NASCAR Betting Guide: Echopark Automotive Grand Prix

William Byron won in Atlanta last week but now goes to a track type where he didn't get good results in 2021. Can Byron carry his surge into Sunday at Circuit of the Americas?

There is a fascinating dynamic at play this week at Circuit of the Americas.

Through the first five races of 2022, we've seen new players running at the front in the Cup Series. Chase Briscoe got his first win, and Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick have flirted with their first checkered flag on multiple occasions.

This is likely in large part thanks to the Next-Gen car, which has seemingly shrunk the gap between the elites and the mid-pack, allowing some driver talent to shine through on smaller teams.

It's going to lead to a massive dilemma when betting COTA. That's because the two drivers who dominated road courses last year -- Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott -- both drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick has three wins this year, but they haven't come in the dominant fashion we grew used to last year.

That's especially interesting given that all three of Briscoe, Chastain, and Reddick had a lot of speed on road courses in the old car. If their gains this year carry over to this track type, will they be able to push Larson and Elliott for wins? Or will they just be a notch up from where they were?

Early-week NASCAR bettors seem to lean toward the former. Elliott and Larson opened at +250 and +310 to win, respectively, at NASCAR odds but have since lengthened to +270 and +350. People aren't biting yet. They're expecting more competition this time around, and it has led to Briscoe (+1600), Chastain (+2100), and Reddick (+2400) all having relatively short odds.

This is extra interesting because if bettors are ignoring Elliott and Larson at the top (implying they are oversold by sportsbooks) and gravitating toward the new faces, that's inherently going to lead to others being overlooked.

To me, that's where the value lies this weekend.

They're not the buzzy drivers who have lit things up this year, and they're not the road-course stalwarts. Instead, they're guys who have been in contention but not making headlines in both buckets. They've been glossed over, and it's funneling value their direction.

Here's where we can find that value prior to practice and qualifying on Saturday.

William Byron to Win (+1800)

(UPDATE: Byron's odds have since lengthened to +2400 after he qualified 24th in Saturday's session and was just 27th in practice. That data has lowered his win odds in my model to 5.5%, which is still above his implied odds of 4.0%. Just note that the market has moved against this number, and Byron does have a massive uphill battle if he wants to win this weekend.)

To me, it's a bit surprising that William Byron hasn't gotten swept up in the 2022 enthusiasm crowd. I can understand discounting his win in Atlanta last week given that it's a superspeedway. But he ran near the front in Vegas and Phoenix, too, and his road-racing skills are better than you think.

Byron has arguably been just as impressive as the trio mentioned at the top this year. His aggregate average running position on the non-drafting tracks (8.0) is tied with Joey Logano for the best in the sport. With this being Byron's age-24 season, an uptick was to be expected.

As for the road courses, you may look at Byron's one top 10 across seven races last year and think he doesn't measure up. That's a misleading stat, though. Byron had a pair of top-10 average running positions, including a fifth-place mark at the Charlotte roval. He also led at least 20% of the laps both there and at Road America. He has led 20-plus laps in two previous seasons at Charlotte, as well, and he did the same in Sonoma back in 2019.

Some of those were because Byron was racing for stage points, so he'd stay out while others pitted and sacrifice future track position. But now, he's (almost assuredly) locked into the playoffs and can shift more of his focus toward winning and racking up playoff points. My simulations have Byron winning 7.1% of the time, up from his implied odds of 5.3%. We should take advantage if his improvements are going to be overlooked.

Joey Logano to Win (+2400)

(UPDATE: Logano's outrights have since shortened to +1700, which is 5.6% implied. My model has his win odds up to 8.4% after inputting Saturday's data, implying there is still some value left in his current number.)

As mentioned, Logano has been strong to open 2022, as well. Importantly, those strong runs have come on track types where he struggled last year. That has me wondering if we'll see more strides from him this weekend.

Across 2021, Logano struggled on tracks that used the 550-horsepower package as the team seemingly focused on the 750-horsepower tracks in hopes of running well at the championship race in Phoenix. in 12 races at non-drafting tracks using the 550-horsepower package, Logan's best finish was 7th, and he had only 2 top-10 average running positions.

Logano blew those marks out of the water in Fontana alone, turning a fifth-place average running position into a fifth-place finish. With no split rules packages this year, Penske can just focus on all-around performance, and Logano is benefiting.

That's intriguing given how much Team Penske also struggled on road courses last year (despite using the 750 package). There were seven races on road courses in 2021 versus just two in 2020, but the falloff for all three drivers' aggregate average running positions was massive.

Driver 2020 Agg ARP on RCs 2021 Agg ARP on RCs
Joey Logano 10.0 11.1
Ryan Blaney 13.0 16.6
Brad Keselowski 12.0 20.0

There's just one road-course race during the playoffs versus six during the regular season, so this again fits the narrative that they sold out to win a championship.

Despite the lack of speed, Logano still managed three top-five finishes, including a runner-up in Daytona and a podium in a rain-soaked COTA debut. He finished well even with the team as a whole struggling. With the team pumping out impressive runs this year, that has my attention.

I've actually got Logano with slightly higher win odds than Byron (7.5%) because he had better speed on road courses last year. If forced to choose, I might lean this way as a result. But both drivers are value outright bets, and I'd be comfortable adding a bit on podium bets for each as added safety, as well.

Post-Qualifying Addition: Denny Hamlin to Win Group 1 (+370)

I am skeptical of Denny Hamlin's upside, given how rough his start to 2022 has been. But here, he has to beat just three drivers, meaning not as much upside is required. I can live with that.

Hamlin's going up against Kyle Busch (+200), Martin Truex Jr. (+200), and Austin Cindric (+300). Truex struggled in both practice and qualifying, lowering the threat odds on him.

Busch and Cindric did have more speed on Saturday as Busch actually led the lone practice session and Cindric advanced into the final round of qualifying. Hamlin did, too, though, qualifying eighth, higher than everybody else in this group.

At +370, Hamlin's implied odds (21.3%) are lower than if you just assumed everybody in this group was equal. But he was stout on road courses last year and will start near the front. I'm very okay taking that value despite a very competitive group.

Post-Qualifying Addition: Kyle Busch Over Martin Truex Jr. (-112)

I had Busch above Truex in my model entering the weekend thanks to Busch's strong runs last year while Truex tailed off a bit. Saturday's information just confirmed this was a good bet.

As mentioned, Busch led practice on Saturday. In that session, Truex was just 15th on single-lap speed. Things were closer between the two in qualifying (15th for Busch versus 17th for Truex), but the weekend data favors Busch.

Busch has struggled to open the year, but he gained extra track experience in the Truck Series race yesterday and was competitive in the rain at COTA last year. I think he's undervalued in this matchup.