Roval presents unique handicapping challenge

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

For the first time in the modern era (since 1972), the NASCAR circuit will race on a combination road course and oval. This is the much-anticipated Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 2.2-mile configuration has 17 turns, including two chicanes and the high banks of Charlotte.

There are numerous areas of the Roval that could assist in making this race unique or a total disaster. There are areas of the Roval that are simply not part of the traditional makeup of any NASCAR race. One example is the reverse camber of turn 3 going into turn 4. Think of driving your own car, often we use a loop ramp to merge onto the freeway. That loop is banked to the inside to keep passenger cars toward the bottom of the road. Now imagine if that loop was banked in the opposite direction. There would be cars going off the outside edge and over the embankment. That is reverse track camber, and when combined with high speeds it makes for a transition to which cars and drivers are not accustomed.

There are so many unknowns that it makes handicapping the race less precise. Some of the other aspects that make handicapping this race frankly so dangerous is that the mindset of the drivers will be vastly different from one another. Drivers such as Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski are already assured of making it to the next round. They will likely use a strategy that is “win or bust” as they can only improve their situation. However, drivers such as Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson and others are going to be pushing the action as they need to make up points in order to advance. For these reasons and many more, this will be a weekend where we are probably best served to protect our profits.

Normally analytics play a significant role in our articles and handicapping previews. But this weekend there is a strong hesitation to incorporate any such numbers for consideration. We are well-versed in knowing who the strong road course drivers are, and we cover that more closely in their profiles below. However, if we draw from past road course races it would not speak to the mental frame of the drivers are in entering the race.

The one area that we can draw from is the fact that at most road course races heavily favor drivers who start at or very near the front. This plays an important role because with the very tight racing areas that make up the Roval, there is a chance that a crash can eliminate many more drivers than the ones who were part of the initial contact.

Kyle Busch (plus 250): Starting 13th and posting fast long run times all weekend, Busch looks to be one of the few contenders outside the top 10 with a strong chance to win. His odds are simply too low to endorse.

Clint Bowyer (4-1): In the 7th starting spot is Bowyer, who has been in the top 15 in terms of speed all weekend. Bowyer has become one of the best road course racers on the circuit and stands to do well if he can avoid trouble.

Kurt Busch (5-1): At low odds is the pole position winner. There is no doubt that he has the premier starting spot and great recent history on road courses, with no finish worse than 12th in seven straight. His odds should mirror Chase Elliott based on overall chance to win and weekend progression. So finding the sports books with less liability on these drivers could ganer improved odds.

A.J. Allmendinger (5-1): A great qualifying effort will line up Allmendinger alongside Kurt Busch on the front row. Allmendinger is one of the best road racers on the circuit, but his aggression on these tracks has hurt his chances to win more than once. His attitude may not be improved from that perspective due to the fact that he is losing his ride at the end of the year. If he is clean, he is a contender to win.

Martin Truex Jr. (6-1): Just one spot ahead of Kyle Busch, lined up in the 12th spot, is Truex. Perhaps a top-3 road racer, he looks to be in the same speed neighborhood as Kyle Busch and with better odds.

Chase Elliott (7-1): Lined up in 4th position is Elliott, who has been in the top 10 all weekend at the Roval. The winner at Watkins Glen looks to be strong in addition to his great starting spot. Please shop this line as he can be found in double digits. Solid pick!

Kevin Harvick (10-1): Starting a disappointing 18th is Harvick. While he has not been fast this weekend, he has kept his car very clean and avoided trouble. If he can continue to keep the car clean he will no doubt move up through the field. However, without the aid of a pit strategy maneuver, it is difficult to foresee Harvick winning.

Brad Keselowski (10-1): Keselowski will start at the rear of the field for smashing his car into the wall at the close of final practice. He will be forced to go to a backup car that he has no track time in. Like Harvick, it will probably take a race breakdown or alternate pit strategy to get the #2 car into victory lane.

Jimmie Johnson (10-1): Please shop the seven-time champion and recent visitor to the VSiN studio. He lines up in the 6th spot and has been a top car all weekend. Johnson and his team have a long history of figuring out the unknowns quickly, and he looks to have a top car. He does have to climb out of a small points hole (-6) to advance to the next round, so that could limit an aggressive need to gamble on strategy. Johnson is a contender whether he decides to take all the measures to go for the win or not.

Alex Bowman (15-1): After a superb qualifying effort that put him in the 3rd position, Bowman fell off several of the speed charts. He is in a great spot starting the race but will have to run well to protect a five-point lead over the cut line. He will likely have a similar strategy as his teammate Jimmie Johnson if they are running in the same positional area. Advancing to the next round is the primary goal of the Hendrick team as their cars improve week over week.

Joey Logano (15-1): Lined up just behind Kyle Busch and Truex in 14th is Logano. He has been within the top 15 on speed all weekend and could be contender if he can clear Busch and Truex in front of him. Additionally, Logano knows if he just runs clean and finishes in the top 15 he will advance to the next round.

Kyle Larson (15-1): Not usually thought of as a road racer is Larson, who will start in the 5th position. He has done very well keeping the car clean all weekend and he has been consistently fast in the top 5. At current odds there is value on Larson to win.

Erik Jones (15-1): Jones wrecked his car in happy hour and will have to start from the rear. He made contact with the wall more than once this weekend and has continuously struggled. As strong as Jones has been all year, unless there is a total turnaround, he will likely have his playoff run ended tomorrow.

In matchups last week, we had a very difficult race, especially on pit road. Taking three underdogs may not have helped our situation on the way to a miserable 0-3 day. We no doubt look to rebound strongly, but we must also consider what we have accomplished as our season record is 52-33.

The Roval has many unknowns, but it appears to have also created some opportunity to win. Below are the matchups that made the cut this weekend. Please understand there is a greater chance for cars to be wrecked and to break down. Our matchup selections are starting in the top 3 rows in order help avoid getting caught up in another drivers trouble. This week we look to the favorites. As always please shop all prices whenever possible, and be overly conservative when it comes to paying increased juice, especially this week.

Chase Elliott (-120): over Brad Keselowski (even):

Elliott has been stronger this weekend, but the one fear is that Keselowski can take a wild gamble on strategy and get an excellent finish. Overall, we will go with the high starting spot and strong weekend progression.

Jimmie Johnson (-115): over Daniel Suarez (-105):

Johnson has been better this weekend. Knowing they have to make up points to move to the next round, we know there is plenty of reason to expect a strong performance.

As always, please watch for updates before the race.

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