For all the dependence on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks by NASCAR, it has been 10 weeks since they visited this course type. Denny Hamlin won the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas to become the most recent winner. He is also the only two-time victor on the 1.5-milers, but he is not the favorite with +700 odds.
These tracks are typically fairly predictable. It takes a perfect combination of horsepower, a driver who can communicate the changes he needs to his car, and a team that can perform. That takes money and so dark horses are typically a bad bet.
But twice already this year, longshots have won. Austin Dillon (+10000) was listed at 100/1 when he took the checkers at Texas. Cole Custer was +6600 at Kentucky. The same thing could happen this week, but the chances are much lower in a field that will be dominated by playoff contenders. Seven drivers this week are +900 or lower at the PointsBet Sportsbook with Kevin Harvick leading the way at +400. The smart money is going will get spread around those top contenders.
Harvick started the Round of 16 with a victory at Darlington in the Southern 500 and it’s a good bet that he will do the same in the Round of 12. Listed at +400 at PointsBet, he is the favorite. Given his current momentum with two wins in the last three races, it would be impossible for him not to be, but even after parsing his numbers it is hard to find a flaw.
Seven different drivers have won a race on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. Harvick is one of these with his QuikTrip 500 triumph at Atlanta. That is part of 12 top-10s in his last 13 races on this track type with the only stumble coming at Homestead this June. That streak kicked off with a second-place finish at Vegas last year when this was the first race of the playoffs. In the intervening events, he has been among the top five in 69 percent of the races, including a pair of victories.
Harvick is so heavily favored that on another sportsbook he is practically even money (+125) to finish in the top three and there is really no reason to fade him.
Best Bets for a top five
Joey Logano (+650) won this spring’s Pennzoil 400, giving him two wins on this track in his last three tries; he also won last year’s edition of that race. With his victory, he locked himself into the playoffs early. That may have affected his performance for a time because he ran modestly through the middle of the season. This has been a great track for Logano. He enters the weekend with a nine-race streak of top-10 finishes that stretches back to 2014 and an average of 4.7. If he misses it will probably not be by much, which means he is worth a wager for a top-three at +185.
After scoring nine top-fives in his last 11 races this season, it is odd to think of Martin Truex Jr. (+540) as being at a crossroads – but that is exactly where we find him. He is currently ranked fourth in terms of his championship odds at PointsBet with a +750, which is distant from Harvick’s +150 and Hamlin’s +275. The next three races will be critical, not only because the battle from second through 12th is tight, but so that he can establish this team as a legitimate challenger. That is in question right now after his 22nd-place finish at Darlington and 24th at Bristol. Granted, he wrecked on the Track Too Tough to Tame while challenging for the win, but he needs to start stacking top-fives together once more.
Exceptional value: If he had not been pinched into the wall by Truex at Darlington, it is hard to know if Chase Elliott (+850) would have been able to hold off his challenger and win that race. He would have finished at least second, however, as Harvick was a distant third at the time. And with that result, he would have four consecutive finishes of seventh or better. Elliott is peaking at the right time, but he has struggled with consistency during the playoffs in the past. Still, his victory in Charlotte 2 makes him one of the favorites this week and with 17/2 odds, he is worth a medium-sized bet.
Hamlin is the only driver in the field with two wins on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. He crossed under the checkers first at Homestead this June and at Kansas in the most recent event in July. It is the two results in between that make us a little nervous. He finished 12th at Kentucky and 20th at Texas on tracks that should have been kind. He has also failed to impress experts much in the Round of 16 and that malaise could carry forward into the current set of races.
Best Bets for a top 10
If he keeps getting close, it is inevitable that Kyle Busch (+900) will win before the end of the year. If we keep saying that, the odds of us being right continue to build and so long as he garners high odds, a modest wager is indicated. Las Vegas is not necessarily his best track, but it may be his favorite since he was born and reared nearby. He won there in 2009 and has top-three finishes in 2018 and 2019. His last two attempts were 19th last fall and 15th this spring.
PointsBet has a lot more confidence in Brad Keselowski (+625) than we do. Ranked third this week in terms of his odds, Kez has the benefit of being perfect in regard to top-10 finishes in 2020 on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks. He won the Charlotte 1 race and finished second at Kansas. But the rest of his efforts this season were between seventh and 10th, so we are predicting a top-10, but not a top-five.
Kurt Busch (+4000) is not a good bet to win this week, but if you want to add a little to your betting funds, he should earn a top-10 with +115 odds. He’s been consistent on most track types this year and has two top-fives and six top-10s on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses. If all goes well, he could win in front of his hometown crowd because he scored a victory at Kentucky last year.
Aric Almirola (+2500) got off to a slow start this year on the 1.5-milers. He scored only one top-15 and had an average finish of 18.25 in his first four starts. His last three have been much better with a sweep of the top 10 and a best of fifth at Homestead. With William Byron (+5000) out of the playoffs, the focus of the organization is on him and Elliott. Those extra resources improve his odds.
Longshot alert: With 90/1 odds, Christopher Bell (+9000) could be this week’s hidden gem. Three of his five top-10s this season have come on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with a ninth in Charlotte 1, an eighth at Homestead, and a seventh at Kentucky. Since his outright odds are long, they have dragged his top-three odds to +2000 and top-10 odds to +225 on another sportsbook, and either wager is worth seriously considering.
Good Values outside the top 10
It took a while for Alex Bowman (+3000) to find the handle on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but in his eighth try this season he finally scored a top-10 at Kansas in the most recent race.
Ryan Blaney’s (+1000) "cookie-cutter" season is bracketed with an 11th at Vegas this spring and a 20th at Kansas 1, but he swept the top 10 in between and scored four top-fives.
Jimmie Johnson (+4000) was great on this track once with three consecutive wins from 2005 through 2008 plus another in 2010. This spring, he finished fifth in the Pennzoil 400.
When they counted Austin Dillon (+4000) out earlier this year at Texas, he won and locked himself in the playoffs. He was fourth at Vegas this spring.
Matt DiBenedetto (+5000) was almost the Cinderella Story of the Pennzoil 400. He finished second behind Logano.
Cole Custer (+12500) is one of the seven drivers with wins on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this season. His came at Kentucky.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+15000) likes Vegas. He finished sixth there last year and was third this spring. Granted the circumstances were brighter then, but he could be a solid bet at +300 to finish in the top 10.
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