As America slowly comes back to normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR is adhering to the protocols put into place last year.
Practice and qualification are rare and so far have been reserved for the two inaugural races. When they managed to get a session in on the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track [https://edit-edge.nbcsports.com/edge/article/latest-lines/food-city-dirt-race-practice], we were ecstatic because it disproved some misconceptions.
We are just as excited to see that practice was held for the inaugural trip to the Circuit of the Americas for the Echo Park Texas Grand Prix. While it mostly confirmed preconceptions of who would be strong or weak, it was important for another reason: The session was plagued by rain from start to finish. Better still, the rain was fierce at times and light at times, which gave the drivers an opportunity to test various conditions.
Welcome to Texas, y’all.
Rain slowed the tech line and teams that were low in the points barely got any track time. One of this week’s dark horses for the win, AJ Allmendinger (+2200) only got two laps of practice, but it is likely that was enough to determine if there were any issues with the car. Our enthusiasm has waned just a little because of the limited track time, but he is still worth a unity or two.
On the other side of the coin, our estimation of Kyle Busch (+1200) improved. One of the biggest reasons for his recent struggles has been a lack of practice. He put this session to good use on Saturday. He posted progressively faster times until he finally skidded of course. He backed his pace down and then began to push again until he landed fourth on the speed chart.
Busch’s time on track in Friday’s Xfinity practice didn’t hurt matters either. Busch also spun in Xfinity qualification, but managed to advance to the Fast 12 and qualify on the pole.
With a speed of 77.847 mph, William Byron (+2000) topped the charts and led a contingent of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers in the top five. We ranked Byron as one of our favorites to finish inside the top 10, but will confess to that being somewhat reluctantly and based on his current momentum. Upgrade him to a top-five contender, where he has +235 odds at PointsBet Sportsbook.
We suggested fading Kyle Larson (+1500) at the beginning of the week. We spoke too soon. Larson landed third (77.467 mph) on the chart. It’s still risky to place a big wager on the No. 5, but with top-three odds of +375, he’s worth some juice.
Our favorite Chase Elliott (+235) finished practice fifth. That does not change or estimation in any fashion. He still deserves his favored status, but his odds are too low to make him an attractive bet. He has minus odds for top three on down.
Martin Truex Jr. (+450) did not fare as well. His speed of 75.995 mph was 23rd-fastest. Check the forecast in the morning and if rain is imminent, fade him outright.
Joey Logano (+1800) was our ‘best in class’ driver on the strength of back-to-back second-place finishes in his last two road course races. Anyone care to guess where he landed on the chart? You’re right: second with a speed of 77.558 mph. His top-three odds are set at +500 and he deserves a bet of several units.
The Chip Ganassi Racing guys were surprising in practice. We expected Kurt Busch (+3000) to be fast because he has back-to-back fourth-place finishes on road courses. He landed eighth on the chart with a speed of 76.884 mph. His outright odds drag those for a top-10 to +135.
Ross Chastain (+25000) was a bit more surprising, however. He was actually faster than teammate Busch and landed seventh (76.989). The traders have shown a lot less respect to Chastain and he can currently be wagered at +550 for a top 10. Go heavy.
Christopher Bell’s (+2000) speed in practice suggest suggests his Daytona win may not have been a fluke. He landed sixth (77.203) on the chart.
Michael McDowell (+7000) cemented his status as a top-10 contender with the 10th-fastest speed (76.777). In a season that has shown a ton of surprises, it might be a great idea to bet on him all the way down from his 70/1 outright win odds to +200 for a top-10 with the wagers getting increasingly more aggressive at each level.