Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Friday 3/8/19
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By Micah Roberts
There are 36 cars entered for Sunday's TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, but the main story this weekend is about two former Cup Champions going toe-to-toe for track supremacy. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch each won on the one-mile layout at Phoenix last season and also dominated on the two other similar flat tracks.
“When we go to Phoenix, we are always going for the win," Harvick said. "That’s been a great racetrack for me, personally, and since I’ve been at SHR, it’s become statistically one of our best racetracks as far as win counts go. It’s definitely a racetrack that we circle every year where we think we should have an opportunity to win.”
Harvick will be looking to expand upon his track record of nine Cup wins at Phoenix and join five other drivers in NASCAR history who have 10 wins at a single track. Richard Petty did it at five tracks, Darrell Waltrip did it at three tracks and David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson have done it at one place each. That's some serious company he's on the brink of joining.
He's won at Phoenix seven of his last 13 starts which is part of the reason the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted him as a +225 favorite. The worst finish in his last 11 Phoenix starts was sixth place mixed in with 10 top-fives. The crazy thing about his domination in the desert is that he's been with two different organization and two different manufacturers along the way while also going through several different rules packages for the cars. The one constant has been Harvick being the driver to beat.
Now he's got another rules package to deal with this weekend, one different from what we saw the last two weeks when it debuted on the 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta and Las Vegas. What are the differences?
“Phoenix is basically the same body, but you don’t have the drag ducts in the front," Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers said. "You’ll have brake ducts going to your front routers and front calipers. Then, of course, you have the 750-horsepower engine at Phoenix instead of the 550 horsepower that we had at Vegas. A little bit more downforce – the cars are built for downforce and a little bit more power.”
The taller spoiler will also create more downforce and reports from a test at Phoenix last fall show that power is restricted from what they've been used to, but the response time on the throttle will be much quicker than what they used the past two weeks.
It should be interesting to watch unfold. There's still a bit of uncertainty that perhaps the new package closes that gap Harvick has created these past years. If looking at the Superbook odds to win, a place that has to be correct more than most because they're taking wagers on all the drivers and can lose cash if wrong, they're treating their odds almost the same as last season, which includes Kyle Busch the second-favorite at 7-to-2 odds. Busch won at Phoenix last fall leading a race-high 117 laps. He's also won there 10 times in the Xfinity Series.
"For some reason, I’ve always run well there," Busch said of Phoenix. "I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable being back close to home on the West Coast, or what. I always have a little more fan support out there, as well. As for the track itself, you’ve always had two distinctly different corners at Phoenix, which makes it fun and challenging all at the same time.”
His last Cup win before November was as a rookie in 2005 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports, the first season the Car of Tomorrow was unveiled. In between then and now, it's been mostly Harvick, but the tide turned a little bit last season in favor of Busch. Both grabbed wins at Phoenix, but on the tracks that require similar set-ups and always correlate well, Busch was better with a sweep at Richmond. Five races with similar set-ups and Busch won three of them and was runner-up in the two he didn't win, just behind Harvick at Phoenix in the spring and New Hampshire.
With two drivers being such short favorites to win, the SuperBook has to increase the odds on the others to balance their desired theoretic hold percentage around 28 percent. There's a couple of drivers that stand out based on their performance last season at Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire. One of those is Martin Truex Jr. at 10/1 odds.
“We are looking forward to getting to Phoenix this weekend,’’ said Truex, who was fifth in this race last season. “Regardless of what aero package we run there, you’re always looking for the same things from the car. You’ve got to turn in the center and be able to have really good drive off.
“We’ve had some good runs there the past few years – obviously winning the pole last year and being upfront leading laps. It will be fun to get to our first sort of short track of the year and see where we’re at there after a couple of 1.5-mile tracks.”
Truex led 121 laps at Richmond in the spring (14th) and led 163 laps there in the fall before finishing third. Cole Pearn is still his crew chief and I'm sure his notes are still good as well as adding what was gained from the Phoenix test by teammate Denny Hamlin.
Aric Almirola has the luxury of shared notes with his teammate Harvick and last season they were dialed in on these tracks, especially in the second half of the season where he was third at New Hampshire, fifth at Richmond and fourth at Phoenix. He's getting 20/1 odds this week.
Hamlin won at Phoenix in 2012 and is 15/1 to win this week and knows what it will take to win at Phoenix this week.
“We had a couple tough pit stops last weekend in Las Vegas that set us back, and we just needed a little more speed to get those spots back," Hamlin said. "We will have to be at our best from start to finish in Phoenix, and the entire team is working hard and will be ready for the challenge that awaits us.”
Hamlin has always been at his best on flat tracks and with a win already this season he can be more aggressive of he chooses. He was fourth in this race last season leading 33 laps.
Another driver to consider is Chase Elliott at 10/1 odds. He had top-fives in four of the five races on similar flat tracks last season.
It's probably a bad idea to leave the Penske Mustangs out of my betting equation this week after winning the last two races using the new package, but I'm looking at the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Daniel Suarez (60/1) and Clint Bowyer (25/1) more.
And the real bold move this week would be taking a shot with William Byron at 100/1 odds, who was ninth and 12th at Phoenix last season and won an Xfinity Series race there in 2017.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/4)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
4) #10 Aric Almirola (20/1)
5) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (10/1)
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By Dan Dobish
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 heads west to ISM Raceway for the TicketGuardian 500 from Phoenix on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (5/2) heads to Arizona with nine career victories at ISM Raceway, easily the best among all active drivers. He has posted 16 top-5 finishes, 21 top-10 results and an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 9.3 across 32 MENCS starts while leading 1,595 laps. In his past five starts at the track he has a very impressive 109.7 Driver Rating, according to NASCAR's Loop Data, running 90.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. His 4.2 AFP during the five-race span is second among all drivers. Happy posted a 139.411 mph top speed in qualifying, so he'll go off eighth on Sunday.
Penske Racing's Ryan Blaney (33/1) could be a sneaky play racing out of the pole position. He posted a top speed of 141.287 mph in qualifying, more than one whole mile per hour before than his nearest challenge for the pole, Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott (10/1). Blaney has always qualified fairly well, but when it comes to race day he has fallen apart in his past Cup races in Phoenix. He has posted a 6.5 Average-Start Position, and this is his second pole. However, he has managed a very poor 18.0 AFP with zero top-5 results, and just two top-10 showings.
Elliott might be the better bet, as he has six career starts at the track and he has never finished worse than 23rd. In addition, he has two top-5s, four top-10s and a 9.5 AFP, which is second among all drivers only behind Harvick's 9.3. NASCAR's Loop Data shows him with a 110.2 Driver Rating across the past five starts at ISM, running 95.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 while leading 156 laps. His teammate, seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (50/1), has picked up four victories at the track. He has slipped at the Arizona one-mile flat, as he doesn't register in the Top 10 among all current drivers in terms of Driver Rating. However, he is still third among all drivers with a 10.3 AFP, posting 15 top-5 finishes across his 31 starts. He will go off 15th on Sunday after a 138.803 mph qualifying speed.
Hendrick driver William Byron (80/1) doesn't have a very long history in a Cup car at ISM, making just two starts last season. However, he was a solid ninth and 12th in his two races, good for an AFP of 10.5. Crew chief Chad Knaus, who sat atop Jimmie Johnson's pit box for seven championships, could be the key to push Byron over the top at ISM. As such, he is an intriguing wager and DFS option. He did a good job in qualifying, posting a 139.567 mph speed, so he'll go off seventh in Sunday's race.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (7/2) won the Can-Am 500 (k) at ISM last fall out of the sixth position in a race which featured 15 lead changes, tied for most since Nov. 2013. It was his second victory at ISM, and his first since the Checker Auto Parts 500 back in Nov. 2007. Busch has posted an impressive 119.4 Driver Rating with 359 laps led over the past five stops at the track, running an impressive 98.2 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. His AFP of 3.0 over the past five starts easily leads all drivers. Busch will go off third on Sunday. His teammate, Denny Hamlin (9/2) will start right next to the 18 on the outside of Row 2. Hamlin has 27 career starts at ISM, posting one win, 11 top-5 finishes and 15 top-10 showings with an AFP of 11.6.
JGR's Erik Jones (25/1) has five-career Cup starts under his belt at the one-mile flat track. He has never finished lower than 19th, posting three Top 10s while leading 11 laps. He also has a solid 11.4 AFP, so he is one to watch. He'll start on Row 5 alongside teammate , who has never posted a victory in 26 career starts. He also has just three top-5 finishes, three DNFs and a marginal 16.4 AFP across his 26 career starts. While he was part of an alliance with JGR while running for the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing team, this will be his first try as a member of JGR. They seem to have the proper setup and program to do well at this track, at least lately. While MTJ's overall numbers at the track aren't terribly impressive, he is worth a look.
Penske's Brad Keselowski (7/1) will be short a crew member, as he had an engineer from his 12-member race team suspended after his car failed inspection twice during pre-qualifying. It didn't seem to affect Kes in the least, as he went out and posted a speed of 139.849 mph to check in fifth for Sunday's starting grid. He has managed six Top 5s, nine Top 10s and 163 laps led over 19 career starts with a 13.5 AFP, but he has never won in the desert. Teammate Joey Logano (8/1) is the only current Penske driver with a checkered flag at ISM, posting a victory in the Can-Am 500 in Nov. 2016. He has 20 career starts with nine top-10 finishes, 296 laps led and a decent 15.5 AFP. However, he also has four DNFs.
Chip Ganassi Racing's Kurt Busch (28/1) had a promising run in Vegas last week, and he'll look to carry the momentum over into Sunday's race. He hasn't won in Phoenix since the Subway Fresh 500 back in April 2005, but he has a solid 14.2 AFP with 18 of his 32 career starts resulting in a top-10 showing at the track. He also has just two DNFs during the span. His teammate, Kyle Larson (20/1), has 10 career starts with a 14.2 AFP, three top-5 finishes and 69 laps led. He struggled in qualifying, as he'll go off 31st , but perhaps he'll rack up plenty of Place-Differential points for fantasy owners moving up through the pack.
Among drivers to avoid, David Ragan (1000/1), Alex Bowman (50/1) and Paul Menard (100/1) have each posted ugly numbers over the years at this track. Ragan has a 27.3 AFP in 12 career starts, and his best finish is 20th. Bowman has stumbled with a 27.1 AFP in seven starts, although he has been sixth here before while leading 194 laps. Menard has never finished better than ninth in 24 career starts, posting a 23.0 AFP. The highest starting rookie will be , who starts from the 11th position after a qualifying speed of 138.846 mph.
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