NASCAR was dealt a bad hand in two of their new road course races last year. Mother Nature rained on their parade at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), but the problems were self-inflicted at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The decision to demark the track with turtles, (large metal curbing designed to keep drivers from going out of bounds), backfired in a big way as the bolsters deteriorated. Unable to take the strain of cars clipping them, they eventually destroyed many front-runners and created some interesting opportunities for several drivers to earn surprising top-10s.
AJ Allmendinger won with +3000 outright win odds at PointsBet Sportsbook with Matt DiBenedetto (+6000), Erik Jones (+30000), Justin Haley (+50000), Austin Cindric (+2200), and Ryan Newman (+50000) also finishing in sight of the leaders.
Some of these dark horses were completely off most bettors' radar screens, however, which limited their usefulness.
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The turtles caused this race to be an outlier for several normally strong road course contenders. Joey Logano and Martin Truex, Jr. were victims of the track. Denny Hamlin experienced a different setback when he was spun from the lead in the closing laps by Chase Briscoe – who was enthusiastically chasing his first NASCAR Cup win – and who was just about to be blackflagged for jumping the restart.
Since it was an opportunity race, bettors and handicappers had the chance to add some fodder to their systems and get a little insight into how some longshots could fare in the coming seasons.
Cindric showed that he will bring his Xfinity road racing skill to Cup. Haley will also be interesting to watch in 2022 on the twisty tracks because he will have access to Allmendinger's notes as Kaulig Racing moves up a level. We're not talking about top-fives here, because the top spots will continue to be dominated by the usual suspects, but any solid top-10 line should be considered.
Equally important: the marquee road racers avoided the turtles and showed they can be smart and aggressive. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson got shuffled back in traffic when several drivers stayed out on old tires during a late-race caution and since the end of the Verizon 200 devolved into a chaotic mess, they did not have a chance to get back to the lead. Assuming, that is, they could have passed Allmendinger.
The best news is that the rain in Texas and plague of turtles in Indiana did not dampen the enthusiasm for road course racing among the fans or NASCAR. In 2022, both will have a chance to show what racing on those tracks should truly be like.
Also of note, Blaney's second-place finish puts him back in the conversation. His win on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval a few years back was aided by a spin for Truex and Jimmie Johnson. His elevation to the runner-up spot at Indy was likewise buoyed by Hamlin's spin and Briscoe's penalty, but that means he is worthy of an outright win wager if his odds are attractive enough. At the very least he needs to be on the radar for most of the road course races.
1: AJ Allmendinger
None: only one race
Earliest win: AJ Allmendinger (2)
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