NASCAR Cup Series: Top Bets for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

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Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Brad Keselowski

  • The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Kentucky Speedway for 400 miles under the lights.
  • The propensity for mayhem at this track provides for some potential underdog wins.
  • I'm targeting three specific outright bets for tonight's race that I think hold value in the futures market.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits Kentucky Speedway for 400 miles under the lights. Kentucky was reconfigured and repaved prior to the 2016 race — and in each of the two night races held there since, 11 of the 40 drivers encountered major problems.

That increased the potential for a late caution to throw a wrench in the proceedings, which may allow some underdog plays to have a shot at the win. We saw that exact scenario play out last year when Martin Truex Jr. lost a 15-plus second lead after Kurt Busch blew an engine with two laps to go. Fortunately for Truex, he held off a charging Kyle Larson — despite Truex staying out on old tires, while Larson grabbed four fresh rubbers prior to the final restart.

Aside from the propensity for a bit of mayhem, Kentucky behaves similar to most other 1.5-mile tracks when predicting finishing position. As a result, my machine learning model places a premium on:

  • Long-run speed
  • Year-to-date driver rating at all non-restrictor plate tracks
  • 1.5-mile oval average finish and fastest laps so far this year

I use the RotoViz Driver Sim Scores to gauge race-winning upside.

As always, make sure you shop around for the best lines.

Kyle Busch: +450 at TheGreek

Kyle Busch is the hottest driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, having won five of the last 10 non-restrictor plate races. Yet, for some reason, he still comes in at better value than Kevin Harvick (+275) and Martin Truex Jr (+300).

Busch was second-fastest in opening practice over ten consecutive laps, which is notable because opening practice came in cooler temperatures than final practice. Since the race will take place at night, conditions should be more similar to opening practice than final practice. Notably, Kevin Harvick was third in that session — nearly a full mile per hour slower than Busch. Even if we just look at single lap speed, Busch outpaced both Truex and Harvick in each session.

My model gives Busch the second-best average finish among all drivers (behind only Harvick), while the sim scores show four of his top 19 comparable drivers went on to win.

Brad Keselowski: +1200 at TheGreek

Keselowski has yet to win in 2018, but don’t let that scare you away. Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolff are tailor made for tracks like Kentucky, where strategy and speed can both come into play.

That was very evident in 2016 when Keselowski won the inaugural race under Kentucky’s new configuration. After taking the lead through pure speed on a restart with 68 laps to go, he strategically conserved fuel to get to the finish line on fumes. The speed is there once again this year. In final practice, Keselowski posted a 10-lap speed nearly identical to Harvick’s 10-lap time.

Keselowski shares the fifth-shortest odds to win with Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, and Clint Bowyer, but has a better projected finish per the model. He also has more upside than the other three drivers, per the Sim Scores.

Aric Almirola: +4000 at TheGreek

Two weekends ago at Chicagoland (another 1.5-mile track), Almirola led 70 laps before two loose wheels derailed his chances at victory. It’s tough to gauge Almirola’s speed this weekend since he didn’t make any long practice runs, but that should also increase the uncertainty around his projection. Almirola does rank seventh if we average each driver’s best lap time from the two practice sessions — so there is short-run speed in the car.

This year, Almirola has an average finish of 11.2 in his four incident-free 1.5-mile races. However, that number jumps to 8.8 if you factor in his position at the time of his incidents in the two other 1.5-mile races. (In addition to the loose wheel incident at Chicagoland, he sat in seventh at Texas before being taken out in a wreck by Denny Hamlin.)

Almirola is certainly capable of squeaking out a strategy win — either through the right tire call on a late restart or through fuel mileage. Each of these scenarios has played out over the past two years at Kentucky.

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