Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Sunday 2/23/20
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By Micah Roberts
Everything we saw in Monday’s Daytona 500 can be thrown out the window in preparation for handicapping Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile high-banked layout. The race packages and the style of racing are completely different, and so is the way to approach betting the race. Last week, no bets on driver match-ups or props were warranted because of the volatility. This week at Las Vegas, match-ups and props will be a priority because the driver rating for each driver holds truer.
While several of the top drivers crashed out at Daytona, Denny Hamlin won the Great American Race for the second consecutive year and third time in five years. In addition to paying out at 10/1 odds for the win, he also won every match-up posted on him and stayed under 10.5 on the finish position prop. His driving skills late in the race showed why he’s the best Daytona driver active in the series. He got an extra jolt of speed by side-drafting and maneuvering the air at least four times on the last lap alone.
Hamlin has now assured himself of a playoff berth and has a huge weight lifted off his shoulders and can free-roll the rest of the way with no pressure. It’s the second straight year like that after going winless for the first time in career in 2018. Last season after his Daytona 500 win he’d go on to win five more races, but failed in the last race at Homestead attempting to win his first season title.
“Our team is picking up where we left off last year and really clicking so far,” Hamlin said. “I’m very happy with our performance, but we still have a lot of work to do and a lot more challenges coming our way. We’ll be ready to get back at it this weekend in Las Vegas and hopefully take the checkered flag.”
A win at Las Vegas has eluded Hamlin in 16 Cup starts with a 13th-place average finish and only two top-fives. But the good news for him is that he won three times using this week’s race package that features engines with 550 horsepower, aero ducts, and a tall spoiler. Not a lot has changed with the package on these tracks for 2020 and Hamlin has the same crew so there’s reason to suggest Hamlin might even be better than last season with less tinkering to do unlike was the case when it was new in 2019. Hamlin won on 1.5-mile tracks at Kansas and Texas last season.
Hamlin being winless at Las Vegas falls in line with an active trend that has seen 17 of the past 19 Las Vegas winners coming from former Cup Champions, including the last 10 overall. If you’ve been betting longshots each Cup race in Vegas, you haven’t been cashing. No winner at LVMS has paid out at odds higher than 20/1.
Being good at tracks like Las Vegas is usually the gateway to a championship.
“It’s crucial to really excel at the intermediate tracks, said Aric Almirola who is 80/1 win at Las Vegas. “We have so many of them on the schedule and, if you can get them figured out, they can make a huge impact on your season. We’ve seen it so many times where teams get something figured out at those tracks. Those teams start running up front every weekend. If you look at the schedule, most of the tracks on the circuit are intermediate tracks and the most important races if you’re in the hunt for a championship.”
In the 18 races last season using this week’s race package, 11 of them were won by drivers who made the Championship 4 at Homestead.
Last season this race package was dominated early on by Team Penske winning at Atlanta with Brad Keselowski and then the following week by Joey Logano in Las Vegas. Keselowski would win at Kansas in May and Logano would win at Michigan in June. But then it was like a switch flipped and everyone else got better and a Penske car wouldn’t win with this race package again spanning the final 10 races with it.
So the question coming in is whether or not Team Penske can reclaim their dominance with this package, or could it be something specific about Las Vegas’ layout that gives them an edge every year because they always seem to have the perfect set-up. Keselowski and Logano have combined to win four of the last eight LVMS races with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. each winning twice over that span.
Harvick and Kyle Busch come in as the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook’s 9/2 co-favorites to win followed by Truex at 5/1, and then the Penske drivers odds appear. Despite Penske’s past LVMS success, it’s the fall off in the second half of 2019 using this race package that kept them from being favored. William Hill sportsbooks have Busch, Harvick, and Truex all posted with finish positions set at 5.5.
Kyle Busch comes off another Daytona 500 without the trophy. For a driver who has everything and has won almost everything in all levels of racing in his career, that elusive Daytona 500 win stings him pretty good. He’s also feeling the pressure of racing in his home town with just a lone 2009 win to his Cup record in 17 starts.
“Yeah, Vegas always means a little bit more pressure – more pressure on myself – just because it’s the hometown and you want to win there,” Busch said. “Thankfully, I have won there and I’ve knocked that one off the list, but certainly you want to win there every year. I love Vegas, the atmosphere and everything going on around that place. We’ve run up front there the last couple of years, so I would like to get our SNICKERS White Camry back in victory lane there.”
Busch has won twice each in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series at LVMS, and also won regularly at the Bullring where he starred as a teenager and grabbed 65 wins in the Legends car and 10 more Late Model wins. He’s an absolute legend in the city, so yes, the pressure is real and one Cup win at home isn’t satisfactory for him.
But I’m certainly not taking 9/2 odds for Busch to win. His only win on a 1.5-mile track last season came in the finale at Homestead where he won his second Cup title. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Truex and Hamlin (10/1) each won twice on them.
Harvick has been racing at LVMS his entire career and even married his wife Delana before his first Cup race at LVMS shortly after taking over Dale Earnhardt’s car in 2001. Their anniversary is every year of the Vegas spring race. Harvick winning at LVMS started in the K&N Pro Series West Series in 1998 and has two other Xfinity Series wins to go with his two Cup wins. Last season he was fourth in the spring Vegas race after leading a race-high 88 laps and then runner-up in the fall after leading 47 laps.
The driver I’ve keyed on the most in odds to win and driver match-ups is Ryan Blaney who is listed at 20/1. He comes with all the Penske goods like his teammates and he also comes in with a great track record with a 9.8 average finish between seven Cup starts for different organizations. In four starts for Penske, he’s finished fifth three times.
I also like the sigh of relief angle for Blaney, who had to stew over the last two days wondering how severe injuries to Ryan Newman were after Blaney triggered Newman’s horrific accident with a late bump near the finish line. Newman walked out of the hospital on Wednesday but Ross Chastain will drive the Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6 Mustang this weekend.
One last thing, I won’t be betting on Jimmie Johnson at 40/1 odds to win, but I’ll be rooting for the seven-time champ to have a great showing at the track where holds records for wins (4) and laps led (595). This is the last season for Johnson so I’m going to soak in each race with him still running and reflect on his 83 career Cup wins, the first of which I witnessed at Fontana in 2002 and also happened to cash a 30/1 ticket with the win. You could just tell Jimmie had it before that first win.
Longshots don’t win at Las Vegas, but a case could be made for Alex Bowman and Erik Jones who are both at 30/1 just based on how they performed last season with this package, winning at Chicago and Darlington, respectively.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/2)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (6/1)
4) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)
5) #12 Ryan Blaney (20/1)
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