NASCAR at Indianapolis: An Early Bet to Make for Sunday’s Brickyard 400

NASCAR at Indianapolis: An Early Bet to Make for Sunday’s Brickyard 400 article feature image
Credit:

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kyle Busch (18) leads a pack of cars

  • The 2019 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard goes green Sunday at 2 p.m. ET (NBC).
  • Nick Giffen gives an early bet to make for this weekend's NASCAR race at Indianapolis.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series holds its final race of the 2019 regular season at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for the 26th running of the Brickyard 400. Four drivers — Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson — are on the playoff bubble. All other drivers are either locked into the playoffs or must win to get in.

That makes race agendas easy to define. Every driver will be racing to win, except the four drivers on the bubble. Instead, they will look to accumulate stage points and will keep an eye on one another as the latter part of the race unfolds.

IMS is a 2.5-mile flat track, which makes it possible to pit and remain on the lead lap. That puts multiple pit strategies in play, much like the other 2.5-mile flat track, Pocono. While track position is important at Pocono, it is far more important at Indianapolis, where passing is very difficult.

When adjusting for driver count and laps run, Pocono had 18% more passes than Indianapolis last year. In 2015, when NASCAR experimented with a high-drag package at Indianapolis, Pocono had 11.5% more passes. In 2014, when the aerodynamic package was most similar to this year’s package, Pocono again saw 18% more passes than Indy.

Between the importance of track position and multiple pit strategies, it could be that whichever car puts itself out front late in the race hangs on for the win. That’s held true at Indy in the past, where longshot winners are nearly as much a tradition as the race winner kissing the yard of bricks.

Longshot winners include:

  • Jamie McMurray (2010) — McMurray had four career wins in nearly eight full-time seasons prior to his Brickyard 400 win, with three of those wins coming on restrictor plate tracks.
  • Paul Menard (2011) — Menard won with a fuel mileage strategy, holding off five-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon over the closing laps. To date it is Menard’s only Cup Series win.
  • Ryan Newman (2013) — Newman finished 11th in the standings in 2013, and has only had one win since in six full seasons.
  • Kasey Kahne (2017) — Kahne claimed his first win since 2014, a span of 102 races. It would be his final career Cup victory.

While multiple longshot drivers are in play, the easiest way to become a winner is to put yourself in position to win by running near the front. One driver in particular jumps out thanks to his history at 2.5-mile flat tracks and his outstanding opening price.

William Byron +5000

Byron has yet to win in his 61-race Cup Series career, but his improvement this year over his rookie campaign in 2018 is remarkable. Overall, Byron is 13th in the standings, 10 places better than his 23rd-place finish in the points last year. At Pocono, Byron improved from 18th and sixth in his rookie year to ninth, and fourth in his sophomore season.

In those two Pocono races this year, Byron was fourth and 10th in driver rating. In the first Pocono race, he won the pole position, led the third-most laps and had the third-most fastest laps. At the second Pocono race, Byron’s car failed inspection, relegating him to a 31st-place start. Despite that, a clean race and solid pit strategy led him to finish fourth.

Byron also won in his only start at Indianapolis in the Xfinity Series, which sports a horsepower regulation more similar to this year’s Cup Series rules than in previous years. He also tallied a win at Pocono in his only start in the Truck Series.

Hendrick Motorsports also seems to have a good grasp at this aerodynamic package at 2.5-mile flat tracks. In 2014, HMS won all three 2.5-mile flat track races.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. claimed both Pocono wins, and Jeff Gordon won the Brickyard 400 after he and teammate Kasey Kahne led a combined 110 of the 160 laps. This year, drivers with Hendrick engines led 62 of the 160 laps at the first Pocono race.

My pre-race model gives him the 11th-best average finish among all drivers, but he’s not being priced as such at MGM properties in Las Vegas, which is where you can find this line.

Elsewhere, Byron is widely available at +4000. Because he’s widely available at +4000, I wouldn’t go any lower than that number. I also wouldn’t hesitate to make this bet.

If he’s slow in practice and qualifying, he’ll likely remain at this number. On the flip side, if Byron qualifies near the front, you’ll see this line plummet. It’s very likely these will be the best odds we see on Byron all week.