The 2022 NASCAR Cup schedule is made up of some interesting groupings. We are coming off a three-race, short track schedule that was interrupted by a carburetor-restricted superspeedway race and then a pair of rough-surfaced tracks. Now the series goes to three consecutive similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with Kansas Speedway on tap this week, the All-star race at Texas Motor Speedway next week, and the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend.
This year has shown a lot of parity. Through 12 races, 30 drivers have earned top-10s. Two-thirds of those have done so in less than 50 percent of the races. For the entirety of 2020 and 2021, the number of top-10 finishers totaled 35 and 37 respectively and the ratio of drivers above the .500 mark was about 25 percent, so it's possible that what we are currently seeing is a front-loading of this stat.
That doesn't make the AdventHealth 400 any easier to handicap, however.
Typically the "cookie-cutters" are at least moderately predictable. With more than a fourth of the schedule made up of similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, teams put the lion's share of their resources and effort into going fast on them. That typically means marquee teams excel, but mid pack drivers find the top of the order with some regularity.
In 2021, five drivers swept the top 10. All of them finished within three positions in the pair. Another four drivers who swept the top 15 finished within four spots from spring to fall. That pattern repeats itself throughout the running order, so this is a good time to concentrate on a driver's Kansas track record.
We'll buck that trend right off, however. Kyle Larson (+600) finished 19th in the spring and won the Hollywood Casino 400 in the fall, but he was running fourth on the last lap of the Buschy McBusch 400 until a green-white-checkered finish shuffled the field. Three of his previous four Kansas races ended in the top 10 as well.
We also had Larson favored last week at Darlington before his spin and subsequent engine failure started an epic massacre of our cheat sheet for the Goodyear 400. Handicapping NASCAR is an ongoing balance of trying not to be either reactionary or stubborn. Larson's stats at Kansas recommend him; his stats for 2022 are erratic, but not bad enough to cause us to push the pause button like we have with Denny Hamlin.
Larson's four similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track wins last year and a second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season underscore his strength. He crashed at Atlanta Motor Speedway to finish only 30th, but that race became a pack-racing lottery with the new configuration and can easily be dropped out of the formula.
Best Bets for a top five
This is a good time for Chase Elliott (+775) to gain some momentum and possibly get a second win. With the still-present specter of an overfilled playoff list, one can never be too careful and multiple victories allow teams to breathe easier and bank bonus points. Elliott has earned seven results of sixth or better in his last nine Kansas attempts, he won there in 2018, and has not finished worse than 12th since 2017. Last year, he swept the top five.
Kevin Harvick's (+1800) winless streak is now 55 races. We'd love to tell you exactly when it will end and having that knowledge would provide a huge payday. When it comes, it won't be at 80/1 like Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, but it's almost certainly going to come with a longshot number. Harvick has been listed at 14/1 or greater in his last 19 races. The PointsBet Sportsbook traders know better than to put him at +3200, which would cover a year's worth of losses, but on tracks where Harvick has a better than .500 top-10 average in recent races, he is worth a bet of a unit or two. Harvick enters Kansas with a four-race, top-five streak there.
Some races are easier to put behind you than others. When you're sitting in the garage having a beer with 12 of your closest friends who have also been eliminated from competition, it's difficult to take an accident personally.
Ross Chastain (+900) was one of our favorites last week on the "Track Too Tough to Tame" despite lacking a long string to top-fives there. The same is true at Kansas and the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks in general. Chastain had a best result of 13th on this track type last year, but he finished third in the Pennzoil 400 at Vegas.
Perhaps Kyle Busch (+850) would not have been frustrated enough to abandon his car on pit road at Darlington Raceway if the incident had happened later in the race after attrition was commonplace. Probably not, because this is a racer who wears his feelings on his sleeve. He is great at putting that behind him as soon as he tastes success again, however, and the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks have been uniformly kind. Since early in 2020, Busch has a .588 top-five and .824 top-10 average on this course type.
The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here!
Best Bets for a top 10
To sum up the 2022 season to date, let's say it has been confusing. It has been a moving target that is incredibly difficult to predict and that, for the moment at least, is causing us to reassess our opinions.
A few weeks ago, we would be more reluctant than now to handicap Martin Truex Jr. (+1000) this high because he has finished outside the top 10 more often than he's been inside that mark in 2022. He's been consistent on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, however. In his last 16 attempts on the unrestricted "cookie-cutter" tracks, he has 13 top-10s, seven of which were top-fives. We're not ready to make him a top-five choice, but he could be a good utility pick on your fantasy roster.
It's a common refrain for us: "Never underestimate a ticked off driver." William Byron (+1000) and Joey Logano had a difference of opinion in the last 25 laps of the Goodyear 400 last week. Logano believes he was retaliating for an earlier move; Byron thinks he just got wrecked. As the aphorism states, "success is the best revenge," and it's highly likely Byron will outperform the No. 22 this week. He's finished sixth or better in his last three unrestricted, similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track attempts.
Through the first 12 races, Ryan Blaney (+1300) is right on the .500 mark regarding top-10s – and while that might not sound overly impressive, it ties him for the fifth-best record in 2022. There have been only a few races in which he truly struggled this year. Most of the six events in which he finished outside the top 10 were occasioned by on-track incidents or mistakes, so we are willing to put them aside for the moment and concentrate on the five results of sixth or better he accumulated in 10 similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races last year.
Tyler Reddick's (+1600) second-place finish last week was aided by the heavy attrition, but it will still give him a ton of momentum heading to a track type that was incredibly kind to him last year. In his last seven attempts on unrestricted, similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, he's earned six top-10s, None of these were top-fives, but he had a second at Homestead-Miami Speedway to start the 2021 season. If you find some money in the couch cushions, spend in of this 16/1 longshot.
Christopher Bell (+2500) got off to a rough start this year with four results outside the top 20 in his first five races. Things began to turn around with his third-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and since then he has earned five results of seventh or better in his last seven starts. His "cookie-cutter" record shows a similar pattern. After getting off to a slow start at the beginning of last year, he ended the season with three top-10s in the last four races and backed that up with a 10th at Vegas.
PointsBet Sportsbook is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links. NJ, IA, IN, IL, CO, MI, VA, WV only. 21+. T&C apply. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER