Author's Note: The Instacart 500, hosted by Phoenix Raceway, is set for this Sunday, March 14th, at 3:30 PM EST. Tune in on Fox Sports 1, MRN radio, or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 to catch the action.
Welcome to our weekly NASCAR Betting Preview column, where we will look ahead to Sunday's headliner race break - including a breakdown of the race track, drivers to look out for and best value bets - as well as recap our picks from last week. Please keep in mind that some sportsbooks will often release driver vs. driver matchup odds very late into the weekend, so make sure to also check out my Twitter timeline @CoachWalstromJr, as I usually try to Tweet out at least one more best bet before Sunday afternoon's
race begins. Last week we hit on Chase Elliott (+115) over Kevin Harvick, cashed on our Kyle Larson Top 5 Finish at +165 and lost our two head to heads with Joey Logano (-118) and Ryan Blaney (-106).
Recapping Last Week
Joey Logano (-118 DraftKings) vs. Brad Keselowski: If it wasn’t for Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski would have won last week's race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Keslowski ran well all day, starting 10th and only needing five laps to be inside the top 5, where he stayed for 82% of the race. Logano, on the other hand, wasn’t much of a factor at the Pennzoil 400, finishing 9th overall but not displaying the speed of his Penske teammate. Logano only ran 9% (22 laps) inside the top 5 due to a pit strategy of not pitting to gain positions. Logano said afterwards his team can’t figure out exactly why they're missing speed. Keselowski is racing for a contract, however, while Logano has the security of being with Penske for a few more years.
Ryan Blaney (-106 DraftKings) vs Kyle Busch: The Gibbs cars finally ran well at the Las Vegas spring race, with Ryan Blaney finishing fifth overall. But it wasn’t good enough, as Kyle Busch came in third despite Blaney running a little over half of the race inside the top 5. The long green flag ending gave Busch enough time to work his way through the field. Despite starting off slow, for each pit cycle the M&M’s car made the correct adjustments in order to get back to their normal running position for Busch and company.
Kyle Larson Top 5 Finish (Yes, +165 DraftKings): Kyle Larson had by far the best car in the field in Las Vegas, running 82% of his laps inside the top 5 and having a three-second lead over second place Keselowski with five laps left. Sunday was a big day for the streaking Larson, and I don’t see him slowing down any time soon either, especially since the Hendrick cars are running very fast right now.
About The Track
Phoenix Raceway in Avondale Arizona. Its nickname is the “Desert Oddball” thanks to its unique layout and surroundings. Before each race, track officials also send out “snake wranglers” to round up rattle snakes that make the track and surrounding areas their home. This 1 mile, low-banked tri-oval offers wild 5 wide restarts and a fast pace race. Stages are broken down into 75 and 115, and the final 122 laps to make it a 312 lap race. This is a shorter race than most others as well, which means if teams are going to make car adjustments, they better do it early. Sunday's race track will also host the championship race at season’s end, so drivers this weekend will be looking to find that edge early to help them out later in the year.
Drivers to Look Out For
Kyle Larson (+800 to win/FanDuel): When analyzing the aforementioned Kyle Larson, you'll notice that last week’s track and rules package had been his weakness in the past. He left with a win, however, and now we are entering what is his strength, which is high horsepower and a low, downforce track. Larson had a fourth place finish last year in a Ganassi car, but his new Hendrick car shows long run speed.
Brad Keselowski (+700 to win/FanDuel): Brad Keslowski posted the third best average finish among all drivers at high horsepower low downforce tracks last year, and he also had a very good car in the fall championship race here but lost too many positions during pit cycles, ultimately finishing in second place. I look for Keslowski to rebound from last year's performance and prove to everyone that he still has it.
Chase Elliott (+550 to win/FanDuel): If the #9 team can bring the exact setup they had last year, then they will be very tough to beat this Sunday at The Instacart 500. Chase Elliott was leading the race here last year at Phoenix Raceway before a loose wheel forced him to pit under green on lap 156. Elliott still ran 30 of the fastest laps in the spring race and came away with a 7th place finish. Oh, and in the fall? Yeah, he was the top dog, taking home both the checkered flag and Cup Series championship. The speed that Hendrick has shown so far currently makes it’s impossible to look away from any of their drivers.
Best Value Bets
Kyle Larson (-109 DraftKings) vs. Joey Logano: It's hard to find a driver with a better start than Kyle Larson. Outside of his lone mistake at the Daytona Road Course, he has had solid finishes every race this season. While Logano did win last year’s spring Phoenix race, Larson finished 4th while running 22% of his laps inside the top 5. Logano is not having his usual dominant start to the season, having finished 25th at Homestead and 9th at Las Vegas. Comparing lap-by-lap data, Logano ran 27% (Homestead) and 9% (Las Vegas) of his laps inside the top 5 compared to Larsons 61% and 82% at those same tracks. Logano has struggled with long run speed and handling issues as well. At Homestead he was in 1st place on lap 2. By lap 106, he was in 10th place and slowly but surely fell back through the field. TJ Majors, Joey Logano’s spotter, said that Larson’s car has been very fast and can turn anywhere in the corners. It’s a great time to take advantage of Logano’s slower start and Larson’s near-perfect start setup, especially at -109 odds.
Brad Keselowski (-108 FanDuel) vs. Kevin Harvick: This is a great matchup of two veterans of the sport, sure, but what’s going on with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR)? They’ve simply been missing something all year. Fans are used to seeing SHR have top cars every week and that has not been the case so far this season. At Las Vegas last week, Harvick only ran 12% of his laps inside the top 10 (finishing 20th) while Keselowski had a nice day of running 82% of his laps inside the top 5 (finishing 2nd). You can easily make the case though, that at Homestead, it was Harvick who had a better day than Keselowski. So what else can we turn to? Let’s look at the 2020 high horsepower, low downforce track history. Out of 10 races, Harvick and Keselowski both had the same average running position of 7th (Keselowski’s average running position is skewed by a 34th place finish at Bristol). Keselowski also had more wins (3 to 1), more top-5 finishes (60% to 50%) and ran more of his laps inside the top 5 (57% to 42%). Keselowski’s 57% of laps inside the top 5 ranks 2nd best in NASCAR. Is there a motivational factor here at play too? Keselowski is racing for a contract. He’s a free agent this year and would love to come back to Team Penske for 2022.
Kyle Larson (Top 5 Finish +135/DraftKings): Kyle Larson could've potentially had three top 5 finishes in a row. The Daytona Road Course mistake took that away, but in the previous four races at Phoenix, he has finished inside the top 5 three times. I don’t expect anything different now that he’s part of the Hendrick Team. Statistics show that he's running better now than when he was with Chip Ganassi, too, and he now has fast cars, great setups and has already proven that he can win. Oh, and he is also racing for sponsorship deals. Rick Hendrick’s car dealership is sponsoring Larson as of right now, and if he has another strong finish, companies will be begging to sponsor his car. Time to go back to the well.