NASCAR

NASCAR Betting Guide: FanShield 500

The Hendrick Motorsports cars have feasted to start 2020, and Chase Elliott has had past success at Phoenix. Who else should we look to bet this weekend?

Phoenix is going to tell us a lot about the statuses of Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.

While the JGR cars have largely struggled at the two non-Daytona tracks this year, the Hendrick cars have surged with Alex Bowman winning in Fontana and Chase Elliott contending in Las Vegas. The two teams have trended very much in opposite directions from where they were in 2019.

The plus side for the JGR cars is that they mopped up on the shorter, flat tracks last year. In Phoenix, they dominated with Kyle Busch winning in the spring and Denny Hamlin controlling the fall race. The four Hendrick drivers combined for just one top-10 in the two races at the track.

This could present us with a buy-low betting opportunity on the JGR cars if you believe they'll bounce back under a different rules package than we saw the previous two weeks. Unfortunately, you're not really getting the chance to do that.

Prior to practice and qualifying, three of the four shortest odds in the field belong to JGR drivers at FanDuel Sportsbook in Busch (+410), Hamlin (+650), and Martin Truex Jr. (+500). That buy-low window closed before it even opened.

If you want to bet those three JGR drivers, it's likely best to hold off to see what they do in practice first so they can confirm they're back to their 2019 ways. You may get a worse number, but I'd feel better about that than targeting them where they're currently at without that data. So, who should we target instead based on where things stand prior to practice and qualifying? Let's check it out.

Ryan Blaney (+1100)

Another race, and another time plugging Ryan Blaney in this betting guide. Let's give this puppy one more crank.

Blaney has been a regular here, and it hasn't worked out yet, but he has come close to rewarding us all three times. He was a couple feet short in Daytona and an ill-timed caution away from a potential win in Las Vegas, and Blaney would have finished second in Fontana had it not been for a late cut tire. He has been a legit contender in all three races. He just hasn't broken through.

Blaney's likely to keep that streak running this weekend. In seven races at short, flat tracks (Phoenix, Richmond, Martinsville, and New Hampshire) last year, Blaney had five top-fives and five top-seven average running positions. He finished third in both Phoenix races and led 94 laps in the spring race. That, combined with Blaney's form, has him fifth in my model, trailing only drivers whose odds are +650 or shorter.

You may not want to keep dumping money into Blaney with how things have gone thus far, but he's crazy fast, and the betting odds haven't shortened enough to account for it yet. Just keep on plugging away.

Chase Elliott (+1100)

Given that Bowman (+1600) has longer odds than Elliott (+1100), you may be inclined to turn there, instead. That's not a terrible idea, and Jimmie Johnson (+1600) and William Byron (+2200) are also viable if you are fully buying into the Hendrick surge. We shouldn't simply gloss over Elliott's strength early in the season, though.

Through three races, Elliott has won three of the six stages while no other driver has even won two. He had a top-eight average running position in both Fontana and Las Vegas, something only Blaney and Bowman can also claim. A late crash curtailed his good run in Vegas, and nobody could match Bowman in Fontana, so some of this has gone a bit overlooked.

Elliott's a bit lower in my model (ninth) than I'd like, but that's also heavily influenced by the Hendrick cars' struggles on the short, flat tracks last year. In 2018, though, in a package similar to what they'll have this weekend, Elliott had a pair of top-seven average running positions in Phoenix, was runner-up in Richmond, and had four total top-fives in seven races. It's possible the Hendrick surge translates to Phoenix, and the reversion to a lower-downforce package could allow Elliott to get back to his 2018 form on this track type. Based on those possibilities, Elliott shapes up as a profitable way to buy into Hendrick's surge at +1100.

Erik Jones (+3000)

As mentioned at the top, it's tough to buy into the strength of the JGR teams on short, flat tracks given how short all of their odds are. The exception to that is Erik Jones.

Jones wasn't quite as sickly as his teammates on these tracks last year, but he still had some impressive runs. Jones had a top-eight average running position twice, and he finished seventh in the playoff Phoenix race. Jones finished third in New Hampshire and was the fourth driver to cross the finish line in Richmond, though he was later disqualified for failing post-race inspection.

There's a lot of volatility here, which is why Jones is held in lower regard than his teammates. However, volatility isn't a bad thing when you're capable of hitting the highs. Jones has shown the past couple years that he can do that, so if you want to buy the JGR bounce-back, he's your best route for doing so.

Matt DiBenedetto (+4200)

Matt DiBenedetto proved last year that he could compete at tracks like this while running in poor equipment. Now, he's got more help under the hood, and it might be able to boost his performance even further.

The big run for DiBenedetto was in the July New Hampshire race. There, he started seventh, ran up near the front the entire day, and took home a fifth-place finish, one of three such runs for the season. But more broadly, he had a top-15 average running position in all four second-half races at short, flat tracks, so it wasn't just New Hampshire. He flashed talent each time the Cup Series went to a track with more off-throttle time.

Now, DiBenedetto is basically in a fourth Penske car, making him teammates with Blaney, Joey Logano (+1100), and Brad Keselowski (+1200). His predecessor, Paul Menard, had a ninth-place average running position and a 10th-place finish in the first Richmond race, and he was top-13 in both Phoenix and New Hampshire. DiBenedetto will need some things to break in his favor to win, but he's a good bet to linger in the top 10 and be in position to exploit positive circumstances.

The other angle around DiBenedetto's success at these tracks last year could be checking out Christopher Bell (+18000). Bell won at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series and won three times at Richmond, and he's in DiBenedetto's old ride now. Bell's intriguing as a massive longshot, but his lack of top-end equipment likely makes him better as a top-10 bet (he's +450 there at DraftKings Sportsbook).