The NASCAR series blows into the Windy City this weekend for the Overton’s 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday) from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The 1.5-mile superspeedway will host the series’ best drivers as we approach the run to the playoffs with 10 races remaining in the 2018 regular season.
Clearly, what we already know is that the excessive temperatures of over 90 degrees, and sunlight factor will be uncomparable between qualifying and race conditions. This should already indicate to us that putting too much emphasis on qualifying position would likely be a handicapping. However, just because we may not let qualifying results dramatically influence us, that does not mean the oddsmakers or public will adopt the same considerations. There is a possibility that we will be able to find value on drivers who are starting behind their matchup driver. These prices can become even more appealing as the race draws closer. We saw this happen last week in the case of AJ Allmendinger, and we took advantage of it going against the -200 favorite and won.
In terms of winning, starting position can be really crucial like it was last week at Sonoma where starting in the top 10 generates an overwhelming majority of race winners. However, starting in the top 10 at the young Chicagoland Speedway has only produced 7 winners in 17 total races. Additionally 5 of the 17 winners came from a starting spot of 25th or grater.
Below we will profile many of the top drivers going into the Overton’s 400.
Kevin Harvick (plus 200): Winning twice at Chicagoland in 17 races, Harvick is a deserving favorite. While Chicagoland has not been a dominant Superspeedway for Harvick, he has the best car week-to-week, and that is a more critical factor than recent performance on a 1.5 mile track.
Kyle Busch (7-2): In 13 starts at Chicagoland, Busch has one win and seven top-10 finishes. At his current price and based on what we have seen during practice Busch should not be lower odds than Martin Truex Jr..
Martin Truex Jr. (4-1): Winner of the last two races at Chicagoland, and having the most consistent finishes on a 1.5-mile track, Truex looks tough to beat. In the last 15 races on 1.5-mile tracks, Truex has seven wins.
Kyle Larson (9-2): Larson is a trendy pick at Chicagoland due to his ability to maneuver the car all about the track. While this is true, Larson has a tendency to be wild on the track. In the final moments of happy hour practice on Saturday, he scrapped the wall. Although he did not cause much damage, it speaks to his car being loose, which can lead to excessive tire wear.
Joey Logano (10-1): All of the Penske cars look fast so far this weekend and Logano should be considered one of the outside contenders to win. However, without a win at Chicagoland and only two top 5s in his career, Logano does not have the statistical backup to indicate he belongs to be on the short list of possible winners.
Denny Hamlin (12-1): Looking strong in both practice sessions this weekend, Hamlin appears to be a promising value. He had the fourth-fastest 10-lap average in happy hour and was right among Harvick. Hamlin has four straight top 6 finishes at Chicagoland and could be the driver to break through the hold of the big four drivers. Driving a Toyota only helps his cause at Chicagoland.
Ryan Blaney (12-1): Another of the very fast Penske cars, Blaney will try to break through for his first win of the season. While at the same price Hamlin has a more sustained history of success at Chicagoland, there is reason to believe that Ryan Blaney will race well. His average plus/minus in the last two races at Chicagoland is a very good plus 9.5. This is the average difference calculating starting position to finishing position.
Clint Bowyer (20-1): While Bowyer has not had the level of success on 1.5-mile tracks that he has enjoyed elsewhere, one has to realize that he is very fast each week. Chicagoland has not been one of his better tracks, but Bowyer has been fast this weekend posting the 4th best total average lap times in happy hour. Although this is not a track that Bowyer is expected to win, there is some value based on the speed of his car. Additionally, add the fact that his teammate, Harvick, is also one of the best this weekend and that makes Bowyer look even better at these odds.
Aric Almirola (-120) over Jimmie Johnson (even)
Over the last 3 races, Aric Almirola has posted career best finishes at each track. This trend has showcased how well prepared all the Stewart-Haas cars on a week to week basis. Chevy has struggled on 1.5 mile superspeedways this season, and Chicagoland is one of just three tracks that Johnson has yet to record a victory. Additionally, Almirola was 7th best over a consecutive 10 lap run during happy hour. Happy hour practice likely had the most comparable temperatures in relation to the forecast of the race.
Martin Truex Jr. (plus 105) over Kyle Busch (-125)
Winning back to back races at Chicagoland Truex is poised to come from the back of the field and into contention. He has been significantly faster than Kyle Busch this weekend in each of the practice sessions. Although Truex is starting 20 spots behind Kyle Busch, he should be able to make up the positions quickly. Taking Martin Truex Jr. at plus money is simply value in itself as he has won 7 of the last 15 races on 1.5 mile tracks.
Kevin Harvick (3-1): Harvick has less of a tricky path to the front when compared to Truex, however, both cars should be very strong.
Clint Bowyer (20-1): Current odds provide value based on season speed, while having less to do with track specific past performance. Bowyer’s team unloaded a fast car and which became progressively better during happy hour. Starting near the front does not hurt Bowyer’s chances for a clean run to the front as well.
Daniel Suarez (100-1):
Suarez is sneaky fast this week and has the manufacture edge at Chicagoland in his Toyota. This deep contender could find himself in the running inside the top 10 with a chance to take a strategic gamble to try and end up in Victory lane.