Beaver’s Best Bets for the Jockey 250

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It has been three races and two weekends since NASCAR last visited a road course – and what transpired at Sonoma Raceway changed the way we are looking at this track type.

Kyle Larson had never been particularly strong on road courses. He had a handful of top-10s, like most of the top-notch Cup drivers, but never really contended for the win. In the Save Mart 350k, he not only won, but did so convincingly with a Driver Rating of 149.2 that easily outperformed Chase Elliott’s 122.2.

Conventional wisdom has held that over time skill trumps the car on road courses. But is that true? No one has ever questioned Larson’s ability in a race car, but he may have learned something about the setup when he joined Hendrick Motorsports. Then again, with a ninth-place finish Alex Bowman was good, but not great at Sonoma, and William Byron has not cracked the top 10 on a road course in three races this year.

Is it momentum? That will be put to the test this week as Larson enters with seven top-two finishes in the last eight races while Elliott drags a three-race streak of sub-10th-place results with him.

Proposed Winner

Elliott’s (+260) biggest enemy this week will be Elliott. His frustration stretches back to the second-place finish at Sonoma. He was supposed to dominate that race, but try as he might he could not catch Larson. In fact, Larson seemed to have the ability to pass Elliott at will. With a Driver Rating about 20 percent under the top spot, some of Elliott’s lack of drive may have been a product of strategy – but that does not explain his lack of power when the he and Larson were head-to-head.

Of course that was only one race – and it doesn’t erase his record or strength on this track type. This is still the same driver with five wins and a runner-up finish in the last seven road course races. He would most likely have a sixth win if not for the Daytona Road Course.

But that is the race that gives us the greatest pause. If Elliott had been a little more patient and not tried to squeeze into a hold between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin that did not exist, he would probably have tracked down Christopher Bell and won the O’Reilly 253. Overdriving on a road course can be catastrophic. And Elliott is out to prove something this week.

Best Bets for a top five

It’s too soon to know if Larson’s (+340) Sonoma win is the precursor of things to come. However, since it was earned on the heels of a second-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) that might easily have turned into a victory if the race had not been shortened by rain, we can easily assume that he will finish in the top three. If momentum is his key, he has just as much now as when he entered the Save Mart 350k.

We faded Martin Truex Jr. (+600) at Sonoma and that proved to be a mistake. He has struggled to find consistency all season and that affected his Daytona at COTA runs. In California, he showed just why he is generally considered the second-best road course racer. He is ranked third in regard to odds this week and that could prove to be extremely valuable to bettors. Truex is capable of winning and at 6/1 he has a nice Return on Investment (ROI).

Joey Logano (+1300) is flying under the radar on road courses, but he could easily be the best value this week. It’s been quite some time since he won at Watkins Glen in 2015 and the competitive landscape has changed, but he enters the week with four consecutive top-fives on this track type that includes a pair of runner-up finishes and a third. If you don’t like him for the outright win, he can be wagered at +320 at PointsBet Sportsbook for a top-three.

Kyle Busch’s (+850) raw numbers on road courses this year don’t tell the complete story. His 10th-place finish at COTA was affected by a decision to pit early in the belief that NASCAR would gut out the final laps and go the distance. He had a car capable of winning – or at the very least finishing in the top three. Two weeks later, he finished fifth at Sonoma in a race without practice. As a new track on the Modern NASCAR calendar, there will be an hour of practice on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET) and qualification early Sunday morning (11 a.m. ET). That was one of the keys to his success at COTA.

Best Bets for a top 10

AJ Allmendinger (+2500) is back in the lineup this week and he presents a great opportunity. He missed Sonoma because of a conflict with the Xfinity series, but ran strong at both Daytona and COTA. With slightly different circumstances in Texas, he might have shocked the field with the Texas Grand Prix win. This week his outright odds of 25/1 drag those for a top-three to +650.

No one is a lock for any position in NASCAR given all the things that can go wrong in a race, but Alex Bowman (+2500) certainly seems like he is on target to finish in the top 10. He enters the weekend with a current, four-race streak of top-10s on road courses and has not been outside the top 15 there since he joined Hendrick Motorsports. With last week’s Pocono win to boost his confidence, he should easily finish on the cusp of 10th.

William Byron (+2200) is favored above Bowman this week, and while we are not sure that is warranted, both of them should contend for a top-10. If he gets it, it will be the first for Byron in 2021, but last year he swept that mark; a sixth in the 2019 Charlotte Roval race gave him three consecutive. He barely missed out on extending his impressive top-10 streak to 12 straight at COTA despite sustaining damage with an 11th-place finish. Last week’s 12th in Pocono 2 was his 16th top-12 in the last 17 races.

Ryan Blaney (+3300) was on our radar screen at the start of the year by benefit of four top-fives and another top-10 in his six previous road course races. One of these was a win on the Roval after Jimmie Johnson wrecked Truex in the final corner, but he was in position to capitalize. He let us down at Daytona, sustained crash damage at COTA, and it was not until Sonoma that he earned another top-10. We’re betting that has helped turn his performance on this track type around. His long odds drag those for a top-10 to +110, so there is a little money to be made there.

It’s difficult to fade Kevin Harvick (+3000) most weeks, so we will highlight him in the final slot. He’s shown his prowess on road courses with wins at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but since his latest victory on this track type (in 2017), he has only two top-fives in 12 races. His top-10 percentage of .583 is a little better and one of these came this spring at Daytona. If this team turned a corner at Tennessee, it may show up in Wisconsin.

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Best Bets for Save Mart 350 (Sonoma)
Texas Grand Prix (COTA)
O’Reilly 253 (Daytona Road)