Playoff contenders kept their streak of playoff wins alive last week when Joey Logano held off Kevin Harvick to lock into the Championship 4. Logano had not won since before the COVID-19 break, which was a big reason for his +1400 (14/1) odds.
Now 32 consecutive playoffs races have been won by current championship contenders. The smart money is concentrated on the eight drivers trying to get to Phoenix with a shot at the Cup.
Streaks eventually end, however. When Matt Kenseth won the 2017 Phoenix race – which was the penultimate event of that season – he snapped a 19-race streak of playoff winners. A non-playoff winner is well overdue.
And as strong as the top eight drivers have been all season on a variety of tracks, the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks are where most teams put the lion’s share of their effort. If a driver deeper in the points is going to win, this is precisely the type of track where that will happen.
The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is the final unrestricted, intermediate speedway event of the season. Next week the series heads to the short track of Martinsville for a last ditch effort among the contenders before the flat 1-mile oval decides what has become a very competitive season.
It has to happen sometime and getting on the bandwagon at the right time could be very lucrative.
Kyle Busch (+1500) has not won yet in 2020 and he hasn’t won at Texas since spring 2018. But he is the driver with the best overall record in terms of Average Running Position over the last three races on this track. Despite finishing 10th in spring 2019, he had the best average position in the field of 7.27. This spring he posted a 7.36 behind Ryan Blaney’s 5.06. Last fall, he had the sixth-best mark of 9.35 in route to a seventh-place finish.
Busch has great numbers at Martinsville and Phoenix as well, but this may be his last real opportunity to win. In two weeks Denny Hamlin will get the lion’s share of attention on the paperclip. In three weeks all eyes will be on the Championship 4 and it is likely Busch will fade into the scenery. That leaves Texas – and he has been solid on this track with recent wins coming in 2013, 2016, and 2018. Busch’s turmoil this season has him as a bit of a longshot with 15/1 odds, but that gives bettors a huge upside for even a modest bet.
Since 2012 Busch has earned top-fives in 56.3 percent of his Texas starts, so if he misses it will not be by much. On another sports book, he was listed at +400 to finish in the top three – and that is worth a sidecar bet alongside the outright win.
Best Bets for a top five
If Busch is too risky for your taste, Kevin Harvick (+245) is the oddsmakers’ favorite this week with good reason. In the past three seasons, he has struggled statistically only once when he logged the 11th-highest Average Running Position of 11.92 in spring 2019. He came back in the fall and landed second on that chart with a 6.13 and he was fourth this spring at 7.70. Two years ago in this race when he really needed to solid run, he posted a field-leading 2.56 and won. And winning is the object of this sport. Harvick has Texas victories in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
With his Kansas win, the pressure of advancing to the Championship 4 is off Joey Logano’s (+850) shoulders and there is very little to be learned at Texas that can apply to Phoenix. That means Logano can take any risk necessary to find Victory Lane in consecutive weeks and build additional momentum for the finale. This week, it will be checkers or wreckers for one of the most aggressive drivers in the field.
Ryan Blaney (+1000) easily had the best car this spring, but things do not always go according to plan in a NASCAR race. A late caution put Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon (+6000) and Tyler Reddick (+6600) at the front of the pack this July to settle the matter between them as Blaney got shuffled to seventh in the final rundown. Blaney had the strongest car in the field that day, but it was not the best car he has brought to Texas. In fall 2018 he recorded an Average Running Position of 3.43 and settled into second-place behind Harvick.
Longshot alert: Last week we had Erik Jones (+2800) listed as a longshot to finish in the top five and potentially vie for the win. It was not a bad call, but it was the wrong week after he damaged his Toyota and fell to 20th. That was only the third time during the playoffs that he finished worse than fourth – and one of those efforts netted an eighth-place finish. Don’t get disillusioned; there is still a lot of upside to starting Jones and if you don’t want to wager on the outright win, he is listed as +700 to finish in the top three on another sportsbook.
Best Bets for a top 10
Chase Elliott (+850) needs a win badly to take the pressure off his bid to advance to the Phoenix 4. Unfortunately, this has not been a particularly productive track for him since his rookie season. Elliott got off to a strong start in 2016 with a pair of top-fives. He has not finished that well since, although he does have three top-10s and another three top-15s in the past seven races. If had a legitimate shot at advancing on points, that would be good news, but there is a strong likelihood that only one driver will do so and Elliott is below the current bubble.
Denny Hamlin (+450) is the second-ranked driver on the PointsBet Sportsbook. He doesn’t quite meet our criteria to post that well. Last week’s mediocre showing on the similarly-configured track in Kansas shook our confidence since it comes soon after his disappointing performance in the Round of 16. He didn’t need to worry about clearing that first hurdle because of the playoff bonus points he earned during the regular season, but it is getting increasingly difficult to advance.
Martin Truex Jr. (+1000) should run well this week, but unless he wins it is unlikely to move the needle on his championship bid. The need for a victory is likely what caused the team to press the envelope too far last week at Kansas when the No. 19 was sent to the back for multiple inspection failures; that realistically could happen again in the Lone Star state. Truex is historically among the best on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but this season his average finish on the course type is 9.7 without a single win.
Brad Keselowski (+1100) is embroiled in two battles this week. He wants to win and lock into the finale alongside teammate Logano, but he cannot afford to take too many risks because Elliott is within reach of him in the points. At least one driver will advance to Phoenix without winning so points continue to matter. Keselowski’s last three seasons at Texas have not been overly productive with an average finish of 25.8 since 2017 and a best of ninth this spring. By comparison in that same span of time, Elliott has a 14.8 with a best of sixth.
Exceptional Value: After blowing an engine last week at Kansas, Kurt Busch (+2800) is in a must-win situation to advance to the Championship 4. That probably won’t happen, but it is hard to imagine that he will fail to finish in the single digits. Busch enters the weekend with a current string of seven top-10s at Texas and three more such finishes in the five events immediately preceding that streak. And still, since 2012 he has not scored a result better than seventh.
There are only so many positions in the top 10, so we didn’t elevate Aric Almirola (+4000) to one of the favored spots, but he could surprise us. Last fall he finished second at Texas after posting the best Average Running Position (4.33). On another sportsbook he is listed at +800 to finish in the top three and +325 for a top-five.
Austin Dillon (+6000) won this spring’s O'Reilly 500 in a three-lap shootout with +10000 odds, but his Average Running Position during the race was only 13.82.
Clint Bowyer (+5000) narrowly missed the top 10 in his last two Texas starts, but he was second last spring on this track.
Alex Bowman (+2500) deserves some attention this week after finishing fifth in last year’s edition of the Autotrader 500. Bowman finished fifth and third in the last two "cookie-cutter" races.
William Byron (+5000) had the third and 10th-best Average Running Positions last year at Texas, but he was able to convert only one of those into a top-10 finish. He was sixth in the spring.
Christopher Bell (+12500) scored his fourth top-10 on a 1.5-mile track last week when he crossed under the Kansas checkers 10th.
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