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Update on KC Masterpiece: Look for value in Almirola

Jeff Cogliandro  
Point Spread Weekly

The KC Masterpiece 400 from Kansas Speedway (7 p.m. ET Saturday) is the second night race of the 2018 season. Up to this point, the season has been dominated by Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, as the rest of the series has struggled to contend with them. From both a topical perspective and when taking a closer look, this race appears to be more of the same. However, there are enough strong contenders to create drama, and make for an exciting finish.

Kansas is an impound race, which means that the last action on the track was the qualifying session held on Friday. Additionally, as we have covered with other impound races, there is less overall practice time dedicated to fine-tuning a race setup. To take this a step further, the elongated practice session was held during the day, while it will be an evening race, with a transition into night. This plays a factor in how accurately a team can really utilize practice. The air and track conditions are generally quite a bit different during the race when compared to practice. However, the cloud cover during practice could help validate the session, as the temperature may not too far off once the race begins.  

Let’s take a closer look at some of the contenders going into the 400-mile event.

Kevin Harvick (plus 150): Starting from the front, there is no doubt that Harvick deserves to be the favorite based on everything we have seen this year. If having the best-prepared race car was not enough, Harvick has two wins and seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races at Kansas Speedway. Although he has so many factors in his favor entering the race, we can not endorse a wager to win at this number. There are too many contenders who will pounce on any error by Harvick or his team, and these odds do not provide any real value when considering the pitfalls. It may not take an error to beat Harvick, as the track will likely change a great deal over the course of the race. Of note, Harvick only had one 14-lap continuous run during practice where other contenders ran as many as 20-laps. This can suggest that he was not entirely happy with his setup, and making changes in the garage was the reason for the short runs. In the 10-lap averages Harvick was sixth fastest, and starting from the pole gives Harvick the choice of pit stall.

Kyle Busch (plus 250): Starting third and being the fastest over a 15-lap average during practice, Busch appears to be Harvick’s chief contender. In the last five races at Kansas, he has all top-5 finishes, along with a win. His average finish of 4.83 leads all drivers over the last six races at Kansas. Busch is a worthy second favorite to the mighty Harvick, but neither provides the type of value that creates a justifiable betting opportunity to win. 

Kyle Larson (5-1): Larson had trouble on his qualifying effort by spinning out, and will have to start the race from the rear of the field. These type of issues seem to be a snapshot of Larson’s season, as he was the fastest driver over a 20-lap average during practice. He has a fast car but starting in the rear will put him in a tough spot before the race begins. Additionally, Chevy has not won since the Daytona 500, which matches the longest winless drought since 1975. Larson will likely shoot through the field quickly, but we should be concerned about how his car will react against the best cars in the field. We have seen Larson rough up his equipment on his way to the front before. When evaluating the key factors, there is too much going against Larson to consider him at 5-1. Additionally, we need to see a Chevy win on a non-restrictor plate track before they can be considered.

Martin Truex Jr. (5-1): The back-to-back winner will be starting the race from the seventh position. While Truex had a lot of success on 1.5-mile tracks last year, he has off to a much slower start this year. As we covered earlier, Truex does not have teammate Erik Jones in the same race shop, and that could be hurting their ability to share information and work together. Truex was middle of the pack over a 10-lap average in practice, which is not great when considering where the team was last year at this time. 5-1 is too low, as Truex is in need of significant race improvements to be in the Harvick/Busch conversation.

Brad Keselowski (10-1): This has not been Keselowski’s best track as he has only one top-5 finish in the last four races. Additionally, he has a career average finish of 13.4 at Kansas Speedway. Keselowski will start in the fifth position, which is a prime spot, considering that 50% of the race winners have come from the top 5 at Kansas. He was a modest 11th fastest in practice, but he will need much more to be in contention with the two favorites. If Harvick or Busch was to underperform, then Keselowski could be in contention. At 10-1, the odds are still to low when comparing him to Ryan Blaney at the same price.

Ryan Blaney (10-1): Starting next to Harvick on the front row, Blaney should be in contention from the start. He was fifth fastest during practice and is backed by several solid performances at Kansas. Blaney has three top-5 finishes, and he is a plus-10, in average position progression over the last four races at Kansas. At odds of 10-1, Blaney hits the value threshold, and is worth a mid-range selection. As always, please shop around when targeting any wager, but especially a mid-priced race winner.  

Erik Jones (12-1): The odds on Jones are far too low to consider wagering on him to win. Starting 12th or deeper, has only produced seven winner out of twenty-four races at Kansas. Jones has not had much success at Kansas, which is combined with his less than optimal starting spot. In his last three starts at Kansas, he has not finished in the top 10. Jones has an average finish of 28th at Kansas. He was ninth fastest during practice but he did not make a run of over 10-laps. There are many drivers who have displayed a factor which could make them a contender in the right circumstances, Jones is not one of those drivers going into the race.

Clint Bowyer (15-1): Unable to get his car to clear inspection for qualifying, Bowyer will start near the back of the field. This hurts his chance to win as the loss of a prime pit stall is incorporated into this penalty. It would take an outstanding run, and some luck to get him into victory lane at his home track. Bowyer was consistent during practice. He was in the top 5 for 10-lap runs, and was third fastest over a 20-lap effort. Starting from the back, Bowyer should not be discounted because he will likely have a top car. Additionally, we have seen strategic decisions that spring a driver from the back to the front, when applied at the right time.

Denny Hamlin (15-1): Starting in the sixth position, and with one top 5 in the last four races at Kansas, Hamlin looks like an outside contender. Kansas has not been one of his better recent tracks as he has an average finish of 20th. Showing good practice speeds over both a 10-lap and 15-lap average, Hamlin will need to stay out of trouble to have a shot to win. Hamlin has been his own worst enemy as he has made several key pit road infractions this year which have cost him the chance win on more than one occasion. If he runs clean, and the car progresses well, Hamlin could be a contender. He is well placed at the same odds as Bowyer, but for totally different reasons.

Jimmie Johnson (15-1): Starting deep in the field and not displaying a lot of speed during practice, Johnson appears behind the contenders again this weekend. Over the course of the race, he could make his way to the top-10, but it will take a lot for him to progress much further. These odds are not justifiable even when considering his past success. Both Johnson and Chevy are struggling. Until they can straighten out their issues, he is not an option for race winner on a 1.5-mile track. 

Joey Logano (16-1): Although Logano has two wins at Kansas in his last 10 starts, it has not been a track of recent success for him. Logano has shown speed this weekend by being in the top 10 for practice runs of both 10 laps and 15 laps. He will start ninth, and there could be some hidden value at current odds. Logano has quietly been solid this year and while he is an outside contender, he could quickly find himself in the top 5. These odds create what appears to be approximate the same value as Blaney at 10-1.   

Kurt Busch (20-1): With similar practice and qualifying results as Logano, Busch also appears to carry limited value. The elder of the Busch brothers has a strong recent history at Kansas with two top-5 finishes in his last four races. We know that Stewart-Haas cars have been at the top of the series, and Busch is likely somewhat undervalued in this spot. While I would still lean to others as a longshot, but there is merit on taking a swing with Busch. 

Aric Almirola (30-1): Based on the raw numbers, Almirola is the best value on the board at current odds. Starting from the fourth position, Almirola backed it up with a very good practice session, running in the top 5 for all lap distances. It would not be surprising to see him in winning contention for the entire race. If the setup is slightly off for Harvick or Busch, Almirola could find himself leading the race. Additionally, after last year’s injury at Kansas Speedway, Almirola is highly motivated to rebound well.  

Below are the matchups that made the cut for wagering this weekend. Please check all odds before wagering. 

Martin Truex Jr. (-110):
Kyle Busch (-110): Busch has speed and history on his side this weekend. Additionally, Busch is leading all drivers with a matchup record of 23-7 at non-restrictor plate tracks this year.


Jimmie Johnson (plus 115):
Clint Bowyer (-135): Although Bowyer is starting deeper than Johnson, there is very little stiff competition between them. I expect Bowyer to move up quickly, and run with a faster group than Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson (-110):
Kurt Busch (-110): Busch appears to have the better setup and situation heading into the race. This is in addition to having more recent success at Kansas.

Matt Kenseth (-110):
Aric Almirola (-110): The #6 car taken over by Matt Kenseth in his NASCAR return, may not be at the same level as many of the other contenders. While Kenseth may need a race to get back into form, Almirola looks to be undervalued in this matchup of race longshots.


Top 25 Power Ranking for Kansas Speedway - KC Masterpiece 400

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