Betting news, trends, odds and predictions for Thursday, April 12, 2018 from various handicappers and websites
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I am so ready for some Bristol action and I don't care that the racing has changed over the past decade there. It's just different from all other tracks, and I like that.
It's Thunder Valley. It's the Eastern Tennesse mountains and it's a short track with cars all jumbled together in each other's way. There's tempers, altercations, and fights, both on and off the track. Sunday's Food City 500 should have a little bit of everything and this track also expands the field of drivers that have a legitimate shot to win, which I also like.
The track itself isn't all about the driver like the other short track at Martinsville, but the .533-mile concrete oval with variable banking of 24-to-30 degrees certainly gives more drivers a chance to excel than any 1.5-mile oval. Although, that Texas mess last week had quite a few new names popping up near the front through attrition as wrecks took out some elite drivers.
Kyle Busch would hang on to win at Texas for his first win of the season and it was about time. Here's what we've got from him in his last five starts: one win, three runner-ups, and one third-place. I still think Kevin Harvick will continue to be the man to beat on the 1.5s, but Bristol is Kyle Busch country which is why he's the 7/2 favorite this week.
Need some evidence of why Busch is the favorite? How about because he's Bristol's active leader with six wins and 2,115 laps led. He won there the last time the series visited in the fall, and maybe most important is that Busch is a streaky racer and his wins come in bunches. He's also got nine Bristol wins in the Xfinity Series and six more in the Truck Series. The Las Vegan has the track figured out better than anyone, and that's under both layouts; the old layout with a single groove on the bottom and the current one with two equal grooves high and low.
“I certainly look forward to Bristol and I definitely have over the years, whether it was the old surface or when they repaved it," Busch said. "It’s been kind of frustrating a little bit for me on the Cup side since the (track surface) grind, but I think we are starting to get the hang of it now. We’ve had fast racecars there for a stretch, but different things have happened that have kept us from being able to finish those races off. And then we finally got back on track last August. I definitely look forward to this weekend. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend with our Skittles Camry and we get to victory lane there again. That’s always the goal each weekend."
That's funny. He said they're "starting to get the hang of it now" regarding the current layout. The dude has 21 Bristol wins between all three series.
Harvick has two career Bristol wins, one on each of the layouts, but lately, he's been having his best run on the track with a 4.2 average finish over his past five starts, which includes his fall 2016 win. He leads all active drivers with 12 top-five finishes during his 34 career starts. He's also got five Xfinity Series wins, but his most famous Xfinity moment came at Bristol in 2002 when Greg Biffle wrecked him and Harvick then jumped on the roof of Biffle's car and came flying down WWE style and starting wringing Biffle's neck. It's the type of heated off track post-race action that Bristol was famous for. We need more of that in today's climate of empty seats at every stop. Real emotion. Anger. Let us see some rivalries building. It seems like these drivers in this new era play patty-cake with each other. Harvick also has a 2011 Truck Series win.
It's quite possible we'll see a Busch-Harvick 1-2 quinella for the fourth time this season, but there are a few drivers that should be given serious consideration beginning with Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones, who was leading late last week at Texas. He won the Bristol spring Xfinity race the past two seasons and then last fall in his second career Cup start he took No. 77 to a runner-up finish. He started from the pole and led a race-high 260 laps. The No. 20 he driver this season is better than the No.77. He really knows this track well. The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota also won twice with Matt Kenseth driving.
Kurt Busch is a five-time winner, but the last win came in 2006 under the old layout. He finished fifth last fall and was third in the spring of 2016. His car should be almost as good as Stewart Haas Racing teammate Harvick and there are worse things to blow $5 on than a wager on him at 30-to-1 odds or higher.
Martin Truex Jr. is listed at 6/1 odds, but his Bristol resume is extremely weak with only two top-fives in 24 career starts.
“Even though I have had my share of misfortunes at Bristol, I continue to feel confident about racing there and know that we have a shot of something good to happen on Sunday,” said Truex.
To be fair to Truex, he's always got a fast car and after starting third is this race last season he led 116 laps which is the most he's ever led at Bristol. He was 21st in the fall, one lap down, keeping with his 20th-place average finish.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. doesn't get much mention outside of plate races, but his team has things figured out at Bristol where he has a 10.8 average finish which is best among active drivers with more than three starts. He's been runner-up twice. He's listed at 60/1 odds at the Westgate SuperBook, but shop around and get a better number if wanting to have a couple bucks on a live long shot.
Jimmie Johnson won this race last season. It was only the second Bristol win of his career spanning 32 starts. This is a place he could steal a win despite a car not as good as the new breed of elites in the series. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott has an 11th-place average with a best of fourth-place his rookie season. I'm just really skeptical of the Camaro. Every time there's been a body or rule change with NASCAR or Chevrolet of any kind, HMS has always been ahead of the curve. Not this time.
Denny Hamlin was 10th at Bristol last spring and third in the fall. His only win there came in 2012, but he's had a third-place finish in each of the past three seasons. He's anxious to get back on the track after wrecking last week at Texas.
“Our team was definitely capable of winning the race at Texas, and I blame myself for putting us in a position we shouldn’t have been in," Hamlin said. "It’s obviously an unfortunate situation, but we’re more motivated than ever to perform well at Bristol, and I have no doubt we can pull it off.”
Yes! That's the type of talk I love hearing from drivers that I'm about to bet on. I also like that Hamlin is teammates with Kyle Busch so his crew gets some stellar shared set-up info. Include Jones in that mix as well.
Kyle Larson in his Chip Ganassi Camaro also had two top-10s at Bristol last season, including leading a race-high 202 laps in the spring. Those 202 laps led all come right out of the gate when he started from the pole. It looked like he was going to run away and lead every lap. In the fall he led three times for 70 laps. The first thing unattractive about him here, though, is his short odds at 7-to-1. The second thing is that the drivers Camaro and while he's been better than the Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress cars, he hasn't been as strong as last season in year over year comparisons. I might have taken a shot at 15-to-1, but certainly not 7-to-1. However, he may be a quality fantasy option and match-up play.
Martinsville winner Clint Bowyer, from SHR with Harvick and Kurt Busch, has seven top-fives at Bristol, including runner-up last spring.
“At Bristol, you have to have the total package, a lot like I did in Martinsville,” Bowyer said. “I asked (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) if there was any way we could bring the Martinsville car to Bristol. He said no because I tore it up too much and they had to cut the body off of it. But, I’m not worried. We’ll have another hot rod at Bristol.”
Both Martinsville and Bristol are half-mile short tracks, but that's where the comparison ends. They're about as different as Dover and Daytona. Martinsville is flat, Bristol has the high banks. But this type of bumper-to-bumper racing suits his style. If liking his chances, shop around and get the best price on him because his odds are likely to vary by a wide margin.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
2) #20 Erik Jones (15/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
5) #41 Kurt Busch (30/1)
By Micah Roberts
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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS is back in the Old Dominion, heading off to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 on Sunday. The race is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET.
Back in his home state, Chesterfield, Va. native Denny Hamlin (12/1) will be one to watch at RIR. According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Hamlin leads everyone in Driver Rating (112.0) across the past five races at Richmond, including a victory in the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Sept. 2016 during the span. Overall he has won three times at his home track in 23 starts, turning in 10 Top 10 finishes all but five of his outings resulting in a Top 20 showing. His worst start in the 23-race stretch is 24th, so he obviously has no DNFs. Hamlin leads all active drivers with 1,653 laps led, too. Over the past five runs he has led 263 laps, including 156 fastest laps, while turning 87.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15.
Right on his heels is Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch (3/1), who is listed as the favorite as of Saturday morning. Busch has posted a 109.3 Driver Rating over the past five starts at Richmond, leading 126 laps with a circuit-best 95.6 percent of those laps run inside the Top 15. Rowdy has visited Victory Lane in four separate occasions in his 25 starts at the track, posting a ridiculous 15 Top 5 runs while just one of his starts has resulted in a finish outside of the Top 20. Like Hamlin, Busch's worst finish was 24th, and he has led 1,057 laps with a circuit-leading 7.4 Average-Finish Position (AFP). He hasn't won at the track since April 2015, but he is always right there in the mix.
He might not have the experience of his teammates, but Daniel Suarez (75/1) joins his JGR teammates as one to watch this weekend. In his MENCS debut at the short track in 2017, Suarez posted finishes of seventh and 12th. Not too shabby, although never did lead a lap. JGR alliance member Martin Truex Jr. (13/2) hasn't had as much success at RIR over the years, although he has made strides recently. Over the past five starts he has a 101.2 Driver Rating, sixth-best among all drivers, while leading 391 laps which is the most of any driver during the five-race span. However, MTJ has no victories with just two Top 5 finishes and eight Top 10 finishes in 24 career runs. His AFP is a dismal 20.04, so he has work to do before fantasy owners make him a go-to driver at RIR.
Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (6/1) has been a quick study over the years, and Richmond has been no exception. While it takes years for some to master short-track Cup racing, Larson has shown his chops early. He is seventh in Driver Rating (99.3) over the past five races at RIR, and he has one victory (last fall), two Top 5s, two Top 10s and an AFP of 10.4 in his eight career starts at the track. Larson has never finished worse than 16th in the capital city, leading 73 laps. CGR's Jamie McMurray (60/1) is a sleeper to watch. He ranks 10th in Driver Rating over the past five runs while posting three Top 5s, eight Top 10s and 19 Top 20s in 30 career starts at the track. He does lead all active drivers with four DNFs, so there is a measure of risk using Jamie Mac.
This might be the latest we've discussed Kevin Harvick (9/2) this season, but it's more due to trying to mix it up and not due to a lack of success by the No. 4 in Richmond. He has enjoyed himself over the years at the Virginia short track, posting three victories across 34 starts with a sparkling 10.4 AFP. He has managed 12 Top 5s while ending outside of the Top 20 on just three separate occasions, and he is just one of three active drivers to log 1,000 or more laps led. While his last victory at RIR came in the Toyota Owners 400 back in April 2013, Loop Data shows him fourth in Driver Rating over the past five races with a 103.9 mark.
Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski (12/1) has also enjoyed a measure of success at Richmond in recent seasons. He picked up a win in Sept. 2014 at the track, and over his past five starts he has run 93.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 with 125 laps and a 108.1 Driver Rating, good for third over the past five green flag drops at Richmond. Teammate Joey Logano (12/1) won the last time I attended a race in Richmond, taking checkers in April 2014, and he also won the spring race last season. Loop Data shows him in fifth over the past five Richmond runs, posting 50 laps lep with a 4.8 AFP and 80.7 percent of his laps run inside the Top 15.
Hendrick Motorsports has had a difficult 2018 as they rebuild with a bunch of new blood surrounding seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (15/1). The No. 48 has yet to visit Victory Lane, and honestly hasn't been terribly close. However, it will take just one strong race to give the champ momentum, and Richmond could provide that jump. He has a 92.6 Driver Rating over the past five races to rank ninth among all active drivers, posting 44 laps led with a strong 8.4 AFP. He has won three times in Richmond over 32 starts, posting 13 Top 10s and 461 laps led. However, J.J.'s last victory at RIR was back in Sept. 2008 in the Chevy Rock & Roll 400.
Don't sleep on Ryan Newman (75/1) is a value for bettors and fantasy players, especially since he is fifth among all drivers in AFP at 10.4 over his career. He has won once in 32 career Richmond starts with 18 Top 10s and 29 Top 20s while leading 483 laps. Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (20/1) might also be quite the value. He won last time the MENCS was in the state of Virginia, taking checkers at Martinsville in March. He has been to Victory Lane twice in 24 career Richmond starts, posting a strong 11.8 AFP, eight among all drivers. Aric Almirola (30/1) is also a value play. While he hasn't won at the track in 12 tries, he has finished outside of the Top 20 on just three occasions while posting a strong 16.3 AFP.
April 14, 2018
By Daniel Dobish
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