The Action Network: Picking winners? Start with Kyle Busch

Nick Giffen
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The Action Network: Picking winners? Start with Kyle Busch

Last weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was at one of its two superspeedway tracks, where long-shot winners happen frequently. We identified Ryan Blaney as a value play despite his 20-1 odds, and he delivered, securing his place among the final eight drivers in the playoffs.

This week, we’re back to the series’ bread and butter — the 1.5-mile track. The list of 1.5-mile winners in 2019 is mostly a who’s who of NASCAR:

• Atlanta*: Brad Keselowski
• Las Vegas 1: Joey Logano
Texas: Denny Hamlin
Kansas 1: Keselowski
Charlotte: Martin Truex, Jr.
Chicagoland: Alex Bowman
Kentucky: Kurt Busch
Las Vegas 2: Truex, Jr.

(*Note: Atlanta was the only 1.5-mile track run without aero-ducts, and also is the only 1.5-mile track with incredibly high tire wear. For the rest of this article, I will not be including Atlanta when I refer to 1.5-mile tracks.)

Every single 1.5-mile winner made the playoffs, while all but Kurt Busch are still alive in the playoffs. Unless something incredible happens, we’re looking at a race for the win among the favorites. To find the value plays among this group, I’ll rely on my statistical model. The top factors in my model for this weekend’s race are:

Year-to-date driver rating
Average green flag speed at 1.5-mile aero-duct tracks
Driver rating over the last eight Kansas races
Final practice 10-lap average

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I’ll also use practice data over 15 consecutive laps and longer to manually tweak model results. Since there isn’t historical data for these metrics, they can’t be part of the model, but they will give us an idea of who is fast over a longer race run.

We’re on a good run with Blaney last week and Larson two weeks ago at Dover, as well as pegging Martin Truex, Jr. at 14-1 odds at the last 1.5-mile race at Las Vegas. Let’s see if we can continue the run with a trio of playoff drivers at Kansas.

Kyle Busch +500

Busch is my model’s favorite to win, and it likes him at anything longer than +400. Fortunately, bettors across the country can find him at odds longer than this. Busch is +500 at DraftKings Sportsbook and +450 at MGM properties.

The guy they call Rowdy hasn’t won a 1.5-mile race this year, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up some strong numbers at this track type. Busch has the third-best average green flag speed at 1.5-mile tracks. If we remove each driver’s misleading finishes from the tally, Busch stays in third with an average green flag speed rank of 5.3, just fractions behind Kevin Harvick’s 5.2 and Chase Elliott’s 5.0 rank.

Harvick starts 40th after failing pre-qualifying inspection four times, and Elliott wasn’t as strong as Busch in either practice session. Notably, Elliott was 0.3 seconds slower per lap than Busch over every long-run metric that each driver ran in final practice.

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Qualifying was a bit strange, with playoff teams focusing on long-run speed. That makes it notable that Kyle Busch qualified among the top half of the playoff drivers. There are many weaker drivers starting in front of him, so expect him to wind up at the front of the field rather quickly.

Busch has eight straight top-10 finishes at Kansas, including six inside the top five before a misleading 30th-place finish earlier this year.

Joey Logano +1400

Like Busch, Logano also shows up strong in a combination of important metrics. His average green flag speed at 1.5-mile tracks during day races is sixth, while his average finish is second. Among all 1.5-mile races, Logano ranks fourth in average green flag speed, and he holds the best average finish.

Logano also has a strong Kansas history, with seven top-five finishes in his last 10 incident-free Kansas races. That includes five finishes of fifth or better in six incident-free Kansas races during the high downforce era (2013-2015, plus 2019). Additionally, Logano has finished outside of the top eight only once in six Kansas races during the playoffs.

Finally, Logano showed well in practice. Yes, he was only 17th over 10 consecutive laps, but when adding five more laps he really popped. Thirteen of the 16 drivers faster than him over 10 laps also made a 15-lap run, with only non-playoff drivers Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Daniel Hemric failing to do so. Logano leapt to fifth on the charts over 15 consecutive laps, meaning he gained nine positions among drivers that made both 10- and 15-lap runs.

Logano can be found at this price at Station Casinos in Las Vegas. His deep starting position (29th) presents a minor concern, depressing his chances to win in my model slightly. That said, there’s still value down to +1000.

William Byron +4000

Byron has been a sneaky driver at 1.5-mile tracks this year. He ranks eighth in average green flag speed at this track type in 2019. If we just look at the last four 1.5-mile races, Byron has an average green flag speed between fifth and 10th, while posing a sequence of great results during that run.

In practice, Byron followed a similar trajectory to Logano, moving from 18th to ninth in final practice as the number of consecutive laps increased from 10 to 15. He even leapfrogged Logano over 25 consecutive laps.

Kansas has not been a good track for Byron in the Cup Series, which may be why his odds are so depressed. He had two DNFs in 2018, and a 20th place in the first race this year. However, that’s a pretty small sample size to rely on, especially with two misleading results. He was strong at Kansas in the other NASCAR national series, where he placed fourth at Kansas in his lone Xfinity race and won his only Gander Trucks appearance at the track.

Byron is in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs after his crash at Talladega. That gives him some additional upside to gamble and race aggressively. I’d buy Byron down to +3000.