Dark horses have won the last two races on the calendar. At +1400 (14/1) Joey Logano was not on many radar screens before the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas. He was not making much noise before the race and was listed at PointsBet Sportsbook with a +1200 to win the championship. Immediately after winning that race his odds improved to +425 for a championship win and will jump again as the Championship 4 is more clearly defined.
The same was not true pf Kyle Busch. He was +1500 last week at PointsBet and we made him our favorite to win even though he was a dark horse. That is because he kept getting closer to accomplishing that feat.
Will a third longshot win this week? Probably not. Two of the top ranked drivers at Martinsville proper (Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin) are listed at +560 or better while the hottest driver on short, flat tracks (Brad Keselowski) joins them at that level. Seven drivers are all listed below +1000 and part of the reason for that may very well be the large payouts books had to cover at Texas.
Martin Truex Jr. (+320) is this week’s favorite. It’s hard to make the winner of the last two races on this paperclip anything else. He would have had three wins in the last four races if not for a bump-and-run performed by Logano on the final lap of the 2018 playoff race. He finished third that afternoon after getting edged by corporate teammate Hamlin at the line. As it stands, Truex has five top-fives and an eighth in his last six Martinsville tries.
Still, we would have been tempted to put him in the Best Bets for a top-five instead of the win if not for last week’s performance at Texas. Truex had not looked particularly strong for quite a few races before then. One reason for that is because his team keeps pressing the envelope too far before inspection and Truex has had to drop to the back of the field under penalty several times in the past several months.
Busch’s win at Texas has created an interesting scenario. At least two drivers will advance to the Championship 4 on the basis of points, Truex is well below the cutline, but if Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, or Keselowski experience damage during the race, the bubble could shift dramatically. Still, Truex and the other three playoff contenders cannot afford to think about anything except winning. That is the only way to insure their berth in the Phoenix 4.
Best Bets for a top five
Chase Elliott (+800) is a blue chip value this week to finish in the top five. It seems highly unlikely that he will score a top-10, however. Hendrick Motorsports has dominated this track in the past with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, but that magic has not transferred to their current superstar. While he has been good on this track on occasion, he only has three top-fives in 10 starts. One of these was a runner-up finish to Keselowski in spring 2018. In the first Martinsville race this year he finished fifth. Unfortunately only one of four fall races on the paperclip ended in a top-10 and that will not be enough to advance him.
Longshot alert: There really aren’t many longshots to consider this week, but Ryan Blaney (+1000) fits the criteria best because he does not necessarily spring to mind most weeks. Blaney was hot this summer. He finished second behind Truex in Martinsville’s Blue-Emu 500 and that was his third consecutive top-five on this track and his fourth such finish in the last five races. He has nothing to lose and a lot to gain: If he keeps Truex out of Victory Lane, he makes it that much easier for Keselowski advance to Phoenix.
Keselowski (+560) doesn’t have to win this week. After a much better Texas performance than his career record indicated coupled with bad luck for Elliott, a points’ penalty for Truex, generally soft numbers for Alex Bowman leading into the Round of 8, and Kurt Busch’s blown engine in Kansas, Kez has a nice cushion. He doesn’t have to be great, but he probably will be. Keselowski has one of the best records on short, flat track in the field this year. He finished third at Martinsville and won at both New Hampshire and Richmond. Last year he won the spring Martinsville race and finished third in the fall. He’s a good bet to score another top-three.
At any other point in the season, we would have made Hamlin (+560) this week’s favorite. Few are better overall on short, flat tracks than he, but the playoffs have not been overly kind. In the Round of 16, he failed to finish in the top 10 a single time. He improved his performance in the Round of 12 with a third at Vegas and after drawing the top position in the Talladega lottery. His next two results were outside the top 10. Last week at Texas, he struggled to barely crack that mark. He will advance to Phoenix 4, but it’s hard to visualize him challenging for the Martinsville win.
Best Bets for a top 10
Joey Logano (+850) quipped last week at Texas that he was bored during the rain delay because he does not have any friends at the track. One of the places where he has made the most enemies has been Martinsville, but the action that drew Truex's ire in fall 2018 locked him into the Championship 4 before he was the improbable champion that year. Logano is aggressive and that can get a driver into trouble on a short track. Then again, he is the only playoff winner in two races of the Round of 8. As a result, is one of the only drivers with nothing to lose this week.
It’s odd to see Harvick (+900) handicapped low in the rankings. His 9/1 odds places him below six other drivers at PointsBet. That is a fair assessment. Despite a dominant record at Phoenix, Harvick has not been as productive on the little sister track of Martinsville. He has not scored a top-five on this track in his last four attempts, although three of those efforts netted a top-10.
Kyle Busch (+850) could very well win two in a row this week. When he’s been hot at Martinsville, he has scorched the track with wins in 2016 and 2017. Those are part of an eight race streak of top-fives that came to an end last fall. He finished 14th in the 2019 First Data 500 and was 19th this summer in the Blue-Emu 500, but the corner he turned at Texas is going to give him added confidence heading into the weekend.
Longshot alert: In varying levels of desperation, all four drivers below the bubble need to win this week. Bowman (+2500) has been one of the most productive drivers in the past two weeks and still he has an almost insurmountable deficit to Keselowski and the final transfer spot. That is not only frustrating for the driver, but it underscores how important it is to take matters into his own hand. In his first attempt at Martinsville with his current team, he finished seventh in spring 2018. This summer he was sixth. We’re willing to bet he sweeps the top 10 on this track for the first time in his career.
Exceptional Value: Perhaps last week’s correct prediction about the longshot winner has emboldened us, but Ryan Newman (+15000) deserves a lot of attention at Martinsville. This is a track that rewards stubborn refusal to give up ground and this thick-necked driver can hold his own with the best NASCAR has to offer. Even while he struggled elsewhere, Newman finished 12th this summer at Martinsville. He was 10th there last fall. In addition to placing a modest bet for his outright win, another sportsbook has him listed a +265 to score a top-10 and that can cover some of your other wagers.
When we said Logano was one of the only drivers with nothing to lose, we also had Kurt Busch (+3000) in mind. His blown engine two weeks ago put him in a must-win situation that a Texas top-10 did not alleviate. His consistency is such that he can contend for a top-10 almost any week, but he has not scored a top-five at Martinsville since his last win there in 2014.
You can’t count out Clint Bowyer (+3500) with two races to go in his career and if he manages to win like he did in 2018, the party will be epic.
If you have a little extra money after covering the favorites, it bears noting that William Byron (+3500) finished second in this race last year.
We unsuccessfully picked Erik Jones (+6600) to finish in the top five in the past two weeks. He has a pair of 20ths in his last two Martinsville attempts, so we won’t make that mistake again.
One cannot forget how close Matt DiBenedetto (+6600) came to winning on another short track at Bristol last year. These little courses are a great place for dark horses to shine.