Watkins Glen presents rare hope for playoff berth

By Jeff Cogliandro  (VSiN City newsletter) 

With only five races remaining until the playoffs begin, several drivers are viewing Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen as a last-chance qualifier to make the postseason. 

Drivers who excel in road course racing can often find themselves just below a fringe playoff spot, where only a win can spring them into the playoffs. This will be another such offering, as A.J. Allmendinger, Daniel Suarez and others desperately attempt to secure a ticket to the postseason.

Cars will go through post-qualifying inspection on Sunday morning. This is could lead to drivers being sent to the rear as we saw last week. Please keep this in mind when timing your wagers, and be sure to check your dedicated sources leading up to the drop of the green flag. 

It is important to consider the impact on being sent to the back of the field. As we saw last week, 13 quality drivers were all sent back. In some cases, this is really not as bad as it seems. Take winner Kyle Busch, for example. He was sent to the back after failing inspection, but actually started 28th because so many other drivers were also sent to the rear. (Drivers are lined up by owners points when sent to the back of the field.) What do you think happens? In under 5 laps, he blows through the cars lined up in front of him like a hot knife through butter, to get to 14th place. With a top pit crew and fast car, he is able to orchestrate his day as almost normal. From that point, he becomes a main contender and goes on to win the race. 

When handicapping, it is really important to consider the context of what has happened and to how many. Further, the examination of the adjusted starting lineup in comparison to the movement of the market is key because there are many underfunded teams in the race. These underserved teams are just are not in the conversation when it comes to contesting top drivers who are lined up deeper. 

It was not surprising to see the train of top drivers who were penalized quickly move up. With all the moving parts leading up to a race, examining the entire starting lineup, relative to the ability to progress through the field is generally a solid practice.  

Let’s take a look at some of the stats that are reflective of a race at Watkins Glen.

  • 27 of 35 (77%) of the races won at Watkins Glen have come from a top 10 starting position.
  • 20 of the 27 (74%) winners who started in the top 10, started from an odd starting position. (Ex: 1,3,5,7,9) 
  • 18 of 35 (51%) races have been won from a top 3 starting spot
  • Martin Truex Jr. started third and won last year’s race.

Below are some of the contenders and what they have to offer going into the race. All of the listed starting spots are based on cars passing inspection.

Kyle Busch (plus 200): The deserving favorite without question. Starting in the second spot, Busch has been in a league of his own this weekend. He has a tendency to downplay how good his car really is. Based on consistent lap times and lateral movement, his car looks to be excellent. If I am picking one driver to win, he would be it.

 

Kevin Harvick (4-1): Starting 16th, Harvick has been slightly off this weekend. While it is likely he will contend over the course of the race, the current odds do not support his true chance to win. 

Martin Truex Jr. (4-1): When evaluating most of the critical factors that we cover, it’s pretty clear that Truex is more deserving of this price when compared to Harvick. The defending winner has been in the top 3 all weekend and has a qualifying spot and pit selection to back it up. 

Brad Keselowski (9-1): Lined up 18th, with an average finish of 9th in the last two races at Watkins Glen is Keselowski. He has not been amongst the standout cars this weekend. However, Keselowski could have some built up frustration as he spun in the final laps of the Xfinity race, going for the victory against eventual winner Joey Logano.

Joey Logano (9-1): Starting in the sixth position, Logano appears to be more worthy of this price in comparison to his teammates. With a good starting spot, this former winner is just on the fringe of a possible wager.

Chase Elliott (8-1): Starting in the third spot, Elliott has a chance to get his first win. He and Kyle Larson have the two best Chevys in the field. If he were listed with or above Denny Hamlin, that would make a more attractive wager. Please keep your eyes on these odds if playing against Kyle Busch or Truex.

Denny Hamlin (10-1): Down from 15-1 is Hamlin, who looks very sharp this weekend. Starting from the pole, he will have every opportunity to run well and possibly get the win. At his current price, he is right at the threshold to take a shot. 

Clint Bowyer (10-1): Bowyer has the best average finish (3.3) of any driver in the last three road course races. While his car appears to be strong, he is starting back in 19th position, which hurts his overall chances. I think the current odds of 10-1 are simply too low for consideration. However, he makes for a good underdog in matchup play.

Kurt Busch (14-1): Starting two spots behind Bowyer is Busch, who will go off in 21st position. Like Bowyer, he has shown good extended speed during practice. His value is right on key with Bowyer, and it is likely that strategy would play a role if either driver were to win.

A.J. Allmendinger (20-1): Lined up in eighth position after a good qualifying run is the desperate Allmendinger. Based on where he has qualified, his odds actually hit target. So if you are playing against the Big 2, Allmendinger is worth a ticket. There is little doubt that he struggles when he pushes it too hard, but there is less doubt about his driving skill on the road courses. The major concerns I have for Allmendinger is his ability to compete on pit road, and not let the magnitude of the situation get the better of him or his team.

Ryan Blaney (25-1): Lined up in the 11th spot is Blaney, who is progressing quickly on road courses. He is at a stage in his career where we see talented drivers start to get it when it comes to road racing. While he showed good speed in practice, he is placed about where he deserves to be. 

Erik Jones (30-1): Jones appears to be a better value than Blaney. He will start from the ninth spot, and he showed top-5 speed in a few practice lap measurables this weekend. If considering a longshot play, Jones should be included on the ticket.

Daniel Suarez (40-1): Unfortunately, Suarez has not had the type of weekend that would have made him a juicy longshot. With a deep starting spot of 23rd, Suarez has more than his share of work to do. Keep in mind that Suarez must win to make the playoffs. If he can get into the top 10, there is a possibility for trickery on pit road. They must do anything they can to make the playoffs, and this is his best chance.

Kyle Larson (40-1): This one surprises me a little as Larson, who qualified fifth is likely one of the two best Chevys in the race. We also know that 62% of the winners have come from the top 5 at Watkins Glen. Larson was a top 5 car in happy hour over the long run. With his talent level and analytics, 40-1 shows good value and is worth wagering on.

Below are the matchups that have made the cut for this week.

Denny Hamlin (-120): over Kurt Busch (even):

Hamlin has looked strong all weekend. The former winner at Watkins Glen has the supporting cast to get his first victory of the season. He will need to stay clean on pit road and watch the penalties. If he runs as expected this should be a good matchup for him.

Chase Elliott (-115): over Kurt Busch (-105):

Again we see that Chase Elliott is poised with one of the best cars on the track as he tries to get his first win. Like Ryan Blaney, this emerging road course racer looks to continue his improvement. While Kurt Busch has been decent this weekend, he has not had the speed to measure with either Hamlin or Elliott.

Clint Bowyer (plus 150): over Kevin Harvick (-170): 

Showing consistent speed all weekend, and having the best recent average finishes on road courses helps make Bowyer a play. However, it’s the large value on the underdog Bowyer that puts this wager over the top to propel it to the betting window.

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