Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Friday 3/1/19
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By Micah Roberts
The third race of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series schedule rolls through Las Vegas for the 22nd straight year in what will be the first of two races this season. It also kicks off the West Coast swing with races at Phoenix and Fontana to follow.
There's lots of storylines to follow this week after two races, but the main story coming in this week will be in regards to the new tapered spacer package which dropped horsepower from 750 in last seasons pacakge down to 550 to produce better competition. I've heard mixed results from opinions I respect on both sides, but I saw plenty of signs in the Atlanta race that lead me to believe this package is going to offer competitive racing with a much larger pool of drivers havinga chance to win weekly..
It's only one race at Atlanta and while the speeds were about 6 mph slower than what the Cup cars ran in the same race last season, the racing was better. There was four wide at several points in Sunday's race and the cars were actually faster through the corners. It was harder for the leaders to get separation so the distance between first and 25th-place after 15 laps of green flag racing was much shorter.
The statistics between the two races don't tell the full story because they actually look similar. Last season at Atlanta there was five cautions and 24 lead changes among eight drivers. On Sunday there was five cautions and 26 lead changes among nine drivers.
The big difference between the two races is that last year I don't think there was any juncture where I believed Kevin Harvick wouldn't win as he led 181 of the 325 laps. But on Sunday we saw drama with about seven different drivers looking like they were taking control of the race and capable of winning. Brad Keselowski led just once, but it was for the final 33 laps with Martin Truex Jr. reeling him in. The margin of victory at only .218 of a second. Harvick won by 2.69 seconds last season and was followed by two other Fords. Sunday saw a Ford win, Toyota finish second, and a Chevy finish third.
It's hardly a large enough sample size to go all in with a strong opinion, but I'm all thumbs up so far and pumped for 2019 which looks to be a season of parity.
“It’s still early," Clint Bowyer said when asked for his thoughts on new package. "Trying to figure out the right scenario for this is going to be interesting. You have to remember, Atlanta is a one-off race. There is no track that we go to anymore that is as slick and is as hard on tires as Atlanta. It will be interesting to see what Las Vegas brings.”
There's likely to be fewer tire issues in Las Vegas and also aerodynamic ducts being used instead of the brake ducts NASCAR mandated for Atlanta. However, this week's package was used in the Las Vegas testing four weeks ago.
"I think you’ll see what we saw on the restarts at Atlanta for much longer in Vegas," said Aric Almirola who started on the pole last week at Atlanta. "I don’t think it will last the entire fuel run, but I think the crazy, wild restarts are going to last more like 10 or 12 laps. I think it’s going to be wild and we’re going to have more three- and four-wide racing for a lot longer.”
If Almirola is correct this could be the best race ever at Las Vegas. His 20-to-1 price at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook should be considered very attractive. He led 36 of the first 37 laps last week, but fell off when shuffled back.
“When we were out front in clean air, our car was really fast and drove really well,” Almirola said. “When we fell back to second and third, our car was really fast but our car didn’t drive as well. Then, when we got a speeding penalty and went to the back, the car was a handful. Getting clean air is going to be one of the biggest challenges. No matter what rules package you have, the clean air is always going to be important. Your car makes the most amount of downforce when it’s in clean air. Every car you get behind just makes conditions worse and you lose grip and handling.”
Bowyer did the Las Vegas testing four weeks ago and it was apparent that all three of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates read the notes well as all four drivers finished in the top-10 at Atlanta. Bowyer was fastest in Atlanta's two practices and midway through the race Harvick radioed in that he'd figured the package out and what lines were best to run.
For handicapping purposes, we only have one full race of results to go off of and three test sessions on the Las Vegas 1.5-mile layout to review. We can also mix in a little bit of past history because the same cast of characters seems to routinely do well in Las Vegas.
Keselowski has won three of the past six Las Vegas races, including the first fall race last season. One more win and he'll tie Jimmie Johnson with four. Harvick won this race last season giving him two of the past five wins. There are only five active drivers that can claim a win in Las Vegas and they're all former Cup Series champions.
No driver sneaks up on a flukey win in Las Vegas. And the sports books rarely get fooled with odds paying out larger than 20-to-1. But if there were a year for a long shot to finally cash it would be 2019 with this new package where cases can be made for up to 20 drivers to win.
Las Vegas has always been an elitest track. No surprises, but the new package may inspire some of us to bet drivers like Almirola, Bowyer, Johnson, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, or Ryan Newman on a 1.5-mile track as opposed to last year when bettors were basically throwing their money away betting against the Big-3 who won nine of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks.
“We’re excited to get to Vegas this weekend to kick off the West Coast swing," said Newman who is 50-to-1 to win this week. "We showed some good speed last weekend in Atlanta and I’m ready to see how that carries over to another 1.5-mile track with the full aero package this weekend. We tested there back in January and learned a lot."
Joe Gibbs Racing looks dialed in so far with Kyle Busch and Erik Jones being the only two drivers with top-10s in each of the first two races. Martin Truex Jr. probably should have won last week, but lapped traffic got in the way, and then there's Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin who is still on flying high from his huge win two weeks ago.
“The FedEx No. 11 team is really clicking so far and I’m happy with our progress and achievements, but we still have a lot of work to do and a lot more challenges coming our way," said Hamlin who is 25-to-1 to win Sunday. "But, we’re still leading the points, and we’ll be ready to get back at it this weekend in Las Vegas and pad our lead a little more.”
Hamlin has averaged an 14th-place finish in 14 Las Vegas starts, but his car looked strong for most of the race at Atlanta before settling for 11th. By the way, his finish postion total for this week is 11.5. Both Truex (2017) and Busch (2009) are past winners in Las Vegas.
Now having said all that, I'm going with Keselowski to win again and it's not only because he's been the dominant driver lately in Las Vegas, or because he won last week on Vegas' sister-track, but rather it's more about what he did in the Las Vegas test running the same exact package we'll see Sunday. In the final two sessions, he ran the most laps in each and the No. 2 got better with each lap and some tinkering in the garages. In the final practice, he was fastest and I believe notes from those sessions produced his win last week at Atlanta, and maybe this Sunday as well.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (6/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
5) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)
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The Busch Brothers lead NASCAR into its three-race West Coast swing coming off another set of accomplishments that have established them among the all-time greats of the sport.
The Las Vegas natives return home as two of the headliners of NASCAR's young season.
Kyle Busch on Thursday finalized a multi-year contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 18 Toyota. This was a contract year for Busch but he locked up his new deal and avoided free agency. Last week, he made his 500th career Cup Series start - a sixth-place finish at Atlanta, where he drove from the back of the field in a backup car - and he set the Truck Series all-time win mark with his 52nd victory.
Kurt Busch, meanwhile, celebrated his 650th career Cup start with a surprising third-place finish at Atlanta. He moved this year to Chip Ganassi Racing, a team that has struggled to consistently run up front, and Chevrolet has lagged behind its NASCAR rivals since it debuted the Camaro last season.
Enter Kurt Busch, considered a throwback in that his sense and feel of a car can sometimes help engineers diagnose deficiencies. He prides himself in his knowledge and understanding of cars, rarities among many of his peers who simply drive and don't crunch the numbers.
''Each and every week you want to have a shot at it and Ganassi and Chevrolet, everybody knows we've got to push hard and we can't expect anything to happen just off of good vibes or good feelings,'' Busch said. ''We have to go and apply all of the knowledge we can.''
The race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be the first with NASCAR's entire new competition package. A lesser version of the new rules debuted last weekend at Atlanta and did improve - albeit slightly - the on-track product.
Las Vegas is expected to be the first true test of NASCAR's plan to create closer, tighter racing. NASCAR has reduced both horsepower and downforce, and many believe it will create pack racing at Las Vegas. The new rules and the many unknowns regarding the racing this season have dominated conversation, but there have been other storylines.
Earlier this week, Kyle Larson accused Hendrick Motorsports of gaming NASCAR's inspection system. He basically accused Hendrick, his engine supplier at Ganassi, of cheating and then walked it back later that night on Twitter.
''I feel terrible about it,'' he wrote. ''I meant it jokingly, but shouldn't have implied they are anything but a strong competitor that gets better as the season goes on.''
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has aggravated half the field through two races with his aggressive driving, and series champions Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. are among those who have taken verbal shots at Stenhouse. He was not backing down.
''I feel like I do everything that I have to do to make sure our car stays in the front,'' he said.
One element of the new rules package is that smaller teams may be able to close the gap on NASCAR's powerhouses; Chris Buescher of JTG-Daugherty Racing led the charge at Atlanta with a ninth-place finish. Ryan Preece, his rookie teammate, had a great Daytona 500 debut and a solid run last week until he crashed on pit road.
Daniel Suarez scored his first top-10 finish last week since he moved this season to Stewart-Haas Racing, and that team had a remarkable rebound from the Daytona 500. All four of its drivers crashed late at Daytona but all four finished in the top 10 at Atlanta.
Now SHR goes to Las Vegas, where Kevin Harvick last year won the second race of his three-race streak.
Still, it will Kyle Busch with the opportunity to leave Las Vegas as the biggest winner. He entered all three NASCAR national series races, and has won in each series at Las Vegas but never all in one weekend. His only Cup win was in 2009, his second season driving for Gibbs.
From 1999 to 2001, Kyle Busch won more than 65 races and two championships in Legends cars at Las Vegas' Bullring. He later added 10 victories in late model stock cars at the Bullring in 2001.
''Vegas always means a little bit more pressure, more pressure on myself, just because it's the hometown and you want to win there,'' he said. ''I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place.''
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Best Bets - Las Vegas
By Dan Dobish
The MENCS heads west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (9/2) is on the pole for the first time in Vegas, and he is installed as the overall favorite for Sunday's race. He won this race in March 2018, starting from the outside of Row 1, averaging a speed of 141.756 mph. He has claimed checked in two of the past five stops at LVMS, and he ranks fourth in Driver Rating across the past five starts at the track according to NASCAR's Loop Data, posting a 112.2 Driver Rating with 371 laps led while running 74.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (11/2) won the Strat 200 on the Gander Outdoors Truck Series on Friday night, as the Las Vegas native always seems to bring a little extra in his hometown. He hasn't won in Las Vegas on the Monster Energy Cup Series since the Shelby 427 back in March 2009, his first and only victory at the track while running with the big boys. He has 15 career starts at the track, posting six top 5s and eight top 10s with 241 laps led and a 12.9 Average-Finish Position (AFP).
Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin (20/1) has never in Las Vegas, although he has certainly been close. In 14 career starts at the track he has posted two Top 5 finishes and six Top 10s, managing a respectable 14.0 AFP. He will go off from the second position on Sunday. JGR's Erik Jones (25/1) and Martin Truex Jr. (11/2) didn't have a lot of success in qualifying on Friday, but don't forget about them for Sunday. MTJ ranked fifth among active drivers with a 11.8 AFP, posting a victory with four Top 5s and 260 laps led in 14 career starts. Jones had had a rougher time of it, averaging a 21.0 AFP in three MENCS starts. He did finish as high as eighth, but he was also 15th and a dismal 40th. Jones starts in the 18th position and isn't a terribly attractive fantasy and betting option this week. However, Truex is a nice play, especially for his potential for plenty of Place Differential points.
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon (50/1) had an outstanding time in qualifying, and he'll go off fourth in Sunday's start. He hasn't won in seven career starts at the track, but he has been right in the mix. He has one Top 5 and just two of his starts have resulted in finishes outside of the Top 20, posting a 15.9 AFP. He has led just two laps, but he could change that with such an advantageous starting position on Sunday. Dillon's teammate, Daniel Hemric (100/1), posted a solid third-place finish in Duel No. 1 at Daytona, but he managed a 29th-place finish in the 500, and 28th-place finish in Atlanta last week. The chances of a season-best finish are high this week, as he starts out fifth after posting a best speed of 179.480 mph on Friday.
Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan (150/1) could be a big-time sleeper on Sunday. He turned in an outstanding qualifying effort to get himself onto Row 3 to start. He has plenty of experience at LVMS, starting 13 times with just one Top 10 and one Top 20 with only one lap led while posting a 26.8 AFP. The starting spot is impressive, but his lack of success makes him a risking play. Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (75/1) is also a long shot who qualified well Friday, and he'll go off eighth for the MENCS race. He has qualified well in each of his two previous starts, going off fifth in Daytona and second in Atlanta, but he ended up in the middle of the pack in each outing. He managed a 178.607 mph best speed on Friday. In seven career starts he has three Top 20s, but he has never been better than 12th in Vegas while posting a subpar 23.3 AFP.
Penske Racing's Ryan Blaney (12/1) has yet to taste victory in Vegas, but he leads all active drivers with an 8.4 AFP in five starts. He has two Top 5s and four Top 10s, but he has led just one lap during the span. He also ranks seventh with a 95.0 Driver Rating during the five-race span. His teammate Brad Keselowski (7/1), fresh off a victory in Atlanta last week, won in the fall race in Vegas, his third win in the past six stops at the track. He will start 19th on Sunday, with plenty of potential to rack up many Place Differential points for fantasy owners. He has 11 career starts with a 13.3 AFP at LVMS. Penske's Joey Logano (17/2) has also run very well in Vegas over the years, ranking second among active drivers with a 9.2 AFP. He has finished outside of the Top 20 just once in 11 career starts, leading 242 laps.
Don't forget about Hendrick Motorsports driver and four-time Vegas champ Jimmie Johnson (35/1). He has been so-so with a 17th in the 500, and an 11th-place finish in Atlanta last week. However, he checks in fourth among active drivers with an 11.6 AFP in 18 career starts, posting half of his starts inside the Top 10 with 595 laps led. He will start from the ninth position on Sunday. His teammate Alex Bowman (75/1) will go off 11th on Sunday, but he is a risky proposition given his 28.8 AFP in four career starts at the track. Hendrick's Chase Elliott (20/1) is on Row 6 along with Bowman, and he is also a risky play. He has struggled mightily at LVMS, posting a terrible 27.8 AFP in four career starts at the track. He has qualified very well with a 9.5 Average Starting Position, but he has three DNFs.
Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (7/1) has had a ton of success in his six career starts at LVMS, posting three Top 5s and four Top 10s with an 11.3 AFP. He will start seventh in Sunday's race.
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