Normally there are two Jokers in a deck.
Last week’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was filled with wild cards. Only two of the 12 playoff contenders were credited with strong results. None of the top drivers had a drama-free weekend.
Denny Hamlin dipped below the yellow line and might have been penalized for the move, but NASCAR adjudged he was pushed there by Matt DiBenedetto and allowed him to keep his victory. Elliott was originally penalized and sent to the tail of the lead lap for passing out of bounds before the tape was reviewed. Elliott was restored to his original position and given one more spot by the penalty to the No. 21.
This week there is another Joker in the deck. Road course races have traditionally also been wild cards on the NASCAR schedule, but as the drivers gain more experience and the crews learn how to better call their strategy, that is going by the wayside.
This is still not the most predictable form of racing, but seven drivers swept the top 10 in first two Roval races. Six of the drivers who finished among the top 10 at last year’s Bank of America Roval 400k finished that well on the Daytona road course. This track type is being defined by the old adage that success predicts success and handicapping the top 10 is getting to be easier with each passing season.
The last time a driver earned four consecutive road course victories was one of Elliott’s (+280) mentors. Jeff Gordon got on a roll with his 1997 win at the Glen and rattled off six consecutive there and at Sonoma over the course of the next three seasons. If Elliott accomplishes four in a row this week, he will have done it on three different tracks compared to Gordon’s two.
Two of these tracks have similarities, however. Elliott won last year on the Charlotte Roval and this year on Daytona’s infield road course. Because the confines are much more restricted on infield courses, the corners and straights are necessarily tighter and narrower. Charlotte was able to combat that tendency somewhat because the course was specifically designed for stock cars; Daytona was not.
Elliott’s prowess on the road courses was never more evident than last year in this race when he was forced to overcome an error midway through the event. He blew the first corner and nosed into a tire barrier, got his car straightened, and charged through the field. That determination will be just as great this Sunday as he guns for his position among the Round of 8.
Best Bets for a top five
We are a little surprised that Martin Truex Jr. (+575) does not have odds that are almost identical to Elliott. The two drivers have been one another’s fiercest competitors on this track type during the past three seasons. It is likely to come down to track position after the final pit stop as to which driver will win. Given that bettors can make an extra $2.95 at the PointsBet Sportsbook on each dollar wagered, Truex has the greater upside of the two.
There is no pressure on Hamlin (+775) to perform this week after his Talladega victory, but like every other driver with his eye on the Round of 8, he wants more playoff bonus points. One simply does not know what might be waiting on the two similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks that make up the majority of the next round and it’s easy to get into trouble at Martinsville. Hamlin has only one road course victory from the Glen in 2016, but three of his last four attempts on this course type ended in top-fives.
Ryan Blaney (+1200) was in the right place when Jimmie Johnson bonsaied the final chicane and wrecked himself and Truex. He had to run well in order to capitalize on that mistake, however, and even a third-place finish on a brand new track is impressive. That gave Blaney confidence and he went on to finish in the top five the next season at Sonoma and the Glen. Blaney finished eighth at the Roval last year, completing a sweep of the top 10. He slipped at Daytona this summer, but should readily return to the front.
Longshot alert: Alex Bowman (+1800) is not the first name that comes to mind on a road course, but he seems to have an affinity for the Charlotte Roval. He finished fourth there in the inaugural race and was second to teammate Elliott last year. He has not been quite as strong on the other courses, but he still has a perfect record of top-15s. Bowman has a 22-point advantage over the cutline so he doesn’t have to win this week. He will want to reward Rick Hendrick’s confidence, however; Bowman was named as the new driver of the No. 48 this week.
Best Bets for a top 10
Kevin Harvick (+775) remains the oddsmakers’ sweetheart, but that might not be justified on a road course. It is not that he is bad on this track type, but his odds of earning a top-five are longer than most of the drivers around him. He won his second career road course race in 2017 at Sonoma, but in the eight races since then he has only two more top-fives on the course type. One of these was a third last year at the Charlotte Roval.
Clint Bowyer’s (+1600) only real chance of advancing into the Round of 8 rests on a victory this week. When he won the 2012 Toyota / Save Mart 350k, he had only a handful of road course top-fives. Since then, he has finished sixth or better in 11 of 18 races on this track type. It’s not out of the question he might win this week and with 16/1 odds, he is worth a medium-sized bet.
Exceptional Value: Last week was almost a Cinderella Story for DiBenedetto (+4000). He crossed under the checkered flag second, but was immediately penalized by NASCAR for pushing a competitor below the yellow line. He came close to winning a Bristol last year with a second-place finish to Hamlin as well. This week, it was announced he will get to spend one more year with the Wood Brothers in 2021 as they groom Austin Cendric to take over the ride in 2022. He will put his best effort in after scoring two top-10s and sweeping the top 15 in his last five road races.
Our confidence in Johnson (+2000) is not often rewarded, but there are weeks when he must be showcased. He is one of the seven drivers who swept the top 10 on the Charlotte Roval in their two races and he came close to winning the inaugural race there in 2018. He showed he still has ability on this track type with a fourth on the Daytona road course. In fact his announcement earlier this year that he will compete in IndyCar on road courses next year is a testament to his skill.
Joey Logano (+1600) has been historically good on road courses, but he has fallen on hard times recently. He won the 2015 race at the Glen as part of five consecutive results of sixth or better. Since then, he has only three more top-10s and a best of ninth in nine races on this track type. There is a reason to watch him closely this week, however. After being penalized by NASCAR multiple times for pushing a driver out of bounds at Talladega, he will have a chip on his shoulder and a strong desire to win.
It is mathematically possible for Kyle Busch (+1500) to advance to the Round of 8 without winning, but emotionally he needs the victory. That will cause him to take too many chances and makes him a bad bet.
Six of Kurt Busch’s (+2200) last seven road course races have ended in top-15s, but only one of those was a top-five.
Brad Keselowski (+1400) finished fifth last year on the Roval. That is his only top-five on a road course since 2017 and he has just one other top-10.
If you are looking for a dark horse this week, Erik Jones (+5000) might fit the bill with five top-10s and an 11th in nine road course starts.
Michael McDowell (+6000) traditionally finishes better on road courses than other track types. This summer he scored a top-10 on the Daytona road course. He was 12th at the Roval in 2019.
Aric Almirola (+5000) swept the top 15 on road courses last year with a best of ninth at Sonoma. He was 24th at Daytona this summer.
With back-to-back top-10s at the Roval last year and Daytona this summer, William Byron (+2500) is worth a wager if you can find appropriate odds for another top-10 finish.
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