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Denny Hamlin
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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AdventHealth 400 Dark Horses

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: May 12, 2022, 10:25 am ET

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The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks are too important to overlook. Last year there were 10 races on doglegged and double-doglegged ovals of this length. The reconfiguration of Atlanta Motor Speedway has, for the moment at least, removed it from this handicapping formula because changes to the surface instituted pack-racing and made that track more similar to Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway.

There are still plenty of tracks to compare to Kansas Speedway.

While looking at this track, we consider the records on Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway as well the inactive Chicagoland Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway. At various times, this track type amounted to 25 percent or greater of the schedule – and while it takes the complete package of a well-financed organization, exceptional driver, and crafty crew to run well on them, that is where team's often put the lion's share of their effort.

Deepening the data pool, Kansas expanded to two races per season a decade ago, which means that veteran teams have a thick set of notes from which to work. Last year, the spring Buschy McBusch 400 and fall Hollywood Casino 400 showed remarkable consistency between the two races and with several drivers boasting current three- and four-race streaks of top-10s there, this is a track where recent stats must be considered.

The PointsBet Sportsbook traders don't think of Denny Hamlin (+800) as a dark horse because they had him ranked third-best mid-week at 8/1, but with only one top-10 in the first 12 races and an average finish of 22.3, it's impossible to make him a favorite. There has not been any single problem where Hamlin is concerned; this team has found a myriad of ways to derail their effort and when they've been mistake-free, fate has intervened. The No. 11 team and Hamlin are too strong to ignore completely, however, and they won back-to-back Kansas races in fall 2019 and spring 2020.

Alex Bowman's (+1600) win at Las Vegas should put him on your radar screen. So should three top-fives and a ninth in last year's 10 "cookie-cutter" races. He's listed at 16/1 for a reason, and that is because he failed to crack the top 10 in either Kansas race last year. He swept that mark in 2020, however, and only one of his last seven attempts there ended worse than 11th. He's situationally a strong pick this week if he fits the right niche on a fantasy roster.

When we compile our notes at the beginning of the week, we run a script in a database of nearly 700,000 records that include not only race results, but strength-based stats provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. On similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, Joey Logano (+1200) would be ranked seventh with those numbers, but too often in 2021, he faded at the ends of these races and has only two top-10s. He was no better at Vegas this spring and finished 14th. He has three Kansas wins, however, with the most recent in 2020. He's coming off last week's controversial Goodyear 400 victory and that could give him the momentum needed to turn his season around.

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The changing of the guard means there are several drivers we would have considered dark horses in 2021 who deserve greater attention. Austin Dillon (+7000) does not quite rise to that level yet, but he's becoming a racer who must be analyzed on certain track types every time NASCAR rolls in. The similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks fit this criterion. On the unrestricted, similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, he enters the weekend with a 12-race streak of top-15s that includes four top-10s. He barely missed that mark in the Pennzoil 400 at Vegas with an 11th. If you can find plus odds for a top-10, take them.

Chris Buescher (+15000) lacks the consistency needed to make him a must-have this week, but he was occasionally strong on this track type in 2021. With a seventh on the old version of Atlanta and eighth-place finishes at Kansas and Charlotte, he made himself relevant for fantasy players, although he was never a threat to finish in the top five and was not high on any bettor's list. He's performed well enough to be considered this week with eight results of 16th or better in the first 12 races of 2022.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+9000) has not performed well enough at Kansas in recent seasons to elevate him in our Power Rankings formula and among the dark horse drivers we are profiling this week, we have the least confidence in him. He has been known to surprise us, however, and this week he enters with back-to-back top-10s for the first time since 2018. Last week's eighth at Darlington was aided by attrition, but his second at Dover was well-earned.

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Dark Horses for the 2022 Pennzoil 400 [Las Vegas 1]
2021 Hollywood Casino 400 [Kansas 2]
Buschy McBusch 400 [Kansas]

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.