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NASCAR GEICO 500 Preview

NASCAR GEICO 500 Preview 1 month 3 weeks ago #504823

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Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Saturday 4/27/19
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NASCAR GEICO 500 Preview 1 month 3 weeks ago #504824

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By Micah Roberts

The restrictor-plate is dead after over 30 years of using it in Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway as NASCAR ushers in a new era in hopes of making the races more competitive and safer. The season-opening Daytona 500 was the last race to use the plates and the new package has never been tested at Talladega so there's a lot of uncertainty and anticipation by all the teams heading into Friday's practice in preparation for Sunday's Geico 500.

“I have no idea," Kevin Harvick said about what's in store for his team this weekend. "You just show up and see how it develops. All you can do is show up for a weekend at Talladega and see how it develops and go from there.”

Talladega's high-banked 2.66-mile layout is the biggest and fastest on the circuit, and while NASCAR has created more drag with the new cars, which includes a 9 inch tall spoiler, aero ducts, and raising the rear an extra inch, the engine with 550 horsepower offers more throttle response compared to the plates engines that produced only 410 horsepower. On paper, it looks like the cars will go much faster.

“There are a lot of unknowns going into this weekend with the new package," said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., winner of the 2017 spring Talladega race. "We expect that the speeds will be higher than normal. I know we are all looking forward to getting on track Friday to see how the new rules package will affect the handling of the car. Talladega always put on a great race because we are all racing so close together. We’ve had some issues the past couple of weeks so we are looking to turn that around this weekend.”

Stenhouse only has two wins and they both came in 2017 on plate races. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook lists him at 18-to-1 odds to win in part because of his past wins, but also because he's the active leader at Talladega with a 10.6 average finish.

Still, we don't know how the cars will run. Do the teams that have had success with the new package have an edge this weekend? This week's package with the tapered spacer limits horsepower to 550 horsepower just like at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Fontana, and Texas and there were two winners from Team Penske and two winners from Joe Gibbs Racing in those races. The other package with 750 horsepower on the shorter tracks, JGR has three wins and Penske has the other. The season scoreboard reads JGR 6 wins, Penske 3 wins.

Why should Sunday be any different, especially considering Ford has won the past seven races at Talladega, five coming from the Penske stables. Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers with five wins at Talladega and Joey Logano is next with three, which is why the SuperBook has them both listed as 8/1 co-favorites to win.

I want to know more, though. The cars will likely be faster -- Kurt Busch won the pole at Talladega last fall at 195 mph -- and we'll probably see more tandem racing and drivers figuring out the aero push of the new body bringing lots of side drafting to slow the other cars down briefly. The best explanation I've heard from how things might look this weekend came from Matt DiBenedetto's crew chief Mike Wheeler.

“Talladega might be the most interesting track we go to this year with the new aero package compared to what people expect heading into this weekend," said Wheeler, who won the 2016 Daytona 500 as Denny Hamlin's crew chief. "Ultimately, Daytona notes from the start of the season are thrown out the window because that package is completely different than what we’re running this weekend. We’re hoping to keep a decent notebook from Texas and some of the other tracks that had the same 550 spec NASCAR package, but with the new spoiler height and rear tail extension, the car is a whole new animal in itself."

What Wheeler said about Texas is interesting and worth taking note of (Hamlin won at Texas). While the spoiler is supposed to create more drag, it looks like it will also create more downforce which will have all the tires sticking with no slips while drivers keep the gas pedal mashed to the floor all the way around.

"It wouldn’t surprise us if there is a bigger pack this weekend and that the runs on guys in traffic are quicker and harder to block in the big pack," Wheeler continued. "It may be similar to what we saw maybe 10 to 15 years ago, but ultimately in regard to handling, I think that cars are going to be stuck more into the track compared to where they’ve been in the past. The cars for this weekend are going to be quite a bit front-heavy with the big splitter so handling in traffic might be a concern compared to clean air traffic. We’re just not entirely sure what’s going to happen this weekend because handling might come into play because of the off-balance of the aero-balance."

Wheeler was the race engineer for Hamlin when they won at Talladega in 2014. He knows his stuff setting up cars at Talladega and Daytona, which is part of the reason DiBenedetto led twice for 49 laps in the Daytona 500 before being collected in the "Big One." The other part that Leavine Family Racing has a technical alliance with JGR. The SuperBook respects the volatile nature of Talladega, the randomness of finishers, and DiBenedetto's car so much he's only 30/1 to win Sunday.

The only certainty this week is that we will eventually see the "Big One" due to all the drivers being bunched up -- bumper-to-bumper, side-by-side three and four wide -- at 200 mph. I also don't foresee drivers and crews foregoing the final practices this week like they used to in plate races for fear of wrecking the car because they have so much to learn about the new package before Sunday.

Kyle Busch has top-10 finishes in all nine races this season, but Talladega is his worst track with a 20th-place average finish. Busch's lone win at Talladega came in 2008 out of 27 career starts at the venue. Perhaps the new package will help him improve and he's also got some amazing 2019 momentum to feed off of.

"You kind of look at what Denny (Hamlin) does and what Brad (Keselowski) does, the guys who are good racers at Daytona and Talladega and the guys who are fast right now," Busch said. "Denny makes the most out of what he’s got for equipment and I’ve got the same stuff and I’m not quite as forceful in situations as he is and he makes that work for him. We certainly gained a lot of confidence from Daytona. Our cars were better there and I’m hoping we can carry that momentum at Talladega."

Gibbs had a 1-2-3 finish in the Daytona 500 with Hamlin, Busch, and Erik Jones. But none of that plate stuff matters other than their own drafting skills and ability to maneuver through traffic and keeping the car clean.

Hamlin is the driver I look at with 10/1 odds to win to give the Penske duo the most trouble. Part of the reason is just because of his skills in past plate race regarding the draft. He always gets to the front at Talladega and Daytona and has done so nine of his last 10 starts at Talladega.

Another reason to back 2019 Daytona 500 champion this week is his performance with the new package this season. He's tied with Kyle Busch with a series-best six top-fives. He's been in the top-10 in eight of his nine starts and the race he didn't he finished 11th. He's got two wins already this season after none in 2018. It's the best start to Hamlin's career.

He's got the owner, the car, the momentum, drafting skills, and he's never been more confident in himself or his crew.

Good luck this week, and be sure to watch Friday and Saturday's practices to get a read on what team has this package figured out the best.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (18/1)
4) #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (18/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
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NASCAR GEICO 500 Preview 1 month 3 weeks ago #504917

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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 is back after a week off due to the Easter holiday, heading to the second restrictor-plate stop of the season at Talladega Superspeedway for the GEICO 500 from Alabama.

Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon (30/1) claimed the pole after turning a best lap speed of 192.544 mph in qualifying. However, he had the rear deck lid of his car confiscated by NASCAR and penalties could be announced as soon as Sunday. He has never had success on the track at Talladega, posting a 21.1 Average-Finish Position (AFP) in 11 career starts, posting just one Top 5, two Top 10s and only one lap led while posting five DNFs at the superspeedway. He is a very risky pick despite his status as the pole sitter.

Dillon will be joined on Row 1 by Stewart-Haas Racing's Aric Almirola (12/1), who is the last driver on the circuit to take checkers at Talladega. He raced to a victory last fall on the superspeedway just ahead of his teammate Clint Bowyer (10/1). Almirola has had plenty of success at the track before, posting three top-5 finishes and six top-10 showings with 16 laps led over 18 career starts for a respectable 16.3 AFP and just two DNFs. Almirola checks in 10th in Driver Rating over the past five outings at Talladega despite leading all active drivers with a 5.0 AFP during the five-race stretch. That's because he tends to hold in the back of the pack and avoid the frontrunners and potential danger of 'The Big One'. He has managed to run just 52.6 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 over the past five runs, with just one lap led. That one lap led came last fall, which was the last lap.

Bowyer doesn't register in the Top 10 in Driver Rating over the past five runs, and that's mainly because most of that stretch was spent handling inferior equipment. He struggled in his first SHR start at Talladega last spring with a 31st-place showing, he was second last fall, just missing his third-career checkered flag at Talladega by a whisker. He has the two wins, seven top-5 finishes and 13 top-10 showings with 110 laps led over 26 career starts, posting 15.6 AFP. That's the fourth-best AFP among active drivers with at least five Cup starts under their belt.

Roush Fenway Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20/1) is always a threat at Talladega, and he leads all active drivers with a 10.6 AFP in 11 career starts, posting a win, five Top 5s, seven Top 10s and 41 laps led, with only two of his finishes coming 20th or lower. The RFR driver has never been lower than 26th at Talladega, and could be quite the valuable selection. Stenhouse has been Top 5 in four of his past five outings at the track.

Watch the stable of Penske Racing Fords this weekend, too, as they had a giant showing in qualifying. Brad Keselowski (8/1), Ryan Blaney (12/1) and Joey Logano (8/1) will all start Row 4 or higher. In fact, Kes and Logano are the co-favorites in this race, according to Vegas. Keselowski was collected in the carnage last season, finishing 33rd and 27th in 2018. However, he has three race wins at Talladega since the fall of 2015, and he is expected to challenge at the front of the pack once the dust clears on Sunday afternoon. Blaney has been rather subpar in nine career Cup starts at 'Dega, managed just two top-10 finishes and an AFP of 21.4. Logano, like Keselowski, has three wins to his credit at the superspeedway. Despite last season's showing, Keselowski still has a 15.7 AFP in 20 career starts at Talladega, while Logano has a 17.1 AFP in 20 starts with 266 laps led. Blaney hasn't had the success of his Penske brethren, rolling to a mediocre 21.4 AFP in nine career starts with two top-10 finishes, five top-20s, 51 laps led and three DNFs. Kes goes off fourth, while Blaney is seventh and right next to Logano on Row 4.

RCR's Daniel Hemric (80/1) was bringing the speed in qualifying, posting a 191.436 mph speed to qualifying fifth. He is the top rookie in the field, but he should be paid close attention due to his long odds, favorable starting spot and good practice and qualifying effort. In his first showing on the superspeedway at Daytona, he went off 29th and ended up 34th, leading just one lap. So despite a solid pre-race showing, his odds are long for a reason.

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Alex Bowman (30/1) and Chase Elliott (15/1) will look to get their race team back to Victory Lane for the first time in 2019. Bowman has never had a lot of success at the track, posting a poor 28.1 AFP in seven career starts with just one finish in the Top 10. That finish was an eighth-place showing last spring, but he also has three DNFs and is a very risky play despite his solid eighth-place starting spot in Sunday's grid. Elliott is the better play, as he has a strong 16.2 AFP in six career starts with two top-5 finishes, four top-20 showings and 62 laps led. He has posted an 89.4 Driver Rating over the past five races.

Other notables including the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch (12/1), Denny Hamlin (15/1), Martin Truex Jr. (18/1) and Erik Jones (30/1) didn't have a great time during qualification. Busch limped home with a best speed of just 189.275 mph, and he will go off 22nd on Sunday. MTJ managed a 189.691 mph best speed to lead their JGR pack at 20th. Jones, who has had his struggles in his first few Cup races, didn't look comfortable in qualifying. He was at 188.426 mph for his best speed, ending up in the 27th spot in Sunday's grid. In his four Cup races he has a dismal 29.0 AFP, crashing out three times. When he did make it through escaping 'The Big One', he ended up eighth in last season's fall race.
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