NASCAR Cup Series: Top Bets for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
This weekend NASCAR heads to Sin City for the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Appropriately, I’m here to help you find value for Sunday’s 267-lap race. Each week I will use my machine learning statistical model and the RotoViz Driver Sim Scores to find the best value bets to win the race.
Last weekend at Atlanta, my picks raced well, but each of them fell just short of the win. Brad Keselowski (+1650) finished second, while Denny Hamlin (+1200) and Martin Truex Jr. (+850) finished back-to-back in fourth and fifth. I advised against betting race winner Kevin Harvick (+500), but if we look back at the past six Atlanta races Harvick has won only once despite dominating all of them, so I’m comfortable saying it was pretty close to break even in the long run. Had Harvick encountered any late-race issues, Keselowski and Hamlin would have been the leaders thanks to their individual race strategies.
But enough with the rear-view mirror. It’s time to look out the windshield to Las Vegas!
Chase Elliott: +1350 at 5dimes.eu
The two most predictive factors in my model for Las Vegas are track history at the last eight large oval races and 10-lap average speeds in final practice. Elliott ticks the box in both metrics with the sixth-best driver rating over the last eight large oval races and the fifth best 10-lap average in final practice. Elliott also has the fifth-highest average finishing position in my model (only 0.18 places behind fourth), but he comes in as the seventh-best betting value to win. The sim scores give Elliott a ceiling finish of 2.0, which means that approximately 15 percent of the time he should finish second or better based on the performances of historically comparable drivers. He needs to finish first only 6.9 percent of the time to break even, so there’s definitely value at +1350 odds.
Martin Truex Jr.: +650 at 5dimes.eu and TheGreek.com
I’m going back to the Truex well for the second week in a row. Las Vegas is a better 1.5-mile track for him than Atlanta was because Vegas relies more on track type history, while Atlanta relied on purely Atlanta history for the most predictive value. And nobody has a better track type history than Truex. Over the last eight large oval races, Truex has an average finish of 2.4 with the highest driver rating (127.2), the most laps led (29.6 percent), and the most fastest laps (20.6 percent) among all drivers. Truex also posted the third-best single- and 10-lap speed in final practice. As a result, the machine learning model gives him the highest average finish (7.31), and the Sim Scores give him a median finish of 2.0 and a ceiling of 1.0.
Kyle Busch: +800 at 5dimes.eu
One of the fortunate things about living in Las Vegas is being able to hear some of the garage talk that’s going on this weekend. Apparently, Kyle Busch’s team is pleased with his car, which in practice was incredibly stable and quick through Turns 1 and 2 regardless of the line he was running on.
The numbers also favor Busch at these odds. The Sim Scores give him a ceiling of 1.0 and a median finish of 4.0. Five of the twelve closest historic comps to Busch won their races (41.7 percent). The model gives Busch the third-best average finish (8.17) on the strength of his third-highest driver rating, third-most fastest laps, and second-most laps led among all drivers over the last eight large oval races.
Kyle Larson: +400 at 5dimes.eu and TheGreek.com
I’m going away from my model with this pick because of Larson’s unfortunate ending to the 2017 season, when he accumulated three did not finishes (DNFs) in the eight final large oval races. If we look at his last eight non-DNF large oval races, Larson has an average finish of 4.5. The Sim Scores also give him a median finish of 4.5 if we remove DNFs from his closest comps and a ceiling of 2.0.
Additionally, Larson posted the fastest 10-lap average in final practice. While that alone is a great sign, it’s even more notable that he did so on laps 5-14 of his practice run instead of laps 1-10: As more laps are run the track slows down, so it’s even more difficult to post a fast time later in the session. A difference of four laps might not seem huge, but every little bit counts. If we look at that 10-lap raw speed (183.935 MPH), it outpaced third place by over 0.3 MPH, which is a wide gap by NASCAR standards. Only Harvick (+325) with the second-best 10-lap average was anywhere near Larson, and he was still 0.05 MPH slower. Larson and Harvick are rightly the two betting favorites for Sunday’s race, so give me the slightly better odds on Larson.
Also, because of the short odds, you might prefer to play Larson through a small parlay with your favorite head-to-head or finishing position prop bet.
Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports