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Best Bet for Shriners Children’s 500 at Phoenix Raceway

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On Sunday the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway. Sunday’s race will be 312 laps around the 1-mile “flat” tri-oval. This will be the first of eight races the Cup Series will run at short flat tracks in 2024. This represents an increase over 2023. This year the Cup Series will hold a race at Iowa Speedway for the first time.

Looking back to the seven races at short flat tracks in 2023 one team in particular had a stark difference between the first and the second half of the year. The first three races were at Phoenix 1, Martinsville 1, and Richmond 1. In those races, the team had an average running position of 10.32. The team also had an average incident-adjusted speed rank of 9.66. The next three races were at New Hampshire, Richmond 2, and Martinsville 2. In those races, the team had an average running position of 15.43 and an average incident-adjusted speed rank of 17.25.

At the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix in November the team got a little better. In that race the team had an average running position of 13.5 and an average incident adjusted speed of 12.14. However, in the Championship race, two of the drivers were in the Championship Four.

If you haven’t figured out which team I’m talking about by now, it’s Hendrick Motorsports. Given this trend, I’ve identified a matchup against one of the Hendrick drivers that I think offers good value for this weekend.

Denny Hamlin +115 over Kyle Larson | Superbook

(Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Compared to Hendrick, Denny Hamlin was a model of consistency in 2023. He never had an average running position outside the Top 10 at a short flat track. Outside of the Championship, where he was 11th, he was also always inside the Top 10 in incident-adjusted speed. Across all 7 races, Denny’s average running position was 6.37 compared to 7.65 for Larson.

This week when I compiled Front Runners for Win The Race I focused on Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire. I took out Martinsville as that track is somewhat more unusual than the other tracks. Looking at those five races Denny and Larson are largely a toss-up. And that includes the Championship race where Larson was getting “championship equipment.”

A few more facts favor Denny in this race that are worth quickly discussing. First, this will be the first race in the new lower downforce short track package. This means that for the first time in the Gen 7 car Chevrolet is being forced to adapt to new car conditions. This means the field should be leveled some from the past two years where Chevy has been able to dial in its short track configurations. Second, in the low downforce test last year, Denny’s teammate, Christopher Bell was clearly the class of the field. Given these stats and the overall trend of Hendrick vs the consistency of Denny, I was happy to get Denny at +115 in this matchup. This should at worst be a toss-up, so I would take this down to +105.