Going Against the Odds-Makers

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Many states, including mine, have now legalized gambling. I’m not much of a gambler these days. If I ever happen to wander into a casino, it’s because I’m with someone else that wants to go. I’ll usually spend about $5 in the slot machines, and that’s about it. Once that $5 is gone, I’m ready to be gone too.

Back in my college days however, my roommate was a bookie. It didn’t take long to be sucked into what looked like a sure way to make instant cash. I knew a lot about football and I did pretty well at small bets…for about a year. But then I got greedy. I figured with my winning percentage, I could make some serious cash if I upped the ante. That’s when it all went terribly wrong. Fortunately, I learned my lesson and I’ve not made a wager in forty years.

With all of these gambling sites being thrown in our collective faces, it’s hard not to be tempted – especially when the so-called experts put out gambling odds on the Indianapolis 500.

Last week I got an e-mail from some group called BetOnline.com. They had posted early odds for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Some of their odds caught my eye, on both ends of the spectrum.

First of all, Scott Dixon was posted as the favorite to win at 5/1. I’m not sure what kind of research this site did, but Dixon is second only to Tony Kanaan in lowest winning percentage of former winners entered in this year’s race. Dixon has won once in eighteen tries (.055 winning percentage) compared to Kanaan’s one out of nineteen (.052). Over his eighteen appearances, Dixon has an average finish in the Indianapolis 500 of 10.27. That’s not bad, but is that good enough to consider him the favorite? It seems to me that the experts got lazy and figured if Dixon won last year’s championship and he is leading the championship after four races, Dixon must be the favorite to win the 500 as well.

They appear to have gotten equally lazy by making Josef Newgarden the next favorite at 7/1. Really? I guess Newgarden must be the second-best because he won the championship two years ago, and finished second last year to Dixon. Don’t look now, but Newgarden will be trying to make his tenth Indianapolis 500 this May (is that really possible?). Again, his 500 career has been decent, but compared to his season statistics – dare I say his Indianapolis 500 career has been disappointing? In his previous nine starts, Newgarden has one front-row start. He has never won, and has a best finish of third (2016, while driving for Ed Carpenter). Newgarden’s average finish over those nine starts is a lackluster 14.55. His average finish with Team Penske has improved to 9.00. Again, that’s decent – but is it worthy of the second overall favorite?

After Newgarden they list Alexander Rossi at 9/1. That one I’ll agree with. Although Rossi had a horrible season last year, and currently sits fifteenth in points – his Indianapolis 500 record is strong. After winning as a rookie in 2016.Rossi finished seventh, fourth and second in his next three appearances. He was looking strong last year, when a very controversial call in the pits took him out of contention. He was driving desperately to catch up when he eventually crashed on Lap 143, relegating him to a twenty-seventh place finish. Rossi is strong at Indianapolis and I think ranking him the third favorite is about right.

It is the other end of the projected field that I really had a problem with. Do they really have Jack Harvey ranked twenty-fifth at 80/1? This is Harvey’s second fulltime season in the NTT IndyCar Series. He started on the front-row at St. Petersburg and had a strong season going until losing a wheel bearing in the second race at Texas put him at seventeenth for that race. Still, Harvey currently sits tenth in points. Last year, Harvey finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500. Perhaps the experts are unfamiliar with Jack Harvey, so they listed him behind drivers such as Marcus Ericsson and Marco Andretti (who has yet to turn a competitive lap this season).

Keep in mind, this list is comprised of only thirty-three drivers. They did not include Stefan Wilson, who was announced as the sixth driver for Andretti Autosport last week. It also does not include whoever will drive the No. 52 car for Dale Coyne, or the currently still-breathing Top Gun Racing with RC Enerson as the driver. They tested yesterday at Gateway for the first time. Rumor has it that the entry list will be released later today, so we’ll see where everything stands. Here is a look at the complete list of odds from BetOnline.com; but please keep reading below.

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What really surprised me was who they had ranked at the bottom – Simona de Silvestro at 300/1. I’m not saying that Simona should be considered for the win, but according to this list – they are saying she will be a long shot to even qualify. Except for the year she was saddled with the woefully underpowered Lotus engine, Simona has always qualified in the low-twenties – often with inferior equipment. Her last race in 2015, she qualified nineteenth.

I’m guessing these experts ran to Wikipedia and looked up Simona’s stats and saw she had not driven in the 500 since 2015. Then they probably realized they had never heard of Paretta Autosport, either. Had they done their homework they would know that Simona de Silvestro is a very savvy racer. Had they dug a little deeper, they would understand that Paretta Autosport is in association with Team Penske. Unlike some of the associations we’ve seen over the years, I can promise you that this car will be prepared and engineered up to Penske standards. Roger Penske does not take well to public embarrassment. He will make sure that this team gets everything they need to succeed.

With a maximum of three drivers going home after next Sunday, I feel very confident in saying that Simona de Silvestro will not be one of them. Who will the three be? Well, those two cars I mentioned – the third Coyne car and the Top Gun car – would be prime candidates. If their futures are that uncertain one week before practice starts, that does not bode well for their chances.

My guess is that like the last two times we had bumping in 2018 and 2019, a fulltime car will go home. In 2018, it was James Hinchcliffe. In 2019, it was Max Chilton – who was still considered a fulltime driver for Carlin at that time. With very limited practice these days, one practice crash can set your program back for the entire month.

If I was a betting man – which, of course, I no longer am – I would say it will be Dalton Kellett for AJ Foyt Racing that will be sitting it out on Race Day. They are running four cars in the 500 this year, and I think it will be too much. Sébastien Bourdais, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand will get into the field on talent and experience, regardless if they crash in practice. If Kellett meets the wall prior to qualifying, I think the odds are that he won’t be able to overcome it.

Just like our friends in the desert (as Brent Musburger calls the Las Vegas odds-makers), I’m doing nothing more than speculating. I don’t know any more than they do. Just watch – Scott Dixon will probably win, Newgarden will come in second, while Simona and Beth Paretta will be watching from the Penske Suite as Jack Harvey finishes twenty-fifth. But I don’t think so. If I was so inclined to make a bet – I would go against these odds.

George Phillips

Please Note:  For those that have been asking on social media. The annual Oilpressure.com Indianapolis Trivia Contest that everyone seems to enjoy, will be posted tomorrow.

6 Responses to “Going Against the Odds-Makers”

  1. I think Sato and Rahal should be higher up that list. The RLL cars were strong 9 months ago at the 500.

    I think I might even put Montoya a tad higher. Not because I’m one of those JPM fanboys. (He was always the biggest assbag we’d come across in the paddock at Belle Isle every year…the Chipster a close second) But he’s damn good around the Speedway.

  2. Patrick Says:

    I am not expecting a miracle from my favorite driver Simona considering she has been away 6 years and was never very strong on ovals anyway. But I certainly wouldn’t rank her last, especially with the Penske association. It will be interesting to see how she does.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Even with Indy being Kellett’s best track by far in Lights, I would probably put his odds behind everybody else’s.

    Carpenter, Hunter-Reay, and Bourdais should be higher. Ferrucci, Daly, and Veekay should be lower.

    Top Gun racing seems like bump bait, but we’ve thought the about HVM and Juncos in recent years, only to be quite surprised.

  4. this list reveals disinterest in the action.

  5. James T Suel Says:

    I don’t think these odds makers really understand racing. Auto racing is very hard to set odds in the first place, to many variables. Newgarden is at the top of my list , Harvey and Simona should be way further up that list.

  6. Yannick Says:

    Not a better here at all, yet I guess the amount people are willing to pay for a bet with a certain entry figure into the “odds” more than the capability of the car/driver combinations.

    I would not underestimate the likelihood of one team messing up their setup over the course of the entire “month”. It has happened to the best of them, in all eras. Most recently, it happened to Carlin when they had Fernando Alonso in one of their cars in association with the McLaren group.
    In contrast to that, Dalton Kellett performed above expectations last year, and that makes him rather likely to repeat that performance. In fact, with Bourdais, Kimball and Hildebrand, the Foyt lineup looks stronger this year than it has in quite some time. Now if they only got their pit stops together well …
    Simona DeSilvestro is likely to qualify comfortably. A finish on the lead lap should be considered as a good performance, given how long she has been away from these cars and these type of tracks. RC Enerson’s entry remains to be determined. Putting the car into the field is likely going to feel like a win for a new team at their first race when there are 36 qualifiers.

    From the tire test earlier in the year, I got the feeling that Chevy may well have the upper hand in the upcoming 500 mile race. So the non-qualifiers might all be Honda-powered cars this time.

    I’m surprised nobody was interested in hiring Oliver Askew or Spencer Pigot for their additional car. Still, the talent level of this field is pretty deep, even though some might need the refresher test a little more than others.

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