Beaver’s Best Bets for the Instacart 500k

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Dan Beaver
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Since the 2021 season does not seem to be going according to plan, one cannot automatically assume that the drivers who typically run well at Phoenix Raceway will continue to do so. Still, predictions are made on past results. Long streaks are extremely meaningful.

This is especially true on rhythm tracks like the minimally-banked courses 1-mile or less in length.

At Phoenix, Martinsville Speedway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it seems that once a driver finds the groove, he is able to replicate his success over and over. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have incredibly long streaks at Phoenix. Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. have been equally impressive at Martinsville. Denny Hamlin is strong no matter which short, flat track is considered.

But recent momentum is important also, so bettors should take a close look at last year’s stats on a given track. Once we get a few more races into the season, they should also make the last 45-days average finish a big part of their equation.

Proposed Winner

Conventional wisdom has placed Harvick at the top of the grid at Phoenix for a long time now. This week, Joey Logano (+850) will rain on his parade, just as he did in 2020.

Logano set a blistering pace early last year with wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and in Phoenix 1. Soon after this race was in the books, the world shut down for a couple of months to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Logano lost some of his steam. He regained it in time for the playoffs, made the Championship 4, and finished third in the Season Finale 500k.

Those two races were part of a perfect sweep of the top five on short, flat tracks – and while he didn’t win on this course type again, his average finish there in 2020 was third. Logano’s odds of finishing in the top-three this week are +225 and that allows enough room for a decently-sized side wager.

Best Bets for a top five

It’s impossible to count Harvick (+600) out at Phoenix. On the PointsBet Sportsbook he is currently the second-highest ranked driver in terms of odds and if not for the malaise experienced by this team so far in 2021 and the current love affair with defending champion Chase Elliott, he would be at the top of this list.

We didn’t expect a lot out of Kyle Busch (+750) last week on his hometown track of Vegas. He surprised us with a top-three finish and a challenge for the win. For the moment, it is time to trust his records and Phoenix is one of his best tracks. He entered last fall’s Season Finale 500k with a 10-race streak of results seventh or better. He failed to crack the top 10, but only barely. Even with that 11th-place finish, he has a six-year average of 3.6 at Phoenix.

Longshot Alert: The problem with longshots is often that once a losing wager is placed, bettors lose perspective on that driver’s strength. Matt DiBenedetto (+5000) has not been living up to his potential in what will be his last year driving the No. 21. He still has great stats on a few tracks and that makes him one of the top longshots for the Instacart 500k. He earned four top-10s in six short, flat track races last year including an eighth at Phoenix. His spring attempt landed 13th, so he remains an attractive proposition. His top-10 odds this week are +175, which provides some value for those who don’t want to risk a bet on the outright win.

Elliott (+575) is this week’s favorite. He won the last two races of 2020 to qualify for the Championship 4 and secure the title. Both of those races were on short, flat tracks. It is reasonable for oddsmakers to regard him this highly, but by the same token, he has not run well enough in the first four races to risk a sizeable bet on outright success. The trouble with being a favorite is that it drags the other odds to a less valuable place and at +160 to finish in the top three, there is not enough return on investment to make the No. 9 attractive.

Best Bets for a top 10

Hamlin (+675) easily fits into the top five, especially if you want discount DiBenedetto’s odds. He has long been one of the top choices on short, flat tracks. But while Phoenix is a solid course for him, he lacks the lengthy streaks he has at Martinsville or Richmond Raceway. Still, four of his last six attempts there ended in top-fives including a win in fall 2019.

Kyle Larson (+850) should keep his momentum alive this week. He finished fourth the spring FanShield 500k, which was his fourth consecutive result of sixth or better on this track. The COVID break was catastrophic for him when he was overheard using a racial slur during a virtual race. That is part of what made last week’s win in the Pennzoil 400 so dramatic. Each passing week reveals him to be an even stronger competitor for the 2021 championship.

Dark horse: William Byron (+1800) showed a lot of aggression last week in Vegas. On the heels of his Homestead victory, he wanted to make sure that no one thought that was a fluke. He was not able to keep up with the pace of the race and ultimately fell to eighth. That, coupled with a sweep of the top 10 at Phoenix last year, makes him an easy choice to finish among the top 10 in the Instacart 500k.

It will take a little while longer before bettors completely trust Truex (+1100). He has been uneven in the first four races and while his last two finishes have been strong, the path he took to get to a third at Homestead-Miami Speedway and sixth at Vegas was erratic. His last eight attempts at Phoenix produced three top-fives, two more top-10s, and an 11th. A top-10 is in the cards.

Keselowski (+675) gets elevated to top-10 status this week based on his New Hampshire record. He has five top-10s there in the last six attempts, including a win in last year’s Foxwoods Casino 301. He’s been solid at Phoenix as well, with runner-up results in 2018 and last fall. With 11 top-10s on this track in his last 18 starts, he’s batting .611 in that regard, but his top-five average is only .389.

Notable Others

Blaney (+1600) is on the cusp of making the top 10. He swept the top five at Phoenix in 2019 and was sixth last fall. The outlier was last year’s edition of this race when he crashed on Lap 65.

Kurt Busch (+2800) was highlighted earlier this week because of consistency. [https://edit-edge.nbcsports.com/edge/article/best-bets/kurt-busch-perennial-longshot-books] We noted how he seems to always be ranked just outside the top 10 and this week is no exception. With 28/1 odds, he is the 12th-ranked driver and could provide a great payday.

Based on his Phoenix record of 24th and 17th last year, Christopher Bell (+3500) does not deserve to be ranked in the top 10, but this is a driver and team on the rise.

Alex Bowman (+2500) is appealing because of his odds, but his best Phoenix finish since joining Hendrick Motorsports was 13th.

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