Michigan Firekeepers 400 - Lessons Learned

The race at Michigan International Speedway was called off by NASCAR with 67 laps remaining. Clint Bowyer was declared the winner following a strategic move on pit road when he took just two tires.

For handicappers, there were several issues that took place at different parts of the race weekend. The first lesson we can take is that truncated practice time should override what we see during the sessions that do take place.

The initial issue that affected our handicapping was happy hour being rained out. That is important because, as we have discussed, the final practice session is usually critical when it comes to identifying cars that are improving their race tune. Then, during the drivers’ meeting prior to the race, we learned that three of the Joe Gibbs cars were sent to the rear of the field for splitter infractions. This meant that one of our matchup drivers, Kyle Busch, would now start deep in the field rather than third. After learning of this penalty, I posted on Twitter (@NASCARvisionary) that, if possible, the Busch matchup vs. Martin Truex Jr. should be avoided due to imbalance of the odds in relation to his true starting position. The race was then delayed for two hours.

Once the race began, there was one problem after another. Kyle Larson, who was matched against Truex, wasted no time in blowing past him, and firmly reached the top 10. Truex struggled all day and was no match for Larson, who was at even money. However, Larson had a tire go down and he spun the car into the infield, essentially ending his bid to win the matchup. Not long after the Larson incident, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the outside retaining wall and that paved the way to another lost matchup vs. Austin Dillon. Two of our four drivers ended up wrecking in solo incidents, which is uncommon.

Finally, with rain in the area and the caution flag out, the drivers elected to come to pit road, and Bowyer took only two tires. Almost every other driver took four tires, including Kurt Busch. From there, Bowyer was able to secure track position. Once they went back out on the track, there was a short run followed by a caution flag. Once the caution came out for the final time, the rain became steady, and NASCAR decided to send everyone home.

For our selections, we went 1-3 in driver matchups. The information came out so close to the start of the race that it was virtually impossible to have not bet it already. For the season, our record is 36-21. When a practice session as important as happy hour is rained out, that alone should temper our plays. We knew the Fords were fast all weekend, and trying to capitalize on that aspect in driver matchups that were nearly even in terms of odds, was too aggressive. That approach hurt us in the Stenhouse matchup against Austin Dillon. Neither Dillon nor Stenhouse was great by any means, but it did not matter as Stenhouse ended up in the wall which ended his day. Both Stenhouse and Larson have had a too many incidents this season, and now we have begun to see enough races to take extra caution when considering them in matchup situations.

Larson had Truex covered from the drop of the green flag. However, it was Larson’s inability to bring the car home in one piece that lost this wager. Larson may have been racing the rain, and he might have pushed the car just a bit too far when he encountered the infield grass at a blazing speeds. Even with spinning out, he got himself back on the the lead lap, and was not far behind Truex when the race was called. We were absolutely accurate in our assessment of both Larson and Truex. Although we were correct, sometimes the better team does not win.

Of the three losses, the Kurt Busch matchup is the most ghastly. While there is no doubt that Bowyer had a strong car, he took a major gamble and won the race. On the final pit stop, Bowyer took only two tires and it was the move of the race. There was little understanding why others did not do the same. However, as we are beginning to learn, there were many teams that were not expecting the rain to arrive as soon as it did. Once Bowyer exited pit road with the lead, he summoned for the skies to open, which they did almost immediately.  

This was the first really bad week of handicapping that we have had this season. While some of the elements that contributed to our poor week were largely outside our control, there were warning signs that should have been in more focus in terms of the playing four matchups. We have had a successful season and it does not benefit us to out-wager the level of information provided, even if there are strong indicators that favor one driver over another.

The series takes the week off, but will resume June 24 in Sonoma for the Save Mart 350, which is the first road course of the season. As the race gets closer, we will profile the top contenders and we examine the race matchups.

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