2012 Coca-Cola 600 Expert Picks – Betting on Underdogs for Big Payoffs: Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the season, and a lot can go wrong during 400 laps at one of the fastest track on the schedule. As a result, the drivers with the fastest cars early in race often succumb to engine failures, pit road penalties and changing track temperatures throughout the event. The first 500 miles of the race is all about survival, and anyone left standing has a chance to win. Not surprisingly, three drivers have made their first-ever Cup win come in the Coca-Cola 600 since 2000, including twice in the last five years. Longshot Casey Mears celebrated in Victory Lane in 2007, and David Reutimann did the same in 2009. The unique format of this marathon race makes betting on underdogs a no-brainer, and here are a few solid options that have a chance of making some noise Sunday.

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At 40/1 odds, A.J. Allmendinger headlines the list of sleepers to consider. He had a great year at Charlotte last season, finishing fifth in the Coca-Cola 600 and following it up with a seventh-place run in the fall event. In addition to his success last season, Allmendinger looked incredible in last weekend’s All-Star Race at Charlotte. Needing to race his way into the main event through the Sprint Showdown, he qualified on the pole for the last-chance event. However, he suffered a cut tire coming to the green and was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop, putting him nearly a full lap behind the field. Instead of giving up, Allmendinger proceeded to power back through the field. He stormed into second-place, grabbing one of the transfer spots and making the All-Star Race, ultimately finishing 11th. Allmendinger is arguably best driver in the series without a win on his resume, but he has a chance to change that this weekend.

The Coca-Cola 600 takes patience and endurance to win, and veteran Mark Martin is one of the smartest and most physically fit drivers around. His smooth style allows him to keep the stress on his engine and his brakes to a minimum, which should give him plenty to work with in crunch time. Martin won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2002 and finished fourth as recently as 2010. Perhaps the most-telling stat is that he qualified sixth for the race. Martin has started in the top 10 five times this season, and he has four finishes of 12th or better to show for it. When he has qualified outside the top 10, he has yet to crack the top 10 on race day. Starting near the front at a track and a race that suits his driving style, Martin could be a steal at his 30/1 odds.

Bettors looking to hit a homerun might want to go out on a limb and gamble on David Ragan. As his 300/1 odds suggest, he is a major longshot. Switching to Front Row Motorsports in the offseason has saddled the already inconsistent Ragan with underfunded equipment, and the results haven’t been pretty in 2012. However, Charlotte has always been one of his better tracks. In fact, he has three straight finishes of 11th or better at the track, including a second-place run in last year’s Coca-Cola 600. No, Ragan doesn’t have the equipment to go head-to-head with the big names and win. At the same time, he might just run well enough to stay on the lead lap all night and gamble on some pit strategy late in the race. With a small bet on Ragan and his 300/1 odds, bettors have little lose and a lot to gain if he pulls off the upset.

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Check out the latest 2012 Coca-Cola 600 odds and predictions from NSAwins.com’s NASCAR handicapping expert Brian Polking!


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