The two most prevalent types of tracks are similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and flat tracks.
NASCAR just wrapped up a three-race stint on the "cookie-cutter" courses that had two surprise winners. Immediately preceding that were three races on 2.5-mile flat tracks that were all won by two of the playoff favorites. Now the series rolls onto a 1-mile flat track that has championship implications.
Even though the length of the courses is different, handicappers can gain some insight from Pocono and Indy that will help this week at New Hampshire and the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. The skill required to navigate the minimally-banked turns is much the same.
New Hampshire will provide a bridge to the playoffs.
The closest comparative to this track is Phoenix Raceway that is scheduled to host the championship round in November. Looking back at the spring FanShield 500k, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch were the class of the field – but that race was pre-pandemic with practice and qualification that allowed drivers to find the groove. Those sessions will not be held (unless conditions surrounding COVID-19 outbreaks improve and NASCAR changes their mind), which means this is a great opportunity to test and tune for the finale.
Kevin Harvick (+400) may not be an imaginative pick this week as the favorite, but with 4/1 odds there is still some money to be made. In motorsports, it’s practically impossible to have negative odds for an outright win because anything can happen in a sport where cars jostle for position well in excess of 100 miles per hour on even moderately-sized tracks. While anything can happen, what has happened in the last two New Hampshire races is that Harvick visited Victory Lane.
Harvick has another win on this 1-mile oval in 2016 and five of his last six races there have been in the top five. Harvick has an equally strong record on the similarly-configured Phoenix Raceway, which has to factor into his handicap.
Harvick has been practically unstoppable on short, flat tracks. He entered the Blue-Emu Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville with a 17-race streak of top-10s on flat tracks 1-mile or less in length. With +1100 odds before that race began, bookmakers sensed something was amiss. They were right. Harvick finished just 15th on the 0.5-mile track, but he should avenge that disappointment handily this Sunday.
Best Bets for a top five
With last week’s Kansas win, Denny Hamlin (+450) set himself up as one of the favorites to win the 2020 championship. This year the finale will be contested on the other 1-mile flat track in Phoenix. Hamlin won that race, which was his seventh consecutive top-five on the track type. There would be no clearer signal than for him to win at New Hampshire, a track where he finished second last year. Hamlin and Harvick opened with nearly identical odds this week. That is not a coincidence and the battle for the win should come down to them.
Exceptional value: Joey Logano (+1200) won this spring’s FanShield 500k before the pandemic struck. He had momentum on his side and had already secured his playoff berth with a victory at Las Vegas two weeks earlier. He has not been the same sense the return to action in May, but we suspect that this team has been experimenting – and often that creates situations rife with uncertainty. The teams and crew chiefs know just how important this 1-mile race can be to help add some paragraphs to the notebook before Phoenix, and Logano should put his best foot forward.
One of the questions that must to be answered on weekly basis is whether current momentum or track record is most important. Aric Almirola (+2000) has not been particularly strong at New Hampshire with a pair of 20-something results in 2017 and an 11th last year. In 2018 he scored a third-place finish, however, and that allows us to focus on his recent performance. Almirola enters the weekend with a current streak of eight consecutive top-10s that stretches back to Homestead.
The past four weeks have been frustrating for Martin Truex Jr. (+750). He suffered crash damage at Indy and Texas to finish outside the top 25, but when he stayed out of trouble he was a solid value with a second at Kentucky and a third at Kansas. The good news is that he’s been running well. Equally important, he has been solid on short, flat tracks and has the most recent victory on them from Martinsville.
Best Bets for a top 10
Ryan Blaney (+900) has been frustrating to watch over the past several weeks. He’s run well but finished poorly, which has played havoc with the algorithms used to handicap this sport. In many ways he looked stronger during the past three weeks on the 1.5-milers than he did from Charlotte through Talladega when he scored six top-fives in seven races. Ultimately, the big money typically pays out on the last lap, however, and it’s hard to predict a top-five for him at New Hampshire.
If Blaney has been frustrating, Chase Elliott (+1100) has been excruciating. So long as he continues to struggle on restarts, the key to his success lies in track position. If he does not establish and maintain a top-two position on the track, he will drop like a lead balloon when the green flag waves. With only one top-10 in the last seven races, Elliott is a longshot to finish in the top five. With three results of 11th or 12th in the last four events, he should challenge for a top-10, however.
Over the past 18 races (a rolling half year), Brad Keselowski (+900) has been almost perfect in regard to top-15s. He has finished that well in 17 events and the only other driver to match his accomplishment is Harvick. While the driver of the No. 4 has managed to convert 11 of those into top-fives, Kez has only seven. That is not bad, but it makes him a better bet to finish inside the top five than the top 10.
It’s hard to know which Kyle Busch (+750) will show up this week. In his eight attempts before Kansas, Busch alternated a finish outside the top 15 with a result of sixth or better. At Kansas, he got off sequence on his pit stops and momentarily challenged for the win before finishing 11th. The bookmakers continue to love him, however, and he opened the week with the third-best odds to win outright and a +200 to finish in the top three. There is simply not enough upside to warrant placing any kind of significant bet.
Longshot alert: Matt DiBenedetto (+4000) has been one of the best dark horses all year. With a top-15 percentage of 57.9 since the beginning of the season, he is a constant threat to finish in the top 15. Five drivers have earned their career-first victories on this track and at 40/1, DiBenedetto deserves a modest wager. Even at +145, there is a little money to be made if you wager on the No. 21 scoring a top-10.
Good Values outside the top 10
Kurt Busch (+2800) remains on the bubble of the top 10. He enters the weekend with three consecutive single-digit results and results of 18th or better in his last 17 attempts. His last top-three finish came at Darlington so it’s unlikely he will cash in on odds of +700 to finish that well. And with odds of only +105, he is not worth a wager for a top-10.
Erik Jones (+3300) finished sixth and fifth in his last two attempts, which may give him a little momentum this week. In last year’s New Hampshire race, he was third.
After William Byron’s (+4000) 10th-place finish last week, it will pay to note that the last time he scored back-to-back top-10s was at Martinsville and Homestead – a short, flat track and a 1.5-miler.
On the other hand, Alex Bowman (+3300) has not earned back-to-back top-10s in 2020 yet. He is coming off an eighth at Kansas.
Jimmie Johnson (+3300) has not scored a top-10 since Martinsville and in his seven races since then he has an average finish of 20.3. This week, we expect him to score a top-15.
Ryan Newman (+8000) earned his first Cup win on this track in 2002. His last two attempts at New Hampshire ended in a sixth in 2018 and a seventh last year. With a 12th at Martinsville this spring and odds of +250 to finish in the top 10, he deserves a modest wager.
Short, flat track are drivers’ courses. Matt Kenseth (+5000) has the experienced needed to outperform those outright odds. And at +180, he could turn a top-10 wager into a reasonable payday.
Clint Bowyer (+5000) finished seventh in both New Hampshire races of 2017. He was fifth at Phoenix earlier this year.
One of the first signs of strength from Cole Custer (+6600) this year came on another flat, 1-mile track. He finished ninth in the FanShield 500k at Phoenix.
Longshot alert: Chris Buescher (+30000) finished 15th in this race last year. He has results of 17th or better in his last four short, flat track starts. His opening odds to finish in the top 10 are +650 and Roush Fenway Racing is worth that risk.