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Best Bets

Beaver’s Best Bets for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 13, 2021, 4:47 pm ET

NASCAR leaves the chaos of back-to-back wild card races behind and heads to the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for the first race of the Round of 8. Once upon a time, this track type was among the most predictable. As NASCAR’s parity reached its current level, an increasing number of dark horses began to earn top-10s there, however. They tend to run to a type and are the second or third drivers in marquee stables.

The effect of that parity is streaks have become more difficult to create and maintain. In seven races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Kansas Speedway this year, only one driver, (Kyle Busch), has swept the top 10. Several others have come close and there are a few asterisks behind some of those sub-10th-place results that make them stronger than the raw numbers indicate.

That makes this a tricky race to handicap, especially with six drivers under the 10/1 mark. The Return on Investment (ROI) is modest enough among the favorites to alter the betting strategy and keep you from spreading your budget too thin. Only one driver has scored two victories on this track type in 2021, so there is not a lot of help to be had from that statistic.

As you plan for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas, it will pay to keep detailed notes for next week’s Kansas race. The finishing results might get shaken up between the two events, but the drivers who run strong in the middle stages of both events will be the same.

Proposed Winner

Last year Ky. Busch (+725) came to Texas after having been eliminated from playoff contention. He was having a terrible year and with each passing week got progressively frustrated. He won that race. There were still a lot of open questions regarding his performance entering this season and it was with some relief to his team that he won the Buschy McBusch 400.

With the most recent wins on the next two tracks, Busch will be a solid pick both weeks. That gives him a great chance to advance to the Championship 4 because three drivers are likely to lock in with a victory. Should he need to rely on points, it could get trickier – especially if Kyle Larson fails to win with his massive bonus point lead and becomes the most like points advancer.

Wins in NASCAR can be unpredictable, so it is not only the Texas and Kansas victories that recommend him. While he has struggled elsewhere, Busch has been one of the most consistently strong "cookie-cutter" drivers in the past two seasons. Dating back to the beginning of the 2020 playoffs, he has eight top-five finishes, a sixth, and a worst of 10th in 10 events. Even if he misses the top spot, he will be close at Texas.

Best Bets for a top five

Should Larson (+325) be the favorite? With seven wins to his credit and two of them coming on this track type, it seems silly to say otherwise. Placing him second this week has as much to do with his value as his chances to win. So much can go wrong during a NASCAR race that placing a large wager with under 4/1 odds is not worth the effort unless you have a very strong feeling. The proof of this is in the fact that three of Larson’s last four similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track races ended 10th or worse.

Chase Elliott (+725) needs to win. Last week Kevin Harvick took two shots at him during the Charlotte Roval race and managed to wreck him once, but any sense of relief that gave the driver of the No. 4 was quickly dissipated by his elimination from the playoffs and Elliott’s ascension. Elliott is probably safe on the high speed 1.5-mile tracks, but if he goes to Martinsville without the protection a win gives, he will be in danger. The No. 9 has two runner-up finishes, a fifth, and a seventh in his last four 1.5-mile attempts.

Denny Hamlin (+625) won the opening race of the first two rounds of the playoffs, so he cannot be ignored this week. One of these came on the similarly-configured track in Vegas and he has two other top-fives in the six 1.5-mile races preceding it. He is the only driver with a perfect record of top-10s since the championship field was set and momentum can be hard to break.

One never knows when a driver will break out of his funk. Joey Logano (+1500) advanced through the first two rounds on consistency, but he has to know that will not get him to the Championship 4. He’s going to have to win or string top-fives together – and if one looks only at his recent record, they will be worried. If Logano is going have a resurgence, Texas is an ideal place for that to happen because he has finished worse than seventh only twice in the last 10 Texas races and one of these was a 10th. He won the 2014 spring race on this track.

Best Bets for a top 10

Success is the best revenge. If Harvick (+1400) wants to prove his current worth, the best way to do so is to win and extend an 11-year streak with at least one victory. The 1.5-mile tracks would be a good place for Harvick to turn things around. Last year, Busch won on this course after being eliminated from the playoffs so there would be a certain amount of symmetry. Equally important, if the parameters are extended to the past five seasons, Harvick is ranked second in terms of 1.5-mile track wins with seven to Martin Truex Jr.’s 10. In 51 starts on this course type since the beginning of 2017, Harvick has earned 27 top-fives, which also ranks second to Truex.

Truex’s (+800) win at Richmond during the Round of 16 was a surprise, but then again it seems that everything he’s done this year has caught us off guard. He got his playoffs off to a great start with four consecutive results of seventh or better, but he sustained damage in each of the last two races. Momentum has been lost with less reason, but Truex has an innate talent for the 1.5-mile tracks. Of course, his 10 wins on them in the past five years all came when NASCAR was still hosting practice and qualification.

Ryan Blaney (+900) is one of six drivers to win on 1.5-mile tracks this year. He was victorious in Atlanta 1, and when he has brought his “A” game, he’s easily finished in the top five; in fact, he enters the week with back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the last two races on this course type. Blaney was in contention for a second victory at Kansas this spring when he was the victim of an overly enthusiastic bump draft from Larson that sent both drivers outside the top 15.

Normally, we would mention Tyler Reddick (+4000) in the dark horse post, but his recent results on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks have become so strong that he warrants inclusion here. Reddick made the playoffs on points, but almost qualified with a victory at Homestead this spring when he finished second to William Byron. His next two attempts were not great, but beginning with the spring Kansas race, he has swept the top 10 in the last four events. With odds of 40/1, his top-five and -10 lines will be drug to a plus position. Reddick finished second to his teammate Austin Dillon (+5000) at Texas in spring 2020.

Kurt Busch (+3300) won Atlanta 2 this summer and qualified for the playoffs. Over the course of the past several seasons, he has been a mostly consistent top-15 finisher with flashes of greatness, but this season has been a little more erratic. And since Texas gave up their traditional spring date, we have little way of knowing if his historic consistency will have as much weight as it should. However, bettors will want to be aware of the fact that Busch has 11 top-five finishes and a 14th in his last 13 Texas attempts. None of these were top-fives.

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Cookie Cutter finishes – 2017+

Through Las Vegas 2

Driver

Wins

Top-3s

Top-5s

Top-10s

Top-15s

Starts

Martin Truex, Jr.

10

24

30

43

45

51

Kevin Harvick

7

16

27

40

44

51

Kyle Busch

6

19

27

37

41

51

Brad Keselowski

5

13

19

34

40

51

Denny Hamlin

5

9

20

27

37

51

Joey Logano

4

10

14

31

37

51

Kurt Busch

3

5

9

30

32

51

Kyle Larson

2

13

18

27

32

41

Chase Elliott

2

11

18

27

39

51

Austin Dillon

2

2

3

11

31

51

Ryan Blaney

1

7

17

28

36

51

Alex Bowman

1

4

9

17

23

40

William Byron

1

1

3

14

17

40

Cole Custer

1

1

1

2

5

19

 

Erik Jones

 

3

8

22

27

51

Matt DiBenedetto

 

3

4

6

13

51

Tyler Reddick

 

2

3

10

13

19

Daniel Suarez

 

2

2

7

20

51

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

 

1

3

5

25

51

Aric Almirola

 

1

2

16

26

49

Christopher Bell

 

1

1

7

7

18

 

Best in top five

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Buescher

 

 

 

10

16

51

Ryan Newman

 

 

 

7

18

50

Bubba Wallace

 

 

 

2

7

41

Michael McDowell

 

 

 

1

7

51

 

Ross Chastain

 

 

 

 

2

31

Ryan Preece

 

 

 

 

2

29

Chase Briscoe

 

 

 

 

2

7

Corey LaJoie

 

 

 

 

1

47

 

Timmy Hill

 

 

 

 

 

33

BJ McLeod

 

 

 

 

 

31

Joey Gase

 

 

 

 

 

25

Quin Houff

 

 

 

 

 

23

Josh Bilicki

 

 

 

 

 

20

Garrett Smithley

 

 

 

 

 

19

Cody Ware

 

 

 

 

 

12

Justin Haley

 

 

 

 

 

7

Anthony Alfredo

 

 

 

 

 

7

James Davison

 

 

 

 

 

4

Austin Cindric

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driver

Wins

Top-3s

Top-5s

Top-10s

Top-15s

Starts

Jimmie Johnson

1

1

5

11

22

44

Clint Bowyer

 

2

5

12

30

44

Ty Dillon

 

 

 

1

5

44

David Ragan

 

 

 

 

2

33

JH Nemechek

 

 

 

 

1

13

Landon Cassill

 

 

 

 

 

31

JJ Yeley

 

 

 

 

 

24

 

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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.