NASCAR Betting Guide: Ruoff Mortgage 500

Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix in 2020 but hasn't won at an oval since. Can he break that streak in Sunday's Ruoff Mortgage 500?

In theory, Phoenix should be a return to normalcy for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The past two weeks, the series has run a low-downforce package at Fontana and Las Vegas for the first time since 2018. That kind of package was in place in Phoenix in 2020 and 2021, so we're less likely to see as big of a shift in the racing.

But things are still different. The horsepower this year is lower (670, down from 750), and it's the first time with the Next-Gen cars. As we've seen the past two weeks, the car has leveled the playing field, at least to an extent.

That's important for this track. The past six Phoenix winners have had an average projected average running position of 7.93 in my model, and none of them had a mark higher than 9.43. No driver with a projected average running position higher than 11.75 has finished on the podium in that span, either. This is a track where the studs shine.

We just have to decide how much that will change for the Ruoff Mortgage 500. I've baked in extra uncertainty to my model in an attempt to counter this. Whether it's enough remains to be seen.

After adding in the uncertainty, some values do arise, and they're ones I want to lock in before practice and qualifying on Saturday. So let's start there, and then we can circle back to this once we see the cars on track over the weekend.

Chase Elliott to Win (+850 at NASCAR odds)

I tweaked my win simulations entering Talladega last year, 31 races ago if you count the All-Star Race and The Clash. In those 31 races, my model has shown value on Chase Elliott's outright odds precisely zero times.

That changes this weekend.

Elliott is currently the favorite to win at 13.0%, based on my numbers, up from his implied odds of 10.5%. That's a pretty big deviation from consensus given that Kyle Larson (+400), Kyle Busch (+750), and Martin Truex Jr. (+750) all have shorter odds. It's possible I'm simply wrong here. But I buy into what the numbers are saying.

That's largely due to Elliott's history at Phoenix and what he did on the short, flat tracks last year. Elliott has led 93-plus laps in 3 of the past 4 Phoenix races, including his win in the 2020 championship race. Last year, he had a second-place average running position but wound up finishing fifth.

Overall in 2021, Elliott had the second-best aggregate average running position on short, flat tracks, trailing just Denny Hamlin (+950). In addition to the 94 laps he led in Phoenix, he led 50-plus in New Hampshire and the playoff race at Richmond, and he was his typical dominant self at Martinsville. Even if you discount Martinsville, which is a hyper-unique track, Elliott still seems undervalued.

I don't often get to buy into Elliott as betting odds on the sport's most popular driver tend to be over-aggressive. This week is different. I'm happy to embrace that and ride with his outright at a track where he has proven he can win.

Christopher Bell to Win (+2400); Bell to Finish Top 10 (-125)

Christopher Bell opened the week at +3200 on FanDuel. That had shortened to +2400 before the end of the night, meaning money came in fast at that number.

Ideally, you were able to snag Bell then. But if you weren't, I do still think there's value at this new number, and that translates to his top-10 odds, as well.

Bell's new implied odds are 4.0%. My simulations have him at 7.7%, which equates to about +1200. That would put him right in line with Ryan Blaney (+1300), which likely feels aggressive, and it probably is. But again, I understand why the numbers like him.

The short, flat tracks have been Bell's stomping grounds since his days in the Xfinity Series. Nine of his 17 wins there have come on short, flat tracks, including one in Phoenix in 2018.

Last year, as Bell moved to elite equipment with Joe Gibbs Racing, those chops shined again. He finished on the podium in New Hampshire and the playoff race in Richmond, and he was top-10 in both Phoenix races. He didn't lead a ton of laps, but he was constantly lurking near the front.

Bell finished outside the top 10 in just one of those races, and my model has him at 60.2% to do the same on Sunday. That's why we're plugging the top-10 bet here (55.6% implied odds). But I think he's got the juice to win this race, too. Personally, this is a spot where I'd put one-third of a unit on the outright and a full unit on the top-10 bet, giving yourself the safety of the more lenient market while still getting exposure to the upside, as well.

Post-Practice Addition: Ryan Blaney to Win (+850)

Ryan Blaney won the pole on Saturday, so you know he's got speed. He backed that speed up in practice, too, to the point where he's a value at this number.

Blaney was second in both single-lap speed in practice and five-lap averages. He had the best car, all told, on the day.

That's not a huge surprise, given Blaney's track record here. He has had a top-six average running position in three straight Phoenix races, and he had speed in New Hampshire last year, too. I've got him at 13.0% to win after qualifying versus 10.5% implied odds here. He's a fine addition, even with two outrights already on the books.