Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (42) leads a pack of cars
- Nick Giffen offers his favorite NASCAR prop bets for Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) at Auto Club Speedway.
- Using his NASCAR model and a handful of other factors, Giffen breaks down three driver matchups and one group bet offering value.
The 2019 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) races at Auto Club Speedway, a two-mile D-shaped oval, for its fifth race of the year. Like Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier in the year, Auto Club Speedwday has a very old racing surface, which causes the tires to wear quickly.
However, unlike Atlanta, this race will feature the use of the aero ducts aimed at creating a bigger wake behind the cars to allow for more drafting. As a result, this race can be seen as a bit of a combination of both the Atlanta race with high tire wear, and the Las Vegas race that featured the aero ducts.
In addition to Atlanta and Las Vegas from this year (be sure to check out PJ Walsh’s tweet showing the average green flag speed at those two races this year), we’ll also look at Auto Club Speedway track history from 2013 to present, which encompasses the current Gen 6 car era, and 10-lap average practice speeds from this weekend’s practice sessions.
Using the model and sim scores, as well as some general NASCAR knowledge, I’ve come up with four prop bets that I think present tremendous value for today’s race.
Daniel Suarez -140 over Paul Menard
Suarez absolutely crushes Menard in every metric this weekend, and combined with a low incident rate at Auto Club Speedway of 12%, this makes the -140 number a steal.
Suarez outpaced Menard by 1.5 mph over 10 consecutive laps in final practice, which is light years in the NASCAR world. Both drivers set their 10-lap average at the start of the final session, so we’re definitely comparing apples to apples.
What’s more, Suarez’s car seemed to get better relative to Menard’s as the temperature ramped up. Suarez was only 0.3 mph faster than Menard in the cooler opening practice on Saturday. That means he improved by 1.2 mph over Menard as temperatures ramped up. Race temperatures are supposed to be even hotter.
Suarez also boasts an 18.5 to 22.0 advantage over Menard in average running position at Auto Club Speedway during Suarez’s MENCS tenure. Suarez also owns the 14th-best average running speed at Atlanta and Las Vegas, while Menard doesn’t even make the list of the top 15.
Put it all together, and the Sim Scores give Suarez a five-place advantage over Menard in both upside and median finishing position, while my model likes Suarez over Menard by a similar margin.
Jimmie Johnson +135 over Austin Dillon
These two drivers score extremely close in all metrics this weekend, with some metrics even favoring Johnson. That makes the added juice on the seven-time champion a nice value bet.
Johnson posted a faster 10-lap average in both post-qualifying practice sessions than Dillon by more than 0.2 mph in each. I should note that Dillon’s 10-lap average in final practice came later in the session, as the temperatures heated up, making it closer to a wash with Johnson. However, a wash is perfectly acceptable when you’re getting +135.
Neither Johnson nor Dillon make the top 15 in average green flag speed at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, but Johnson does own a much better track history than Dillon, and has won their head-to-head battle three of the five times they’ve competed together at the track.
My model and the Sim Scores both favor Johnson by at least four positions.
Erik Jones +285 over Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer
- Almirola +170
- Jones +285
- Busch +320
- Bowyer +325
Although the Sim Scores give Jones the lowest median projection of this quartet, my statistical model, which is more accurate in average projection, puts Jones ahead of the other three drivers in average finish. Additionally, the Sim Scores put Jones’ upside ahead of the median scores of the other three, showing he has the potential to finish ahead of them all.
Jones crushed the other three in 10-lap average in final practice, posting a run 0.4 mph per lap faster than both Bowyer and Almirola. The latter was unhappy with the balance of his car in final practice, while the final driver in the group, Busch, was 0.2 mph slower than both Bowyer and Almirola.
Jones also boasts the best driver rating among this group at Auto Club Speedway since he joined the Cup Series in 2017.
Kyle Larson -160 over Aric Almirola
I know the steep tag on Larson might put some people off, but this is a bet that I like knowing Larson will almost certainly be better than Almirola, and hoping he doesn’t throw it away by overdriving the car.
Larson’s finishes at Auto Club include a win and two second-place finishes. He also has two finishes of 26th or worse. Almirola, by contrast, has generally outperformed his equipment at this track, but not enough so to be a winning contender like Larson is. Larson also has a better green flag speed than Almirola at the large ovals in 2019.
However, what I really like is how Larson’s car improved as the day got hotter, while Almirola’s car got worse. Almirola was 1.2 mph faster than Larson over 10 laps in Saturday morning practice, but as the temperatures warmed, Larson posted a 10-lap time 0.3 mph faster than Almirola who — as I noted earlier — hated the balance of his car in final practice, especially in traffic.
The model and Sim Scores also give the nod to Larson by at least three places.