Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Saturday 6/22/19
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By Micah Roberts
Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway will be the first of three races on road courses this season giving us a chance to see the drivers make both left and right turns.
It's the 50th anniversary of Sonoma Raceway and to do a little something special commemorating the weekend, track officials have brought back "The Carousel" which has been bypassed by NASCAR since 1998. The course goes from 1.99-miles now to a 12-turn 2.52-mile layout as it was when the track opened in Sonoma's wine country in 1969. This week's 7/2 favorite (Bet $100 to win $350) to win, Kevin Harvick, had something to do with the change.
"Honestly this was a conversation that Marcus Smith (SMI CEO) and I had at lunch one day and I asked why we don’t just run The Carousel and how cool it would be to throw it back," Harvick said. "An hour later, he told me he talked to his guys and they were looking into it. Next thing you know we are running The Carousel. I love the fact they are changing it up. I think Watkins Glen could do the same thing."
Harvick is one of three active drivers to actually have experience racing on the old layout. Kyle Busch drove a Legends car there in 1998 and Jimmie Johnson drove it during a driving school session, but Harvick dates back to 1995 there. Harvick grabbed his three wins at Sonoma in three different series after changing to the 1.99-mile layout. His lone Cup Series win there came two years ago and last year he was runner-up.
Still, despite having the most experience, Harvick is still going to be prepping the unfamiliar layout in the simulator like most drivers.
“I was in the simulator last week and got lost a couple of times – forgot where to turn," Harvick said. "It is a lot different than I remember it from 1995. I told some of the guys in our organization that the last time I was there and ran this particular course, the course we have been running wasn’t even there. There was a mountain in the middle of the racetrack. A lot has changed. Running that portion of the racetrack, the lap time is longer and there are some different corners to deal with and, from (turn) 3B all the way through four, through The Carousel and the exit of it and what is a different turn seven than the one we have been racing, which was actually turn five."
Harvick's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer won at Sonoma in 2012 and his 11 top-fives on road courses are tied for the most among active drivers. He's not exactly a big fan of the changes this week.
“I’m a little bit torn on this,” said Bowyer who is 6/1 to win. “I was surprised they added The Carousel back to the layout. I’m kind of old-fashioned and thought, you know, if it isn’t broke, why fix it, why touch it? And I didn’t think that track was broke at all. I think the tire and stuff has gotten a little bit too good for a track like that, but I always have thought it’s been a great product for our sport. Who knows, maybe, it’ll make it better and it’s certainly going to make it a longer race.”
Bowyer has a big reason to not be happy because he's the best among active drivers at Sonoma with a 10th-place average finish in 13 starts and eight top-five finishes. He was third last season and runner-up in 2017 behind Harvick.
SHR has yet to win this season through 15 races, but this may be the week. And don't be surprised if it's another teammate with Daniel Suarez who grew up in Mexico go-karting. Turning left and right is more natural for him than several NASCAR regulars who grew up mostly on ovals. He's performed better at Watkins Glen with third and fourth-place finishes between his five Cup starts on the road courses. At 25/1 odds, he's probably the best value on the board because of his own skills coupled with having great SHR equipment.
And when looking at the race package being used the week -- no aero ducts with engines producing 750 horsepower, the cars aren't that much different from what they used last season and SHR was very good. Harvick has top-five finishes in his past two starts using this weeks package (Richmond, Dover).
Kurt Busch used to drive the SHR No. 41 that Suarez drives now and Busch drove it extremely well when making right turns. He's finished 12th or better in the past 13 road courses between Sonoma, Watkins Glen, and Charlotte. He won at Sonoma in 2011 and his 198 laps led between his 18 Cup starts is the most among active drivers. He gave an early preview to what he could do on the roads in 1999 when he won at Sonoma in the NASCAR Southwest Series.
I remember being a bit surprised in Las Vegas when I saw how good both Kurt and Kyle Busch were on the roads as they evolved into higher series on their way up. They were oval drivers in the bullring, but I would soon find out they worked hard in their younger years on their road skills.
The thing I really like about Kurt Busch this week on top of his road skills is the way his team gives him a great car every week with whatever race package NASCAR requires. His 9.7 average finish this season is the best of his career. In 2004 when he won the Cup Championship his average finish was 12.5.
Martin Truex Jr. won this race last season and probably should be the favorite based a few things such as three wins between his last 13 road starts. He's led laps in his last six road races. He's also won the past two races using this week's package (Richmond, Dover).
Another driver that learned to race the roads well is Denny Hamlin, who has led laps in five of his last seven road starts. He was runner-up at Sonoma in 2016 -- he should have won, and then came back to Watkins Glen six weeks later and took his first road course win in the Cup Series. He'd finish fourth-place in both 2017 road races and last season his worst finish was 13th among the three. He has top-fives in four of the five races using this package in 2019. Best of all is he's 14-to-1 to win.
I should note that Kyle Busch leads the series with four wins this season and has 14 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. He has nice 6/1 odds this week and leads all active drivers with four road course wins.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #1 Kurt Busch (10/1)
2) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (9/2)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (14/1)
4) #14 Clint Bowyer (6/1)
5) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/2)
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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.
After a week off, the MENCS heads to Sonoma Raceway for the first road course of the season, the Toyota Save-Mart 350 on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET. Each of the manufacturers have won in the past three stops at Sonoma, although Chevrolet has just one victory in the past eight years at the track, and two wins in the past 12. Toyota leads the way with four wins in the past seven Sonoma races.
Ganassic driver Kyle Larson (40/1) starts from the pole for the third consecutive time at Sonoma, as there is just something about qualifying on the road course which seems to agree with him. However, the favorable starting spot hasn't translated into success on the track, as Larson doesn't show up in the Top 10 in terms of Driver Rating over the past five Sonoma races, according to NASCAR's Loop Data. In the past three races he has finished 12th, 26th and 14th, tumbling down the leaderboard. In his five career starts at Sonoma, he has a 19.0 Average-Finish Position (AFP) with just 11 laps led after posting a 2.8 Average Start.
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron (100/1) is another driver who has been qualifying well lately, and he will go off from the outside of Row 1 next to Larson. However, he managed a 25th-place finish in his Cup debut at the track last season, so that should give bettors some pause. Perhaps the better Hendrick option is Chase Elliott (11/2), and Vegas appears to agree. He has the third-best odds, likely due in part to his 11.0 AFP in three-career Cup starts at Sears Point. He was 21st in his debut in 2016, but improved to eighth in 2017 and fourth last season. Could we see another improvement and Top 5 finish this season? It's a good bet.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. (17/4) was the winning driver last season at this race, starting from the second position in a race featuring just three cautions for eight laps. He averaged a speed of 82.882 mph, the fastest race at this track since June 2012, and the second-fastest pace in the history of the race. He lurks from the eighth position to start. His teammate Kyle Busch (6/1) starts alongside him on the inside of Row 3. He ranks fifth among all drivers with a 98.8 Driver Rating with 22 laps led over the past five starts. MTJ checks in with a 102.8 Driver Rating during the same span while leading a circuit-best 87 laps. Busch has back-to-back fifth-place finishes at the track, and four straight top-10 runs, including the win in 2015.
JGR's Denny Hamlin (14/1) is sixth over the past five starts at Sonoma in terms of Driver Rating (90.4), despite running just 62.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He has led 48 laps during the five-race span, and he has a respectable 18.7 AFP over 13 career starts with 96 laps led. While he has never finished first at this road course, he has been second as recently as 2016, and he has three consecutive top-10 showings. Teammate Erik Jones (40/1) has been a quick study in his first two Cup starts at Sonoma, posting finishes of 25th in 2017, with an improvement to seventh last season. He goes off from the 32nd starting spot, however, and the eventual race winner has come from the 14th starting spot or better in each of the past 10 races. The last time the race winner came from 32nd place was when Juan Pablo Montoya won this race back in June 2007 in a Penske Dodge.
Speaking of Penske, Joey Logano (10/1) goes off from the third position after a qualifying speed of 95.618 mph. He has never won at this track, but he has been awfully close. In 10 Cup starts he has two top-5 finishes, four top-10 runs and nine of his 10 starts have resulted in finished of 20th or better for an AFP of 13.4, fifth-best among all active drivers with at least five career starts. Brad Keselowski (18/1) is also searching for his first-career win on the California road course. He has led 24 laps over his nine Cup starts, posting a 16.7 AFP with one Top 5. Keselowski goes off 22nd on Sunday. Penske third-wheel Ryan Blaney (28/1) has a starting spot at ninth, but he hasn't done much in his three career starts at Sonoma, posting an AFP of 22.0 AFP with no laps led.
Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer (6/1) leads all drivers with a 10.1 AFP in his 13 Cup starts, winning once with eight top-5 finishes and 82 laps led. He is eighth over the past five starts at the road course in terms of Driver Rating, but remember, he spent a few years in inferior equipment before transitioning to the SHR team. Daniel Suarez (100/1) has finished a respectable 16th and 15th in his two Cup starts. He ran well in practice on Friday, and qualified well, too, as he goes off fifth on Sunday. He is the top SHR car, with Bowyer going off from the 14th spot.
Don't forget about SHR's Kevin Harvick (7/2), listed as the race favorite, by the way. He didn't qualify well, as he starts from the 23rd position, but Loop Data shows him with a 115.2 Driver Rating over the past five starts, best among all drivers, while running 85.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 with 85 laps led. All-time he has a 13.1 AFP in 18 Cup runs at the track, winning once with half of his finishes resulting in top-10 showings. Seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (25/1) continues to limp along with a career-long race win drought, but Vegas is paying the California native some mind this week. J.J. has 17 Cup starts with a win, four top-5 finishes and nine top-10 showings for a 12.4 AFP. His 103.2 Driver Rating over the past five starts ranks him third, and he leads all drivers with 86.6 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15 during the five-race span.
Dark horse drivers include Chris Buescher (100/1), who goes off 10th, and Michael McDowell (100/1), who starts 13th.
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