Toyota/Save Mart 350 Dark Horses

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In the last three seasons, Chase Elliott has won all but two road course races. This spring, he was making his way through traffic after a late-race pit stop when he misjudged the length of Denny Hamlin’s Toyota and size of his competitor’s heart. With Elliott out of the picture, Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch were more likely contenders for the win, but surprisingly Christopher Bell took it instead.

The only other time Elliott has failed to win a road course race since the beginning of 2019 was at Sonoma. He had only recently won his first Cup race at Watkins Glen International the year previous and was just coming into his own on the track type. Martin Truex Jr. scored that win as Elliott jetted home early.

Bell’s O’Reilly 253 victory was significant for another reason. It was the first in a string of surprises that have included 11 winners in 15 races and a slew of top-10s for drivers with Power Rankings well outside the top 20. The road courses have been part of this tradition.


Ryan Preece’s ninth-place finish on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course was the first of his career in six starts.

Rain disrupted the Echo Park Texas Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) with Ross Chastain in fourth, Chase Briscoe in sixth, and Tyler Reddick ninth. It was the best road course finish for each of those drivers. Kyle Larson in second, Michael McDowell in seventh, Austin Dillon in 12th, and Corey LaJoie in 20th also recorded their best-ever road course finishes.

In another season we would be tempted to say this marks a changing of the guard. In 2021, it’s status quo with NASCAR’s heightened parity. There are still some surprises to be revealed as the series heads to California for the third road course race in a season that will showcase seven such events.

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There are only 10 slots available in the top 10 on a given week. AJ Allmendinger, Chastain, Briscoe, McDowell, and Reddick had to displace some marquee names to take those positions, but the algorithm used by oddsmakers had to take Martin Truex Jr. Kevin Harvick, Hamlin and Brad Keselowski into consideration and rank them more highly than the interlopers.

The top-10 is where you will find some of the greatest value for the Toyota / Save Mart 350k at Sonoma Raceway.

Somewhat surprisingly, PointsBet Sportsbook has McDowell listed with +8000 odds for the outright win. That certainly counts as a longshot wager and you only want to make it if you are digging deeply into your pockets, but it has dragged his top-10 odds to +200. McDowell has three top-10s in his last four road course races, so this is a good bet. Unfortunately, his best Sonoma race ended 14th, so don’t go crazy.

Tyler Reddick is another longshot who’s top-10 odds have not caught up to him. Given how consistently strong he’s been in the past two months with seven top-10s and a 12th in the last nine races, we would actually make a modest wager on his +5000 odds for the outright win. Once that is done, cover him with increasingly aggressive wagers for a top-three at +900 and top-10 at +130.

Kurt Busch has always been strong at Sonoma. His one, and so far only, road course win came on this track in 2011. He came close to backing that up when he finished second four years later. In the four races run on this track since then, he has not earned a top-five, but he does have three top-10s and a 13th. With odds of +160 to finish in the top 10, that bet should claim part of this week’s budget.

With the surge by Reddick, Richard Childress Racing teammate Dillon also deserves close attention. He is listed at +320 for a top-10 in the Save Mart 350k and after getting close to that mark in the Texas rain, he is a good value for a bet of a unit or two. This organization is making the most of their affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports, so ride them while they’re hot.

Depending on just how thinly you are spreading your bets, Matt DiBenedetto should be on your radar. With +220 odds, he has recent strong runs at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. His career-best road course finished came in 2019 with a fourth on this technical track. A month and half later, he almost earned a second top-five in New York with a sixth.

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