The conditions at Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s practice sessions were vastly different and far colder than what is expected on Sunday. With this type of drastic inconsistency, it is difficult to accurately assess the performance progression for any of the race teams going into the O’Reilly 500. It is rare that a day of practice sessions are as irrelevant as the ones that were held today. Without question, this will temper how strongly we can get behind any of the drivers in relation to accurate handicapping.
Prior to stage racing, it was imperative to start at or near the front of the field at Texas to have a legitimate shot to win. However, with the introduction of stage racing, we have seen teams that start deeper than an optimal position end up in Victory lane. In the 34 races at Texas, 24 (70.5%) have been won from a top-8 starting position. However, in the last four races, only one race fits the winning criteria noted above. Stage racing has helped foster these types analytical outliers as teams often use atypical strategies in order to get themselves into a winning position. With this type of desperate maneuvering to get into winning position, it opens up the possibility for a longshot winner.
We have seen over the course of several years that performing well at Texas is highly dependent on having clean air and not being bogged down in traffic. There have been many instances of drivers who were running well losing a few spots on pit road, and they are not heard from again for the remainder of the race. Few tracks on the NASCAR circuit are as unforgiving as Texas when a driver loses track position. For this reason and the addition of the extra caution flags with stage racing, it is likely that alterations of strategies will help determine the outcome of the race tomorrow.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the top contenders for the O’Reilly 500.
Kevin Harvick (plus 250): Harvick has not only dominated this year, but he is also the most recent race winner at Texas. Starting second, Harvick will be one of the absolute top drivers to beat. However, if you have been following these update articles you know how difficult it is to endorse a driver at such low odds. Additionally, with a drastic variance of strategies likely to be employed during the race, it makes it even more difficult to take a driver at these types of odds. Harvick is without question a top-3 car tomorrow based on everything we have learned.
Kyle Busch (3-1): Starting eighth and right on the fringe of what is considered a prime spot, Busch appears to be on course for another top-3 finish. Busch has been running in the top 3 for several weeks and this can often be a handicapping indicator of a driver who is headed for a win. However, Kyle Busch was not as much of a factor at Texas last year when compared to previous years. At 3-1, the odds are too short when considering the drivers he will have to beat in order to get the win. Kyle begins to garner value at odds closer to 11-2.
Kyle Larson (4-1): Larson is really interesting this week as he appears to once again be the best of the Chevys. Larson really knows how to get around Texas as he was a stage winner and running very well before a crash took him out of contention with 50 laps to go last year. As solid as Larson appears to be we simply can’t assume the relative poor performances of the Chevys has been resolved. If his odds were to float up closer to 11-2, then Larson could become a decent value to win. However, with so little viable information rendered from the practice sessions, 4-1 is simply too low.
Martin Truex Jr. (4-1): Along with Harvick, Truex appears to be a top 2-3 team this week. Starting in sixth position, Truex is well placed to be up front, and his team is outstanding at adapting to current and future track conditions. Truex at 4-1 is a better value than Harvick at plus 250 to win the race. Additionally, with so little information to extract, it puts Truex ahead of the competition due to its enormous level of success on 1.5-mile tracks. Truex leads all drivers with 363 laps led over the last 4 races at Texas.
Brad Keselowski (7-1): Starting 11th, and with only one top 5 in the last four races, Keselowski does not warrant odds that are in single digits. Keselowski can win on virtually any track, but Texas is not typically one of his best. Of the Penske teammates, I do not hesitate to go on a limb in saying that he is the third most likely winner from that stable.
Ryan Blaney (11-1): Blaney is solid at Texas and a true contender to win from many perspectives. His odds have dropped from an opening of 15-1 to the present number, and while much of that value has evaporated there would likely be even less value if practice had held more merit. Blaney is a valid choice to win as a longer shot and he appears to be a good matchup selection. Blaney is generally underrated by the oddsmakers on a week-to-week basis.
Chase Elliott (12-1): Elliott is one of the drivers who will have to make a major move to be in contention for the win. Starting 20th, Elliott has two top 5s in the last four races at Texas, but will be buried deep. In addition to his high finishes at Texas he is plus 56 in positions progressed in those same four races. With the Hendrick concerns unresolved and the relative competition at like odds, Elliott is not a wagering consideration.
Joey Logano (12-1): Logano is a dark horse this week with a chance to end his winless streak. Texas has been one of his most consistent tracks on the circuit and he is likely to maintain that this year. Logano has three top 5s in the last four races at Texas, and a pit issue is really what took him out of contention in the fall race last year. Logano is worthy of having the lowest odds of any Penske car this week. Odds of 12-1 do provide at least marginal value to win, and Logano looks to be one of the more predictable performers of the week with so little applicable practice time.
Denny Hamlin (15-1): Starting upfront and armed with an excellent pit crew, Hamlin is a bit underrated this week. Texas has not been his best track, but Hamlin has the advantage of unloading strong. This is especially important when considering that poor practice conditions may have squandered his competitors chance for marked improvement. Hamlin is another one of the outside contenders that has a least some value, when so many of the top contenders lack value.
Jimmie Johnson (17-1): Starting ninth and laced with so many questions, it is really difficult to assess Johnson this week. While I am expecting some improvement from the Hendrick team, it’s hard to make a case for Johnson drastically turning it around this week, especially with limited useable practice information.
Clint Bowyer (20-1): The winner of Martinsville has only one top 20 in the last four races at Texas. Bowyer is in a much better situation than in years past and starting in the third spot, Bowyer could be a bigger factor than odds would indicate. Bowyer was able to end a long winless streak at Martinsville, but the odds of him winning again are too low at 20-1. Bowyer is one of three drivers starting in the top 3 for Stewart-Haas racing this week. There is no doubt that his car unloaded very strong this week. But with a win fresh in the mind of bettors and odds-makers, it is not a surprise that he is a bit overvalued.
Kurt Busch (25-1): Starting from the pole in his Stewart-Haas car, Kurt Busch looks to be very fast. He has three top 10s in the last four races at Texas and the benefit of being part of the strongest current team on the circuit. It would be a surprise to find Busch in victory lane, but based on pure wagering analytics he can not be discounted. He likely deserves to be swapped out for Bowyer in terms of true odds.
Below are the matchup selections that have made the cut for this race. As mentioned above, due to the poor weather conditions during the practice sessions, there was very little applicable information that can be extracted. Overall, this is a tight weekend when the use of past applicable analytics is the basis for selections. We were not able to use practice progression as a form of handicapping this weekend.
Brad Keselowski (-135):
Joey Logano (plus 115): Logano appears to be poised to run well tomorrow after good progression to begin the year. Additionally, he has outperformed his Penske teammate at Texas over the last four races.
Chase Elliott (-110):
Denny Hamlin (-110): Hamlin unloaded better than Elliott, and with almost no viable practice time he looks to be well positioned to beat Elliott. This is in addition to the struggles of Hendrick that have been covered in detail.
Chase Elliott (-110):
Ryan Blaney (-110): Blaney looks very strong this weekend from the little information that is usable. His past performances and starting position make Blaney a solid choice to run very well and beat Elliott.
Erik Jones (-160):
Kurt Busch ( 140): Starting upfront in a very strong Stewart-Haas car, Busch looks to run well. In addition, he has the first choice of pit stall and the determination of quieting a group of naysayers who question if he should be replaced.
As always if there are any changes that affect the selections listed above I will send out a twitter (@NASCARvisionary) update.
Texas Top 25 Power Rating - O’Reilly 500
- Kevin Harvick
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kyle Larson
- Kyle Busch
- Ryan Blaney
- Joey Logano
- Denny Hamlin
- Brad Keselowski
- Kurt Busch
- Chase Elliott
- Clint Bowyer
- Jimmie Johnson
- Aric Almirola
- William Byron
- Erik Jones
- Paul Menard
- Daniel Suarez
- Alex Bowman
- Ryan Newman
- Bubba Wallace
- Jamie McMurray
- Chris Buscher
- AJ Allmendinger
- Austin Dillon
- Trevor Bayne