosberg won't win the pole. Practice speeds for the race seem to indicate that Hamilton is faster than Rosberg and it would be a surprise not to see him start up front. Looking elsewhere for a pole position or win is a waste of money but 2 to 3 odds on Hamilton to win the race and 1 to 2 odds to win the pole provides little incentive. One bet, however, that is offered at numerous European and North American facing books is the Qualifying-Race double. Most books seem to have that bet available on Lewis Hamilton at 5 to 4 odds and it presents great value. Other bets at poor odds but which are virtual sure things for the race are the Safety Car to come out at some point during the race at 1 to 6 odds; The number of classified drivers under 18.5 at 2 to 5 odds; and a Mercedes car to win the race at 1 to 15 odds. Of course there is a slight chance of rain and if that does occur then upsets become much more of a possibility.
The second race of the day is the Indianapolis 500 which starts at noon ET. The race began in 1911 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was run on a brick track – hence the track's nickname The Brickyard. The race is affectionately known by the media as The Grand Daddy of them all and has been won by some of the biggest names in Indy, F1 and NASCAR. The race always starts with 33 cars lined up in 3 rows and for the most part starting position means little in the race. In the late 1990s a dispute between Indianapolis Speedway owner Tony George and the management at CART led to CART drivers pulling out and the race being contested only by drivers from the Indy Racing League. As a result two of the most forgettable names won the Indy 500 in those years with Buddy Lazier and Eddie Cheever Jr. Since that time Lazier has run in the Indianapolis 500 but has been a perennial also ran. The race received a big lift when Danica Patrick became the first female driver to run a competitive race and as a result of that race Indianapolis 500 TV ratings have grown tremendously since. Danica has since moved on to NASCAR but ratings for the race still remain high. Jim Nabors (yes he's still alive) will be singing Back Home in Indiana for the last time at this race.
The Indy 500 has been won 3 times by both Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002 and 2009) and Dario Franchitti, but Franchitti has retired from racing after being involved in a horrific crash at the end of last season. Tony Kanaan is the defending champion but he has shown little all year and it's hard to see him repeating.
The best bets for this year's race are clearly Helio Castroneves who excels on these larger ovals and who has been fast in all practice sessions and qualifying and Marco Andretti who has been competitive in almost every Indy 500 and who, like Helio, has been fast in all practice sessions. Bovada.lv has both drivers listed as co-favorites at 13 to 2 odds.
The other major contenders seem to be James Hinchcliffe at 9 to 1 odds and Ryan Hunter-Reay at 11 to 1 odds. Hinchcliffe excels on oval tracks and could have won the Indy 500 last year with better racing luck. He has been very fast in practice and had a good qualifying run. Hunter Reay is generally considered best on road courses but when one looks at his oval record it's clear he does quite well in those races as well. Hunter-Reay won the oval race at Milwaukee two years in a row and just fell short in Iowa last year. Hunter-Reay is the defending series champion.
For a major long shot play, Charlie Kimball at 75/1 could be worth a shot. Although Kimball's only win was on a road course, he actually does quite well on ovals. He is racing for a good team and tends to stay out of trouble on the ovals. He would certainly be a surprise but is worth a bet at the price.
Coca Cola 600
The last race of the day is the Coca Cola 600 starting just after 6 p.m. ET. Considered the 2nd biggest race on the NASCAR schedule to only the Daytona 500, the Coca Cola 600 has always been a big draw due to the length of the race and the anomaly of the race starting in the day and finishing at night. The race was originally intended to rival the Indianapolis 500 but NASCAR chairman Bill France realized it would benefit them to run the races several hours apart so drivers could participate in both if they liked and TV coverage could be maximized. Tony Stewart was the most recent driver to race in both the Indy 500 and Coca Cola 600 although after the Coca Cola 600 that year he vowed never to do it again as it was too demanding. Two years ago both series tried to entice drivers to race in each series by offering a $10 million bonus to any driver who could win both races but there were no takers. This year Kurt Busch has decided to run in both races although the $10 million bonus has been withdrawn (he has no chance of winning both races anyways).
The key to winning the Coca Cola 600 is tire management, fuel management and the ability to avoid excess stress on the engine. In past years the best drivers have risen to the top for this race and there's no reason not to expect the same this year. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are 6 to 1 co-favorites for the race and for good reason. Harvick has been exceptional all year and had the best car in last week's all-star race only to fall a bit short at the end. He is also the defending race champion and won the event in 2011 as well. Jimmie Johnson owned the track in the early 2000s winning 3 consecutive Coca Cola 600s but hasn't been as successful since. Still Johnson has the pole for the race and is always competitive at Charlotte and can't be ignored. Kasey Kahne at 8 to 1 is the most likely driver to displace the top 2 choices. He won in 2012, has always performed well at Charlotte and had a dominant car in the all-star race. He also had a good qualifying run. For my money Kevin Harvick is the best bet of the day.
The best longshot opportunity could be Carl Edwards. Always competitive in the race Edwards has an affinity at saving fuel and has been competitive throughout 2014. Although he starts a bit further back in the field Edwards will no doubt make up the positions without much difficulty. Edwards was also competitive for most of the all-star race. At 20 to 1 Edwards represents good value.
For a major longshot one need look no further than Jamie McMurray. The winner of last week's all-star race is 50 to 1 and while he starts way back in the field, he started near the back last week as well. McMurray has shown he can save fuel when need be and he has always been good at tire maintenance. He is indeed a longshot but worth a play.
For motorsports fans the only church they will see this Sunday is the invocations at both Indianapolis and Charlotte. It's a long day but a super Sunday for car racing enthusiasts.