Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Sunday 4/7/19
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By Micah Roberts
Sunday's Food City 500 on the high-banked, half-mile concrete layout at Bristol Motor Speedway could produce record speeds because of the new rules package with the higher spoiler, an engine with 750 horsepower, and no aero-ducts. It should also produce some road rage with almost every driver lined up bumper-to-bumper and side-by-side for 500 laps.
Bristol's bullring is already the fastest half-mile track in the world, but the speeds are still slow enough that drivers have no problem bumping a slower driver out of the way with little fear of injuring the driver as would be the case on the larger tracks. This is where the fun starts for a lot of us. I love rivalries. I love drivers announcing payback is coming. I even like brawls. It adds new storylines for the ensuing week. Bristol is the perfect place to provide some of that.
“Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the best racetracks on the circuit," points-leader Kyle Busch said. "All the fans love it because of the excitement, the run-ins and the close-quarter action with all the cars being packed on top of one another at a half-mile racetrack with us 40 lunatics running around in a tight circle. With the fans, the atmosphere there always makes for a good time.”
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has posted Busch as the 5/2 betting favorite (Bet $100 to win $250) on the basis of him winning two of the last three Bristol races and his seven wins are most among active drivers. He's also got nine Xfinity Series wins there along with five Truck Series wins.
Busch proved to have a great car with this package winning at Phoenix last month after leading a race-high 177 laps. He was third at Martinsville with it as well. He's got the history and he's obviously got the package. But if we back out his seven Cup wins at Bristol, he's only got three other top-fives in 20 starts. He's had some volatile moments leading to poor finishes at the track. Here are his last 10 starts beginning with last fall: 20th, 1st, 1st, 35th, 39th, 38th, 8th, 36th, 29th, and 11th. He's been in accidents in four of his last eight starts.
Denny Hamlin didn't win a race last season, the first time in his career going winless in a Cup season. But after last week's impressive win at Texas, he's now got two wins in the seven races this season. He's second in points and has a 5.3 average finish between his seven starts. He won at Bristol in 2012 and is 14-to-1 to win Sunday.
“Bristol is always a fan favorite, and it would be such an awesome place to return to Victory Lane," Hamlin said. "We’re proud of our performance at Texas, but now our team is back to work with all our focus on the challenge at Bristol.”
The thing that makes Hamlin such a great candidate to win this week, besides having no pressure to win, is what he did at Phoenix and Martinsville this season using the package with 750 horsepower. He's one of three drivers to have finished in the top-five of both races.
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have four of the seven wins this season and Bristol is a place where they can add to the total, but it's not just Busch and Hamlin as a top candidate. Erik Jones has his usual weekly odds of 25/1 dropped down to 14/1 because he's proven to be very good at Bristol. He's a two-time winner there in the Xfinity Series and as a rookie in the Cup Series in 2017 he started from the pole, led 260 laps and finished second. Last fall he finished fifth. For whatever it's worth, Matt Kenseth drove the No. 20 to two Cup wins at Bristol while with JGR.
As for the JGR No. 19 driven by Martin Truex Jr., this is his third worst statistical track (21st-place average) behind Talladega and Daytona. In 26 starts he's only got two top-fives and none of them came in his glory years driving the No. 78. He was 30th in both Bristol races last season. He's 14-to-1 to win this week and the good news if betting him to win is that this package led him to a second-place finish at Phoenix last month.
Kevin Harvick sits third in points and is considered the star performer of Stewart-Haas Racing, but the driver sitting fifth in points, his teammate Aric Almirola, has actually looked a bit better with the package being used this week. I came to that conclusion when I saw Harvick struggle (9th) at Phoenix last month, a place he owns with nine wins. Harvick didn't even lead a lap. At the same time, Almirola finished fourth and led 26 laps.
“Never in my career have I been able to go to the racetrack every weekend with the opportunity to win," Almirola said. "We have done that at every race so far this season. With the combination of all of the smart people at Ford Performance, Roush Yates and Stewart-Haas, we’re unstoppable. You see what the Penske team has been able to accomplish with Ford cars so far this season. It’s a matter of time before SHR catches up and we are running at the front every weekend.”
SHR is going to win soon and I believe Almirola presents the most value among their drivers this week. Harvick is 12/1 to win his third Bristol Cup race. Clint Bowyer was runner-up last week at Texas and is 14/1 this week. Almirola is 20/1, and Daniel Suarez, who finished third at Texas, is 60/1 to win Sunday. In this race last season, Almirola's first at Bristol with SHR, he finished sixth.
Kyle Larson has had an incredible last two years of races at Bristol, leading laps in his last four starts. In the spring of 2017, he led 202 laps and last spring he led 200 laps. He was runner-up in both races last season. Perhaps the track owes him something soon?
"I don’t feel like I’m owed anything anywhere but that’s the one track where I feel like time after time I’m close to winning a race there every time I go," Larson said. "I just don’t get it done. Not that it owes me anything. I just need to do a better job at the end of the races.”
I thought I might be able to get some decent odds on Larson because his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Camaro doesn't seem as polished as new teammate Kurt Busch's No. 1, but the SuperBook lists him as the second choice to win at 7/1 odds. He struggled at Martinsville two weeks ago with this package but finished sixth at Phoenix last month with it. One last note, Larson won the fall Xfinity Series race at Bristol last season. Yes, he had a great 2018 at Bristol.
By the way, the elder Busch brother won the fall race at Bristol last season driving the SHR No. 41 Ford giving him six career wins there and first since they changed it to progressive banking with multi-grooves. Busch is 14/1 to win this week.
Another driver I was hoping find some large odds on was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but the SuperBook was all over him as well offering just 25/1. Come on, 50/1? But I suppose the book knows that Stenhouse is the active leader at Bristol with an 11.3 average finish, and he's done that while the Roush Fenway Racing program wasn't exactly in its heyday.
“Bristol is one of my favorite tracks," Stenhouse said. "It’s such a fun track. We’ve been so close at Bristol and just keep coming up short one position. The race will be exciting. I think you might see record speeds at Bristol with the new package. We have made a few mistakes the past couple of weeks so we are looking to rebound and keep climbing back up through the ranks.”
Stenhouse was fourth in this race last season and he was runner-up in 2014 and 2016. His best run with this package this season was 13th at Phoenix.
The driver I'm going to key on prior to practices is Ryan Blaney (12/1) who drives one of those fast Penske Mustang's. His teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined for three wins and Blaney's best performances this season, where he was good enough to win, was using this package with 750 horsepower and no aero-ducts. He was third at Phoenix leading 94 laps and fourth at Martinsville, one of three drivers with top-fives at both tracks using this package.
In his first season with Penske last year he got to the front quickly at Bristol leading 100 laps in the spring before being caught up in an accident and then leading 121 laps in the fall before finishing seventh. He also won an Xfinity Series race at Bristol in 2014 and a Truck Series race in 2015.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #12 Ryan Blaney (12/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (14/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
4) #10 Aric Almirola (20/1)
5) #20 Erik Jones (14/1)
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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 moves to Bristol Motor Speedway for the the Food City 500 from Thunder Valley on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET. There will be a 50 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms with temperatures in the mid-70's, so we might have our first rain delay of the season.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott (14/1) will lead everyone from the pole on Sunday, and as such he had the favorable No. 1 pit stall assignment, with no one in front of him heading out of the pits for Turn 1. Pit stall assignment is ultra important at Bristol, as things can get awfully bunched up in the pits, and that clear space in front of the car means less traffic to negotiate. His teammate, William Byron (100/1) has rather long odds, but might be a steal going off from the outside of Row 1 next to his teammate. Byron also has the luxury of no one in front of his, selecting the No. 23 pit stall, which is at the front of the back stretch Pit Road heading out onto the track by Turn 3.
Elliott finished third in the fall run at Bristol, his finest performance in a Cup car at the short track Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip likened to racing in a blender. Elliott also has six career MENCS starts at Thunder Valley, and two have resulted in top-5 showings, with three ending up in the top-10. Byron has long odds at BMS because he was a rather shaky 18th in the spring Bristol race and 23rd in the fall run last season, his first two starts in a Cup car at the difficult short track. Still, he looked like he had a good grasp of the place in practice and qualifying, so he might be quite the sleeper.
Jimmie Johnson (16/1) showed improvement last week, but he was still unable to break through into the win column in Texas. According to NASCAR's Loop Data, he ranks fifth over the past five starts in Driver Rating at 100.7, and he has run 85.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. Johnson has been 11th or better in each of his past five starts at the track, including a third-place showing in the spring race and a ninth-place fun in the night race. He has been 11th or better in eight of his past nine starts at Bristol, too, so expect another good showing. J.J. will battle from the 10th spot in the starting grid.
Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (7/1) tops the charts in terms of Driver Rating over the past five Bristol starts, posting a Driver Rating of 113.2, with 489 laps led and an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 8.6. He has run 91.4 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, too, and that also leads all drivers over the past five starts at BMS. Larson has made 10 Cup starts at Bristol overall, posting six runs inside the Top 10 with 14.8 AFP. His teammate, Kurt Busch (16/1) is a wily veteran who knows this place well, and he certainly knows his way to Victory Lane. He has been there six times at Thunder Valley, while his brother Kyle Busch (9/4) has been there on seven different occasions. The elder Busch won the NRA Night Race last summer, so he will be one to remember at the betting window and in DFS. Kurt Busch goeso ff from the 27th position as he looks for his second straight checkered flag at Thunder Valley. His teammate Larson goes off 16th.
Speaking of Rowdy, he has made it a Busch affair in three straight Bristol races, winning the night race in 2017 and the spring race last season before his brother won the second race last summer. Kyle has the seven wins, but he also has 12 finishes outside of the Top 10 with four DNFs. Still, he is considered one of the favorites due to his 14.3 AFP and 2,232 laps led, by far the most of any active driver. In fact, the next closest is his brother at 1,086 laps led. He'll go off 17th in Sunday's race, so he should garner plenty of Place Differential points as he matriculates up through the field.
JGR cars had a good qualifying session like usual, as Erik Jones (16/1) and Denny Hamlin (14/1) will go off fourth and fifth in Sunday's race. Jones will be in stall No. 20, too, which has an open area behind the stall to give him a little extra room. Hamlin chose stall No. 12, which has the entrance to the garage ahead of his stall, so not car immediately in front of him for a little added comfort. Hamlin was a very ordinary 14th in each of the two Bristol races last season, but he has always been a tremendous short-track driver. Jones has posted two top-5 finishes in his past three Bristol races with an AFP of 12.5 in his four Cup starts at the short track while also leading 260 laps.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Daniel Suarez (66/1) will start Sunday's race from the 20th position. He has never finished lower than 18th, but he also hasn't been higher than 11th, in his four Cup starts at Bristol. His teammates qualified pretty well, however, as Aric Almirola (20/1) and Clint Bowyer (16/1) will start sixth and eighth respectively. Almirola has had some issues at this track recently, finish 22nd or worse in three of his past four starts, but he was also sixth just one year ago in the spring race. Bowyer did well for SHR last season, posting a pair of top-10 finishes at the track.
Do not sleep on the Penske Racing group, either. They'll be in the mix for a win as usual. Ryan Blaney (12/1), Brad Keselowski (7/1) and Joey Logano (8/1) are among the favorites for good reason. Kes has two wins and 566 laps in his 18 Cup starts, posting an 18.1 AFP. Logano has been even better, grabbing checkers twice with nine of his 20 starts resulting in a top-10 showing. Blaney hasn't been as fortunate, posting a 21.9 AFP in seven Cup starts, but he has 221 laps led, and he had his best-ever Bristol finish with a seventh-place run in the night race last season.
Last but not least, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25/1) just seems to love this place. He leads all active drivers with an 11.3 AFP in 12 career starts. While he has never won, he has come close, posting four top-5 finishes and six top-10 showings. And all but two of his starts have resulted in finishes 20th or better. While he was 24th last summer in the night race, he was also a solid fourth in the spring run.
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