Author's Note: The Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is set for this Sunday, March 7th at 3:30 PM. Tune in on Fox Sports 1, MRN radio, or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 to catch the action.
Welcome to our weekly "Hunting The Race Track" weekly NASCAR betting strategy series! When looking over what the sportsbooks typically post for NASCAR races, I always go to matchups first to see where I can gain a statistical advantage. You'll notice type of bets featured often in our race preview articles.
It also helps to know who runs well at a certain track type/style as well, as some drivers perform better at 1.5 mile tracks compared to others who do better at "short tracks." This year, with NASCAR no longer allowing practices before races due to COVID-19 protocols, I rely heavily on track history, as well as the drivers' last 3-4 races. Just looking at place finish does not always tell the whole story either. If a driver was running up front all day but finished in the back, then what happened? Lap-by-lap data shows who had the short or long run speed, and whose car might've gotten better or worse as the race went on.
Mistakes can happen anywhere, too. Two cars can touch and cause a tire issue, or a lug nut issue can arise due to not being tightened all the way after a pit stop. If a driver has been running really well as of late - i.e. fast car week in and week out on a variety of tracks- then also make sure to take a look at "place finish" bets and not necessarily always in outright winner props. It's important not to put too many eggs in the winner prop betting basket, as 39 other drivers are always fighting for that same spot. With that being said, let's take a look at some overarching themes, as well as track info and driver values, for Sunday.
About The Track
From The Magic City to Sin City, NASCAR is back on another 1.5 mile track this Sunday, and this time it's on a "tri-oval" race track in Las Vegas. Sunday's track at Las Vegas Motor Speed is an asphalt surface that holds 20 degree banking in the corners, which allows for drivers to reach speeds of almost 200 MPH. Ford has dominated this race overall, visiting victory lane 13 times, while Chevy has seven wins. It was hinted recently that this might be Kurt Busch’s final season in NASCAR, so the question remains, can the Las Vegas native repeat last year’s performance, or will we see another driver waving the checkered flag?
It's hard to miss them in the pit area. White shirt, black pants and an ego to boot. Owner Roger Penske, known for his success across multiple forms of racing, might just have a driver problem. Sure, his IndyCar team always came first (16 championships and 18 Indy 500 victories), but his stock car team has picked up since signing both Brad Keselowski (2009) and Joey Logano (2013), recording two Cup Series championships. Two and half weeks ago at the Daytona 500, it was leader who Joey Logano tried to block teammate Brad Keselowski on the final lap, and the result was a huge crash. Keselowski was visibly upset, knowing this was a chance to finally secure his first 500 victory, and after the race he was quoted saying “I can’t drive everybody else’s car, so frustrating.” The two drivers were not on speaking terms the week leading up to the next race, the Daytona Road Course. And no, this is not the first time the Penske teammates have collided either. In last year’s Busch Clash (exhibition race), Logano was throwing aggressive blocks on Kyle Busch when the two bumped and collected Keselowski into the wall.
Both Penske drivers were able to resolve their issues quickly then, but this latest episode has lingered quite longer. Logano has a history of ill-timed blocks and skirmishes with rivals, something that Keselowski has not spoken fondly of. Logano blocked race leader Denny Hamlin at Dover in 2019 while Joey himself was 24 laps down, and Penske himself said at the time that he was going to sit down with all the drivers of Team Penske before Talladega (3/25) and discuss how to avoid another situation like Daytona. Keselowski, who is in a contract year, cannot afford another mishap with Logano, who is signed until 2023. I'm not saying that Keselowski will wreck Logano on purpose, that’s not his style, but he might not give him the break that most teammates do when it is crunch time. Both Keselowski and Logano started out strong on Sunday last week, but finished 16th and 25th respectively. Another Penske driver, Ryan Blaney, has been nowhere to be found. After crashing out of Daytona, he has finishes of 15th/29th.
Big Year for Small Teams?
What is going on with these smaller teams having success? I know it’s early in the season, but this might be a unique 2021 type trend that sticks for the rest of the year. Here are some important stats to consider after leaving Homestead-Miami and heading to Las Vegas this weekend. Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell recorded a 6th place finish to give Front Row Motorsports its first ever top 10 finish at a 1.5 mile track last Sunday and showed well for Front Row, which ran its first season in 2005 and has competed full time with two cars since 2010. Chris Buescher also led 57 laps and won stage 1 for Rousch Fenway Racing, the most he’s led in his 189-race cup career. Ryan Newman of Rousch Fenway Racing also scored his first top 10 finish since 2019 on a track other than Daytona or Talladega. Big success for small teams.
Seven different teams actually finished in the top 10 in total, which include Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Rousch Fenway Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing. Ricky Stenhouse Jr of JTG Daugherty Racing finished 13th and Daniel Suarez of Trackhouse Racing placed 15th as well, and while the first three races were a "superspeedway" road course and a unique 1.5 mile track that can create natural parity, I believe it’s more important to look at the 2020 ‘parts development freeze’ and the aftermath. NASCAR wanted to implement the Next Gen car in 2021, so they limited teams in 2020 on developing new parts and reduced research and design efforts.
What does that all mean now? Well, bigger teams started selling away chassis and parts that will not fit the Next Gen car at a discounted price, and smaller teams bought up the materials for a one year run. Then COVID-19 hit, with all it’s uncertainty. NASCAR decided to then postpone the Next Gen car until 2022, but still kept the parts development freeze intact. Smaller teams are now running better equipment and can focus on the perfect setup with each race, while top tier teams seem to have lost their advantage. It has only been three races, but seeing smaller teams have success has changed the outlook of the season.
Drivers to Look Out For
I'm basing this off of the Las Vegas spring/ fall 2020 races. The 2019 races were drastically different, lap turners to be honest, as it then seemed as if drivers were still feeling out the 2018 rules package. Last year, in 2020, drivers raced much more aggressively - especially on restarts - which caused two late race cautions to change the outcome of both races. All things considered, here are three value drivers below for Sunday's race in Las Vegas and their odds to either win outright or place top 10, via FanDuel Sportsbook:
Ryan Blaney (+1200 to win, +400 to place top three, -160 to place top ten): Let’s hope Ryan Blaney breaks out of this 2021 funk. Blaney ran very well at last year’s spring race, as he was in the top 10 for the entire race and was leading with six laps left when a caution came out. A decision to pit under yellow was too much to overcome, however, as Blaney finished just 11th. In the fall race he ran again in the top 10 for most of the race and had a respectable seventh place finish. Can he bring Penske back to victory lane?
Kevin Harvick (+600 to win, +190 to place top three, -260 to place top ten): Kevin Harvick ran very well in the spring race and was running in the top 10 for most of the race. Harvick also decided to pit under the late caution, however, and ended up finishing a respectable eighth place overall. In the fall race he ran in the middle of the pack, finishing 10th. Harvick is one of two drivers this season to score all top 10 finishes.
Alex Bowman (+2000 to win, +550 to place top three, -145 to place top ten): I’m staying with the same scenario here. Alex Bowman was a top 10 driver for most of the spring race and was actually running second overall - less than a second behind Blaney - when the caution came out. Bowman, along with Blaney and Harvick, again decided to pit under caution, ending his day at 13th. In the fall, he ran top five for most of the night and promptly finished fifth, and he has a great chance to bring the #48 to victory lane.