The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the third race of 2021 on a 1.5-mile track and data is starting to build.
The Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway held quite a few surprises – perhaps, in part, because it was run at a different time of the year than drivers were accustomed. Homestead was the season-ender from the first year NASCAR implemented the playoff-style format until 2019. Last year Homestead was supposed to be run in the spring before the lockdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic shook things up.
Cooler temperatures, a different sense of urgency, or simply happenstance helped several fresh faces find the front of the pack, including the winner William Byron.
The Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was more predictable, but still held a surprise or two. As a result, only four drivers swept the top 10 in two "cookie-cutter" races so far this season. These include the winners: Byron from Homestead and Kyle Larson from Vegas.
Last week’s Instacart 500k at Phoenix Raceway may have been the most predictable race so far in 2021 and it may just signal a change in direction. In the first five races of this season, there have been five unique winners. That streak could easily extend one more week as some heavy hitters have not yet graced Victory Lane.
Oddsmakers did not quite know what to do with Larson (+650) at the beginning of the season. He was ranked ninth among active odds at Daytona for both the oval and the road course, improved slightly to either fifth or sixth for the next three races – and that is where he was when he won the Pennzoil 400 with a +900.
And while the odds do not show a high return on investment, there is a strong possibility that Larson could win. He is the only driver with a pair of top-fives on the "cookie-cutter" tracks. Larson was high on our list of potential winners at Vegas. We noted that Larson was ready to win almost any weekend because of the strength he showed in his new Hendrick Motorsports ride. Larson did not show any sign of slowing last week at Phoenix and could become the first to get multiple wins this year.
Best Bets for a top five
Harvick (+550) had a streak of seven top-10s on 1.5-mile tracks to his credit when the QuikTrip 500 rolled around last year. He was nearly always at the top of the charts and his odds for last year’s edition of this event were +500. After winning that race, Harvick continued to be a challenger each week with four top-fives and a 10th in his next six races on the track type. If the streak of new winners continues in 2021, Harvick is a good bet to be the driver who accomplishes that feat.
Now that he has won, a floodgate could open for Truex (+650). The bookmakers certainly believe so since they have elevated him to the rank of second. Last year, he was listed a +900, which was about fifth-best. The No. 19 team struggled most places last year. The 1.5-milers were no exception and Truex failed to win. With three results outside the top 10 in 11 events, he lost some of his mystique. He finished second twice, at Kentucky and Texas, so it is possible he will reclaim his crown as the "cookie-cutter" king.
Longshot: Alex Bowman (+3500) was one of the favorites last year at Atlanta at +800. He has made mistakes in 2021, but wins by teammates Byron and Larson on this course type underscore just how strong the organization is. Bowman is a dark horse this week, but if his odds stay in this range, he only needs to hit once or twice to cover a weekly bet.
Ryan Blaney (+1600) is another solid value this week. His is ranked ninth in terms of odds, but there is a large drop off from Kyle Busch and those extra 600 points for a driver with almost the same amount of risk demands some attention. Blaney finished 11th or better in all but one of last year’s races on the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks with three third-place finishes to show for his effort.
Best Bets for a top 10
Kyle Busch (+1000) had some of his old swagger back last week. That will be important at Atlanta because his last true taste of success came on a similarly-configured track in Texas. When Busch won the Xfinity 500, he was listed at +1100. Oddsmakers’ impression of him has not improved much this week. He is only on the cusp of making the top five this week, in our estimation, because his average finish on this track type in the past 10 races is 6.9.
Longshot: No one expected Christopher Bell (+2500) to score his first victory on a road course. He should be much more comfortable on tracks that require a driver to search out a better groove, but Bell is capable of surprising the field on a few more occasions. Three of his last five 1.5-mile attempts ended in results of 10th or better, including a third at Texas last fall.
Joey Logano (+775) was uneven on the 1.5-mile tracks last year, but he is one of only two drivers to win multiple events on this course type. Logano won the spring Pennzoil 400 at Vegas and advanced to the Championship 4 with another victory in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. We’re having a hard time recommending him because of his modest runs at Homestead and Vegas so far in 2021, but at PointsBet he is listed with +250 odds to finish in the top three and that is achievable.
We are close, but not quite ready to suggest avoiding Chase Elliott (+775) outright on unrestricted, intermediate speedways for the foreseeable future. He seems to have a bit of a hangover from winning the championship last year and seems to lose concentration late in races. He will reverse course, but it may be a while before he contends for a 1.5-mile victory. He has only one top-10 in his last eight starts on this track type. Neither of those came in the first two races this season with a 14th at Homestead and 13th at Vegas.
William Byron (+2000) is the 10th-ranked driver this week in terms of odds. The stats could go either way for this driver because he won the Homestead race with a line of +3000. Oddsmakers were gun shy the next week at Vegas and moved him to +1600. He finished eighth in Nevada, so they have split the difference for Atlanta. He is a better bet at +500 to finish in the top three.
Denny Hamlin (+700) is one of the oddsmakers’ favorites with the fourth-ranked wager. Based on his fourth-place finish at Vegas, he is capable, but a modest return on his investment makes him a questionable value.
Brad Keselowski (+775) also has relatively low odds. He has 11 top-10s in the last 13 races on 1.5-mile tracks, but very few of these were top-fives. It is likely that he will draw a lot of money based on his second at Vegas, but if he finishes in the top 10 we expect it will be on the high single digits.
As usual, Kurt Busch (+2500) is on the cusp of being a great value. As we noted earlier this season [/edge/article/best-bets/kurt-busch-perennial-longshot-books], he doesn’t need to hit very often to cover a modest weekly bet, and he has one or two races a year each season since 2013.
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