New aero packages limit handicapping for now

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

This week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the NASCAR series will partially roll out the new aero package that includes several components to make racing more competitive. In past races at Atlanta, the conversation started and stopped with tire wear. While the tire wear talk will continue, there is a hope that the cars will be closer together and the tire fall-off will not be the only racing story of the event.

From the limited track activity that we have seen with the new racing package, it appears that tires will still be highly sought after and will likely determine who ultimately wins the race. The new aero package will enable drafting that is more profound, but it will likely be an afterthought when compared to fresh tires and fast pit stops. This weekend has only been able to yield bits of wagering information that can be considered useful or groundbreaking.

Let’s look at some drivers and their odds to win on Sunday.

Kevin Harvick (7-2): Without question the driver with the most recent success at Atlanta has been Harvick. He has led well over 100 laps in each of the last five races at Atlanta. However, Harvick will be starting 18th, which is considerably deeper than anticipated. He ran a whopping 75 laps during final practice in order to get his car stabilized after a rough day on Friday. At current odds, there is no value in this wager. Harvick could absolutely drive through the field and win the race but at odds this low, that would be a considerable gamble.

Kyle Busch (5-1): Giving up a prime starting position is Busch, who will have to go to a backup car after tagging the wall during happy hour. While Busch was fastest over 10 consecutive laps during final practice, that was in his primary car, and not the backup car that he will race in. Busch will start the race from the rear of the field and based on what little we know, he does not hit value at current odds.

Joey Logano (5-1): Following a poor qualifying run by all of the Penske cars, Logano will start the race in the 27th position. Logano did show good speed as he was in the top 10 over the long runs in final practice. While Logano looks to be strong, starting at his depth in the field it is difficult to justify betting him to win at current odds.

Martin Truex Jr. (8-1): In the 9th position will be the ace of 1.5 mile tracks, Truex. Atlanta is just one of two 1.5-mile tracks at which Truex has not scored a victory. He has finished in the top 8 in the last four races at Atlanta. If looking to fade the drivers who are listed at lower odds, Truex could be an ideal wager as he is paired with a good starting spot and fast speeds over the long runs during happy hour.

Brad Keselowski (8-1): Suffering from the stomach flu and starting from a nauseating 19th position is Keselowski. He missed most of final practice due to illness and to this point has not flourished in the manner many expected. It’s not all bad for Keselowski as he is only one of three drivers to be in the top 10 of all six stages run at Atlanta in the last two years. Like many of the other top favorites, it is hard to endorse Keselowski at odds of less than 10-1.

Kyle Larson (8-1): While the odds are low, Larson should be shopped for the best possible price. He will start in the 7th position and was well situated in the top 5 over the long run during happy hour. Larson is another of the three drivers to be in the top 10 for each of the six stages run at Atlanta. Larson is on equal footing with the premier favorites heading into the race.

Chase Elliott (10-1): Starting deeper than anticipated in the 22nd position is Elliott. In three career starts at Atlanta, Elliott has not finished outside the top 10. It appears that all of the Hendrick cars made strides in happy hour and, if Elliott can execute swiftly during pit stops, there is a strong chance he will be in the top-10 once again. Current odds are a little low, but Elliott should be shopped as he is found offshore at 12-1 and better.

Erik Jones (10-1): Having trouble late in happy hour was Jones, who was to start the race in the 15th position. There was a concern that like Harvick, Jones was having power-steering issues. At this point, there has not been clarity as to his starting position and whether he will have to go to the rear. At current odds, Jones has not shown the type of speed to command these prices going into the race. Please acquire an updated status prior to considering a wager on Erik Jones.

Denny Hamlin (15-1): The Daytona 500 winner will try to join just four other drivers to win the Daytona 500 and following race the next week. Hamlin will start the race from the 4th spot and was on the cusp of the top 10 over the long run in happy hour. In the last five races at Atlanta, Hamlin has two top-5 finishes, but has only finished on the lead lap twice during that span.

Clint Bowyer (15-1): Starting in the 3rd spot is Bowyer, who himself admitted that his car might be too fast. How is this possible? At Atlanta, the corners are long and sweeping, so straight line speed is not as critical. A balance of speed and handling is especially crucial on this type of configuration, and it appears that he might still be working on an optimal setup. If they can get the car to run better over the course of the race and many pit stops, Bowyer could be a force to win. Based on what we have learned this weekend, Bowyer looks to be very sharply priced at current odds. He finished 3rd in the race last year at Atlanta in his best equipment to date.

Jimmie Johnson (15-1): Lined up on the grid in 13th position is Johnson, who has two wins and three top-5 finishes in the last five races at Atlanta. Johnson was just outside the top 10 over the long run in happy hour. When evaluating Johnson against the other drivers listed at the same price, Johnson appears to be slightly behind both of them going into the race, but he is equipped with the best personal history at Atlanta.

Aric Almirola (20-1): Starting from the Pole position is Almirola, who powered by a fast Stewart-Haas team this weekend. Almirola was not able to string together a long run in happy hour but should start with a solid foundation which includes the first pit stall choice to help his team’s cause. At 20-1, Almirola is priced as if he will not hold the lead long or be a serious threat. Depending on factors such as Harvick, Kyle Busch and the new race package, this may or may not be true. However, if believing that the recent past at Atlanta is not applicable for Sunday, then a high-priced driver like Almirola makes a lot of sense. Anyway you look at it, it’s not too common that the pole sitter is 20-1 to win.

Ryan Blaney (20-1): The last of the Penske qualifiers who had a poor run is Blaney, who will start in the 26th position. Blaney was 14th over the long run in happy hour. He has not had a great amount of success at Atlanta, in 3 career starts he has only finished on the lead lap once.

Kurt Busch (25-1): Looking solid this weekend along with teammate Larson is Busch, who will start from the 8th position. Since 2010 Busch has seven top-10 finishes at Atlanta. Currently priced, Busch does offer value to win the race and should be closely considered when playing off the favorites.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (30-1): Starting from the 2nd position is Stenhouse, who was also a top-10 car in happy hour. It would be a stretch to figure Stenhouse as the eventual winner. However, there is so much we do not know about the race going into it, a case could be made for the longshot Stenhouse should several factors work in his favor. Stenhouse is well priced at current odds.

Due to limited practice sessions (only one post qualifying practice) and the adjustment of the new package, I think being a basic observer this weekend might be the best plan of action overall. However, with what we have been able to pick up I would consider the matchups below as playable. We are going with three underdogs and one favorite.

Small wager (5%-10%) on Clint Bowyer to win the race at 15-1. Normally we do not do this, but if Bowyer is able to fine tune his car, he would be justified at 5-1.

Chase Elliott (plus 120): over Clint Bowyer (-140):

Denny Hamlin (plus 130): over Clint Bowyer (-150):

Kurt Busch (-150) over Ryan Blaney (plus 130):

Jimmie Johnson (plus 105): over Ryan Blaney (-125):

As always please stay tuned to any of the developing news regarding lineup changes and more.

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