NASCAR ISM Update - TicketGuardian 500

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

Kevin Harvick will try to make it three in a row this week.
© USA Today Sports Images

Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway outside of Phoenix is the location of the fourth race of the NASCAR season. ISM is a tricky one-mile track that offers plenty of considerations when handicapping. The racing surface is wide and the corners are challenging due to the level of transmission stress and brakes that must be applied. Over the years, many drivers who were running well have had trouble slowing the car, thus abruptly ending their day. Having a well-balanced car that is able to “float” through the corners without the dependence on the brakes will be important to running up front. 

At ISM, 30% of the race winners have come from a top 3 starting position. While this statistic gives a good starting point, it also should be noted that the race winner has started in the top 15 in over 70% of the races at ISM. This race is only 312 miles (500 km) so starting near the front will likely play a pivotal role in taking the checkered flag. If the winner comes from deeper than 20th starting spot, it could be the product of a late race caution flag for which a few drivers elect to stay out. 

Below are the current odds on many of the contenders as well as a few others with a specific outside shot. The notes are meant to provide the drivers odds to win the race in relation to value. Additionally, the notes offer insight into our focus for handicapping the driver matchups.  

Kevin Harvick (plus 150): Starting 10th and having to get past several really strong cars makes these odds void of value. His odds value begins somewhere in the 3-1 neighborhood. I believe as of final practice that Harvick has the best car, fueled by his desire to win this week. He is my pick to win his 3rd race in a row, but I believe his odds need to improve before I could consider this wager.

Kyle Busch (3-1): Looks very good across the board in all practice sessions. At 3-1, the odds do not provide wagering value based on his ability to beat every other contender and more. He has a top 5 car it appears, but he is just one of many that will likely have to deal with an angry Harvick.

Martin Truex (4-1): 3rd quickest for a single lap, but 11th over a 10-lap average in practice. Truex has one big advantage, as he has the pit stall at the end of pit road, which at ISM is a sizable boost. Based on his overall package for the race he looks to be in the top 3 contenders to win.

Kyle Larson (11-2): Larson developed a chattering issue with the rear end of his car, and as of now it still appears to be unresolved. This has removed Larson from consideration at this time. 

Chase Elliott (7-1): Elliott has a top 5 car and could be Harvick’s biggest challenge. He has been close to Harvick in terms of pure speed. Elliott lacks winning experience and the racing bitterness that will compel Harvick after last week’s events. All things considered there is some value on Elliott at the current odds. 

Denny Hamlin (9-1): Unloaded in outstanding condition and only needed to fine tune in order to be a top car. In prime starting position, Hamlin looks the best this week that he has all year. There is some value at these odds as he appears to be inline with Elliott. 

Joey Logano (10-1): He did not perform as well in comparison during the practice sessions. None of the Penske cars appeared to be at their norm in race trim. Despite a good starting spot, I can’t recommend him at these odds.

Brad Keselowski (12-1): Looked better late in happy hour, but he is buried back in the field to start the race. This has not been one of his best tracks and this is likely one of the few races in which he is not a top contender. 

Erik Jones (20-1): Top 10 in qualifying, happy hour and the 10-lap average, Jones looks very good. If looking for a long shot, I would consider Jones, but I think Bowman provides better value at the same price.

Alex Bowman (20-1): Has a very brief history in NASCAR, but his best performance came at ISM. He has a very strong car that has progressively improved over the weekend. In 2016, he led 194 laps at ISM and finished 6th. The odds above provide longshot value. 

Jamie McMurray (40-1): Based on all the factors that help guide us to selections, McMurray should not be double the odds of Bowman. McMurray was 2nd in happy hour and has the experience to win. With a top 10 starting spot and a history of ISM granting wins to drivers who are on deep winless streaks, McMurray can’t be discounted. If Bowman is 20-1, then McMurray should be 25-1.

Below are the some of race matchups that were offered. I am going to list the ones that are playable 1st, then a couple at the bottom that are not playable and why. As always please check the current odds before deciding on selections.

Brad Keselowski (-110):

Martin Truex Jr. (-110): Based on starting spot, race trim practice and especially pit stall, Truex is the play. 


Joey Logano (-130):

Chase Elliott (plus 110): Although they start close together on the grid, Elliott has been far superior as the weekend has developed. After being wrecked last week at Las Vegas, I expect Elliott to rebound sharply.


Kurt Busch (-110):

Aric Almirola (-110): Almirola has raced well all year and he was quick in happy hour. Based on what we know he is a top 7 car and looks to be much better than his matchup. They are starting next to each other and deep in the field, but Almirola appears to have the package for carving his way up into the top 10. 


Brad Keselowski (plus 130):

Kyle Busch (-150): Busch has looked very strong as noted and their relative starting position, barring incident, could be the buffer that makes him too far out to lose this matchup. Busch has a better car than Keselowski and needs to just stay clean to win.  

Below are a couple of the matchups that were NOT playable.

Martin Truex Jr. (plus 120):

Kyle Larson (-140):

This is unplayable because we do not know the status of Larson. Larson appears to be slightly better than Truex. But if he has to go to a backup car, it will provide possible value to Truex. This is a classic example of why we wait to bet NASCAR. In this case, it’s a lack of critical information that prevents the wager. 


Denny Hamlin (-110):

Chase Elliott (-110):

These drivers are starting close to each other and have both been in the top 5 over the course of the weekend. Both cars were working on refinements during happy hour. I would give the slight nod to Elliott, but not enough for it to make the top selections.  


Top #25 Power Ranking for ISM - TicketGuardian 500

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Martin Truex Jr.
  3. Chase Elliott
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Kyle Larson
  7. Erik Jones
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Alex Bowman
  11. Joey Logano
  12. Aric Almirola
  13. Jamie McMurray
  14. Ryan Newman
  15. Ryan Blaney
  16. Kurt Busch
  17. Clint Bowyer
  18. Paul Menard
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. William Byron
  21. A.J. Allmendinger
  22. Daniel Suarez
  23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  24. David Ragan
  25. Bubba Wallace Jr.
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