NASCAR Betting Guide: United Rentals Work United 500
There's a lot we don't know entering this weekend.
It's the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has run a new rules package, aiming to improve the action on short tracks and road courses.
The specifics of the package are likely gibberish unless you understand aerodynamics. But the key takeaway is that these changes are intended to reduce downforce by around 30%, which will make the cars harder to drive.
It's different from what we saw last year. So although we've seen the Next-Gen cars at Phoenix, we haven't seen them with this rules package.
Personally, I'm accounting for this by upping overall variance in my model and increasing the projected incident rate a bit. That should partially counteract the changes. But I also don't know if that'll be correct.
Lucky for us, there's a 50-minute practice session on Friday night. It'll give us a good read on which cars have this package figured out and which will be playing catch-up.
As a result, a good chunk of my bets this week are more likely to come after Friday's session. Until then, I want to attack only spots where I see a big edge, hoping I can get ahead of any market movement after that session.
Let's dig into those areas now based on FanDuel Sportsbook's odds for the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix, then we'll circle back later in the weekend once we've got more data.
Aric Almirola to Finish Top 10 (+430)
(UPDATE: Almirola has since shortened to +300 to finish top-10. Even after qualifying 31st, Almirola's top-10 odds are still 36.6% by my model, up from 25.0% implied at the new mark. I still think Almirola's a good value despite the shortened number and the poor qualifying run.)
Even with the increased variance in the model, I can't get Aric Almirola anywhere close to this number. It could mean my model's off. But based on what we've seen from Almirola across various packages, I don't think it is.
Since the start of 2020, Almirola has run 20 races on short, flat tracks (the bucket Phoenix falls into). Almirola has 10 top-10 finishes in that time, including a win in New Hampshire. That's a 50% rate. His implied odds are 18.9%.
Granted, only one of those top-10 runs was in Phoenix. But he also finished 11th, 12th, and 13th in other Phoenix races, so it's not like he was out to lunch. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has finished top 10 in 5 of 10 races at Phoenix, a stretch that spans four different sets of cars or rules packages.
I don't have Almirola quite that high. His top-10 odds in my model are 43.6%. But still, that's way above the implied mark here. I could be too high, but I don't think I'm off far enough to explain a gap this big.
Brad Keselowski to Finish Top 10 (+340)
(UPDATE: Keselowski has since shortened to +250 to finish top 10. Keselowski was decent in practice and qualified fourth, so his top-10 odds in my model are up to 40.2% versus 28.6% implied at +250. I'm more than okay betting Keselowski at his current number.)
Brad Keselowski's first year at RFK Racing wasn't stellar on this track type. He finished 36th and 35th in Martinsville and Phoenix to round out the year and had just one top-10 in seven races.
But one of those poor finishes was when he got disqualified following a fourth-place finish (with a seventh-place average running position) at Martinsville. It's clear RFK made gains on this track type as the season went along, and I don't think bookmakers are accounting for those gains.
The up-tick started in the first Richmond race when both Keselowski and Chris Buescher had respectable speed. Kez finished seventh in New Hampshire over the summer, Buescher nearly won the second Richmond race, and then Kez had the great run in Martinsville. Keselowski also qualified inside the top 10 for four of the final five races on this track type.
Back in his Penske days, Keselowski was very good at Phoenix. His career top-10 rate is 48.1%. We can't view him that way because RFK isn't Penske, but I have Keselowski's top-10 odds at 29.0%, up from 22.7% implied. It's not the glory years for Keselowski, but things last year also weren't as bad as this number makes it seem.
Austin Cindric to Finish Top 10 (+430)
(UPDATE: Cindric has since shortened to +300 to finish top 10. After qualifying, his top-10 odds in my model have slid to 23.7%, down from 25.0% implied. If you didn't bet Cindric at the old number, I'd hold off on adding him to your card.)
Speaking of Penske, the guy who replaced Keselowski there is also undervalued in this market.
Austin Cindric in his first full season with the team had zero top-10 runs on this track type. But he finished 13th or better four times, including in the finale at Phoenix. He showed good speed during practice for both Phoenix races, as well.
Cindric didn't dominate the short, flat tracks in the Xfinity Series as much as a guy like Christopher Bell did, but he was solid. Cindric won twice in Phoenix and added another runner-up in the 2021 season finale. Combine that talent with Penske equipment, and I think Cindric will emerge on this track type soon. I've got his top-10 odds at 28.5%, up from 18.9% implied.
Post-Qualifying Addition: Ryan Blaney to Win (+1000)
After practice on Friday night, Ryan Blaney's outright odds were down to +700. Then he qualified eighth, and he re-lengthened to +1000.
That's an overreaction, and it makes Blaney a very nice value.
Blaney was phenomenal on short, flat tracks last year. He had arguably the best car in both Phoenix races, leading a combined 252 laps. He also led 128 from the pole in Richmond, a spot that has been a thorn in his side his entire career.
The reason Blaney shortened Friday is because he was fast. He was second behind Kyle Larson in 10-lap average, showing that the new package didn't alter his speed.
Larson will be tough to top, but that's reflected in the market. This is a great spot to buy into a guy who has shown plenty of times he has the speed to win on this track type.
Post-Qualifying Addition: Joey Logano to Podium (+350)
Because of Larson's speed and what Blaney did last year and this weekend, a lot of the win equity in my model is sucked up between those two. I'm still showing a bit of value on Joey Logano to win at +1200. But I'd rather take his podium odds at +350, which are also a value for me.
Logano ranked third behind Blaney and Larson in 10-lap average on Friday night. He didn't qualify as well and will start 16th, but that's part of why the odds are so long here. Similar to Blaney, I think it's an overreaction.
Logano finished on the podium in two of seven races on short, flat tracks last year, and that doesn't count his win on Gateway, which shares some similarities with Phoenix. Logano didn't have the best car in the season finale at Phoenix (that belonged to Blaney), but he was still better than the rest of the pack. I've got Logano comfortably above his 22.2% podium odds.
Post-Qualifying Addition: Martin Truex Jr. Over Kevin Harvick (+128)
You have to love Kevin Harvick at Phoenix, a track where he has finished in the top 10 in every race since 2013. My model loves him, too, putting him in the top six in projected finish.
But the gap between him and Martin Truex Jr. is much shorter than this number implies.
Harvick was faster than Truex in practice, but Truex rarely practices well. In qualifying, Truex edged Harvick and will start 13th with Harvick right behind in 15th.
Truex had no finishes better than fourth on short, flat tracks last year, but that severely undersells his speed. He led 80 laps in Richmond and 172 in New Hampshire but got out-strategied to finish fourth both times. He also had a seventh-place average running position in the season finale but wound up finishing just 15th.
Basically, my model views Truex and Harvick very similarly, but bookmakers give Truex just 43.9% odds to top Harvick. That's a big enough edge where I'll bet against the man who has owned Phoenix for the past 15 years.