With the wild card races at Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Roval in the rearview mirror, drivers get to focus on 1.5-mile tracks in consecutive weeks of the Round of 8. In all likelihood, it will take a victory to advance for any of the drivers except Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Those two have a significant lead in bonus points and face less uncertainty than the remaining six playoff contenders.
But even they cannot afford to slow down in the next three races: If three playoff drivers below them in the standings win, there will be room for only one to advance on points, so Harvick and Hamlin need to have one another in sight at Kansas, Texas, and Martinsville.
Seven different drivers have won at Kansas since 2017. Harvick and Hamlin have two wins in that span of races. So does Martin Truex Jr., but that has left the door open for several others including Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch to find Victory Lane. Without practice or qualification this week, the most accurate depiction of how a driver will fare may will from his performance at Kansas this July and Vegas in September. Six drivers (Harvick, Truex, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Alex Bowman, and Erik Jones) scored top-10s in both of those races and need to be watched closely.
We would be a lot more thrilled about Hamlin (+420) if he had run well on the Charlotte Roval, but since that track type is nothing like the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile courses, his modest showing last week probably will not affect his effort at Kansas. Hamlin enters the weekend with the second lowest odds at PointsBet Sportsbook behind Kevin Harvick at +380.
On this week’s track, he’s been stellar in the last two races with a pair of wins. Hamlin has another victory at Kansas in 2012. In fall 2017 and spring 2018, he posted back-to-back fifth-place finishes and in recent seasons, he’s added a runner-up finish in 2015 and a seventh in 2014.
On the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, he’s been an all or nothing driver this year. In nine starts so far, he has two wins and three other top-five finishes. In the remaining races, he’s been outside the top 15 three times and finished 12th once for an overall average of 10th.
There is an odd pattern that must be noted, however: Since 2016 he has alternated two strong showings in the top five with a pair of modest efforts outside the top 10. If that pattern holds, he is due to struggle this week, but it is far more likely this is a statistical anomaly.
Best Bets for a top five
Chase Elliott’s (+580) victory last week on the Charlotte Roval was great because it was predictable. He now has four consecutive road course wins, which is something that has not been done since the late 1990s/early 2000s when Jeff Gordon won six consecutive. Kansas will be a different story because he is ranked fourth in terms of odds. Elliott won a playoff race on this track in 2018. Last year he swept the top five. He struggled this summer with a 12th, but with more on the line the team will put their best foot forward.
Dating back to 2013, Harvick (+380) has scored three Kansas victories and five more finishes of second through fourth. In that span of 15 races, he also has a pair of top-10s and a worst result of 16th. His average finish of 6.5 suggests he will be in constant contact with the leaders, but he is far from being the favorite that the oddsmakers make him out to be. In the most recent four races, he has a best finish of fourth and a worst of 13th. This record makes it a good week to look elsewhere for your favorite, but it is not enough incentive to fade Harvick for a top-10 finish.
Brad Keselowski (+800) has been quiet recently. One might say he’s been too quiet and he often has a tendency to surprise the competition. He has been extremely consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks this year with top-10s in every race except the South Point 400 at Las Vegas. He has only two top-fives in the nine races that make up this season-to-date, but one of these was a victory at Charlotte and the other was a runner-up finish at Kansas.
Longshot alert: It is not too farfetched to believe Erik Jones (+3000) could win this week. Kansas is one of his better tracks and after a modest showing in his rookie season, he has swept the top 10 with a worst result of seventh. This summer he finished fifth in the Super Start Batteries 400. That is part of a three-race top-10 streak on 1.5-milers that includes a sixth at Texas and an eighth at Vegas. All he needs is a little track position in the final stage of the race.
Best Bets for a top 10
The 1.5-mile tracks were once a playground for Martin Truex Jr. (+540). From March 2017 through March 2019 he earned top-10s in all but one of 24 races – and that was occasioned by an accident at Texas Motor Speedway. In that span he had eight wins and the overwhelming majority of his finishes were in the top five. He has not been nearly as strong since and there are several sub-10th-place results in the past two seasons. When he brings his “A” game he’s very good, however, with top-fives in four of the last six events on this course type.
Exceptional Value: Joey Logano (+1300) has not been particularly strong on 1.5-mile tracks this year, but it’s difficult to think he won’t be able to reverse that trend during the playoffs. From 2013 through 2015 he logged five consecutive top-fives that included two wins. He finished third on this track in fall 2016 and spring 2018, and while he has a best of 15th in his last three races there, his championship bid is on the line. That will give him an added boost of speed.
Last week it was revealed that Alex Bowman (+2200) suffers from anxiety before many races. His desire to win in a sport where only one of more than 35 drivers will creates pressure that can become a distraction, but he has managed that admirably at Kansas. On this 1.5-mile track he has three top-10s and an 11th in the last four attempts. His best effort came in spring 2019 when he finished second to Brad Keselowski.
Longshot alert: The 2007 LifeLock 400 was an odd race. Plagued by cautions and imperiled by the setting sun, the race ended under caution and in gloaming light. Greg Biffle slowed dramatically under caution and pulled to the inside of the track, seemingly out of fuel. Several drivers passed him – including Clint Bowyer (+5000) who took the lead. Even though Biffle was significantly slower than the pace car, NASCAR adjudged that he maintained a proper speed and put him back into the lead. That is the closest Bowyer has come to a hometown win, and in his final season, he wants this victory more than anyone in the field. With 50/1 odds at PointsBet, he’s worth a modest bet.
Kurt Busch (+2500) has lost much of his vaunted consistency in recent weeks, but there is a good reason to believe he will land in the top 10 again at Kansas. This track has been extremely kind with nine top-10s in the last 14 races. He has not yet won on this track, but came close in 2013 and 2017 with second-place finishes. He was third in 2016 and fourth as recently as last fall. On another sportsbook, his odds to finish in the top three are +600 and that could be worthy of a modest bet.
Now that Kyle Busch (+1400) has been eliminated from the playoffs, he has the potential to be dangerous in every race. His recent 1.5-mile record has as many results outside the top 10 as inside that mark.
We might easily have put Ryan Blaney (+1100) inside the top 10 this week because he has seven such finishes in nine races on 1.5-mile tracks. His 20th in the Super Start Batteries 400 this summer has made us cautious, however.
From Homestead through Kansas 1, Aric Almirola (+3000) scored four consecutive top-10s on 1.5-mile tracks. That makes him a driver to watch this week.
William Byron (+4000) deserves a little attention this week after finishing 10th in Kansas 1, ninth at Homestead, and in the top 12 in two other 1.5-mile races.
Austin Dillon (+9000) qualified for the playoffs with a win on the 1.5-mile Texas track. He’s scored seven top-15s on this course type in 2020, but his last two races at Kansas and Vegas were disappointingly outside the top 25. On another sportsbook he is listed at +175 to finish in the top 10.
When Tyler Reddick (+6000) finished 13th in the first Kansas race, he had a nine-race streak of top-20s on the 1.5-milers. He crashed and finished 38th at Vegas.
Matt DiBenedetto (+7000) is capable of scoring a top-five. He’s done that three times this year with second-place results in both Vegas races and a third at Kentucky. The remaining six efforts on this track type ended 14th or worse.
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