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After a controversial race in the rain on a road course, NASCAR hopes to return to normalcy with the Coke 600.
The Cup series longest race will seem like a breath of fresh air to drivers who held their breath in the heavy spray on the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas last week. Anyone who questions the speed achieved by the field need only rewind to Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.’s accidents. Conditions will be easier to manage on the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The series is in an interesting stage of the schedule. From now until the playoffs begin, ovals will be interspersed with road courses. For their part, the ovals also show a lot of variety. After Charlotte, the series visits an intermediate oval in Nashville, the quirky triangular-shaped Pocono Raceway, another 1.5-miler with Atlanta Motor Speedway, a short, flat track in New Hampshire, the two-mile Michigan International Speedway, and the regular-season ender at Daytona International Speedway.
With 11 winners in 14 races, patterns have been slow to emerge. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Charlotte, Atlanta, and Michigan have some known similarities. Nashville Superspeedway may well race like them – but we don’t know yet. As for the other ovals, they pretty much stand alone. Salted among them are four more road course events. The trend toward longshots will continue for the foreseeable future, which is going to change your betting pattern.
Ultimately the best road course racer won last week, but if NASCAR had not red-flagged and shortened the Texas Grand Prix when they did, Kyle Larson (+400) had one of the fastest cars and would have had the winning strategy. The No. 24 was going to come up short on fuel. Larson settled for his third consecutive second-place finish, and coupled with his similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track record, he is easily the favorite among the traders at PointsBet Sportsbook.
We have to agree. If not for an overly aggressive bump draft on Ryan Blaney at Kansas, Larson would have a perfect record of top-fives on the 1.5-mile tracks. With a little luck, he might have been able to get around Kyle Busch in the dirty air and win his second race of the season. His first came on this same track type at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
All NASCAR bets come with risk and even a 4/1 line is not a strong enough signal that a driver is going to dominate. Charlotte has traditionally not been one of Larson’s better tracks with only one top-five in 11 career starts – an average of .091. His top-10 percentage is .364, which is also not particularly good. Statistically, he was supposed to struggle last week at COTA as well, and his solid weekend shows just how much better he is with Hendrick Motorsports than he was at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Best Bets for a top five
Statistics can suggest many different things. Chase Elliott (+675) has not been very good on the totality of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks this in the past few years, but he is capable of blasting off a strong run from time to time. In 11 races on this course type last year, he scored only three top-fives. All of those were first- or second-place finishes and two of them came at Charlotte. He was still fresh from the COVID-19 break then, but he is coming off a win at COTA last week so he should also have an extra spring in his step for the Coke 600.
It doesn’t take much to turn a driver’s season around. Kyle Busch (+675) looked like his old self last week at COTA because the series held practice and qualification. He was also able to get into rhythm with some track time in the Xfinity race. He’s coming off a victory in the last 1.5-mile track at Kansas Speedway, which was his third consecutive top-five on this course type. Confidence is important and this is the most Busch has had in a long time.
Brad Keselowski (+1000) has been hit-or-miss this year on most courses. Last week, we learned that part of his difficulty in concentrating might be because he is weighing his options of whether to stay with Team Penske or take an ownership role in Roush Fenway Racing. Whatever the reason, he has been challenging to handicap. When he is on his ‘A’ game, he has been appealing, however, with a second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a third at Kansas. He won last year’s Coke 600 and hopes to repeat.
Longshot: With odds of +1800, Alex Bowman counts as a longshot. Given the strength of Hendrick Motorsports in recent weeks, that seems like a gift from the traders. Jimmie Johnson left this team with a great set of notes. Bowman ended the 2020 season with three consecutive top-fives on 1.5-milers, but he got off to a slow start this year with only one such finish in his first four attempts. Expect all four HMS drivers to challenge for a top-five and the only reason we put Bowman here and not William Byron is because he has a better Return on Investment (ROI).
Best Bets for a top 10
Streaks are hard to maintain. Byron (+1600) learned that lesson last week when NASCAR shortened the Texas Grand Prix before he could pass one more car and get a 12th consecutive top-10. His problems started much earlier, however, when he was in one of several cars that sustained crash damage in a limited visibility accident. The Coke 600 will be a test of his mettle. We’re betting he will be able to rebound quickly and challenge for another top 10, but may struggle to get a top-five since his last three starts on the track type ended in results of eighth or ninth.
Longshot: Entering the Buschy McBusch 400, there were a lot of dark horse top-10 finishers, but less than a handful that hit that mark twice in the first three races. Austin Dillon (+6600) was one of them with a fifth in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta. He backed it up with another solid run in Kansas and finished 10th. That was the sixth consecutive finish of 12th or better on 1.5-mile tracks dating back to last fall. Better still, he was the surprise winner of the 2017 Coke 600 when a fuel mileage gamble paid off.
Longshot: Chris Buescher (+20000) also scored a second consecutive top-10 on a 1.5-miler at Kansas. He finished seventh at Atlanta and eighth at Kansas. The following week, he finished ninth at Darlington Raceway. Buescher’s name got called a lot last week in Austin and he challenged for another top-10 before setting into 13th. This team is rounding a corner and Buescher is currently leading the charge. His top-15 percentage in 2021 is .571. The best news is that with his long odds for the outright win, will drag his top-10 odds to an attractive level.
Truex (+550) began the week briefly as the favorite, but his odds quickly slipped as the traders looked more deeply at the numbers. He is still highly regarded. Too highly, in our estimation. Truex has defied stats on a few occasions this year. He is one of only two drivers with multiple wins when he seems finds a perfect setup. But he has traded consistency for speed and it’s difficult to handicap him as the favorite. With outright odds of 11/2, there won’t be many attractive bets for him this week.
Longshot: It seems like it will be only a matter of time before Tyler Reddick (+4000) gets his first win. Last week he was surprisingly strong on the road course. No one expected him to win the pole. Once he did, it seemed likely that he would fade, but he remained with the leaders in very challenging conditions. Reddick is not a fluke. He currently has six top-10s and a 12th in the last eight races and these have come on a wide variety of tracks. Included in that list is a seventh at Kansas.
Blaney (+1000) probably deserves to be in the top 10 after his Atlanta win and fifth-place finish at Vegas. He ran well at Kansas too, before he was almost sent into the wall by Larson. If you don’t want to risk money on a longshot, replace one of those listed above with the driver of the No. 12.
We skipped over Harvick (+1100) because he has been inconsistent all season. There is no real good reason to expect him to struggle because he has three top-10s in the first four 1.5-mile races, but his 20th at Vegas gives us pause.
When dark horses rise to the top-10, there is no real rhyme or reason as to who they dispossess. Like Harvick, Denny Hamlin (+725) deserves a mention, but he has barely missed the top 10 in half of his 1.5-mile races this year and that makes us nervous.
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