Who would have thought that a duel in the desert would involve Daniel Suarez vs Michael McDowell instead of Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch? The odds would have to be a 1000/1 that two typically mild-mannered drivers would snap and have an altercation after qualifying. These type of frustration-fueled events could be something we see more of. With the changes to the race car this season, qualifying has become contentious as we started to see last weekend at Las Vegas. The drivers do not like this type of format for qualifying, however, the fans love it, and at a time when NASCAR is trying to do anything to attract more eyes, the fans will easily win this battle. It has turned qualifying into an event and NASCAR could not be more excited, frankly who can blame them.
What does this mean to the handicappers? It is now more difficult to get a clean run on a hot lap, and there is a genuine belief that during qualifying the fastest car has very little advantage. The positioning of any qualifying car appears to be critical in relation to achieving the maximum performance and best lap time.
We saw at Atlanta and Las Vegas that the cars that were so fast in practice and qualifying did not have the best race cars. This can be applied to many, but let’s look at Clint Bowyer at Atlanta and Daniel Hemric at Las Vegas, who both really should not have dropped in the manner that they did. With these considerations in mind going forward, I think a car that performs well but not necessarily at the top during practice could be just as race lethal as the practice dominators.
There is still so much unknown as this package at ISM is again different than any other that has been run so far this year. The crew chiefs are taking big swings at dialing in their cars between happy hour and the race. I believe we should really temper excitement or overreaction to what we see on Friday’s and Saturday’s until we see differently and this package has a chance to make the rounds several times.
With the vast unknowns once again, I believe that we are still basically in a “watch-and-see” mode. I would encourage .5-unit plays again this week. Below are the plays that made the cut this week, and as always please stay tuned for any developments as the race approaches.
Aric Almirola (20-1): To win the race as discussed on A Numbers Game and My Guys in the Desert.
Joey Logano (plus 170): over Kyle Busch (-200)
Denny Hamlin (-110): over Kyle Larson (-110)
Aric Almirola (-130): over Kyle Larson (plus 110)
Erik Jones (plus 110): over Kyle Larson (-130)