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Best bet for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Championship Race

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The final race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season is upon us. Sunday the Cup Series will take to the track one last time at Phoenix Raceway. The Cup Series hasn’t raced at a short flat in quite some time. The last short flat event was Richmond, back in late July. Nevertheless, Phoenix, particularly the Championship Race, is a fairly predictable track. So lets break down how I’m handicapping this race.

The three traditional short-flat tracks are Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire. Martinsville is sometimes added to this list, but I don’t include it as a comparable track. When looking at my incident adjusted speed metric, the correlation between between Martinsville and Phoenix just isn’t strong enough. I do consider recent speed in general, which brings in a touch of Martinsville for this race. The inclusion of Martinsville though is due to recency, not because the track is otherwise all that similar.

The Championship race also brings in the added twist of the Championship 4 drivers being clear favorites. Since the move to the current playoff format in 2014, a Championship 4 driver has won the season finale every year. This trend is unlikely to end in 2023. The odds reflect this, with all four Championship 4 drivers having odds at +400 or shorter. The next shortest driver is Kevin Harvick, who’s odds are around +1300 at most books.

The short odds for the Championship 4 drivers mean that I’m not seeing value in the outright market. However, as discussed below, it has opened up some value in another market that I’m heavily invested in. With that said, lets get to the picks…

Brad Keseloski to Finish Top 10 | +200 (Bet 365)

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Brad’s track history here is fine, though it is not particularly awing. In 28 starts he has 13 Top 10 finishes, for a respectable, but not amazing Top 10 rate of 46.4%. That said, even if that was the only factor we looked at, at 46% Top 10 rate would translate to odds of +117. At +200, which implies just a 33% Top 10 race, we are getting a massive edge over that number.

Looking to 2023 there are plenty of reasons to think that Keseloski is far more than 33% likely to finish in the Top 10. In the four races this year at Phoenix (1), New Hampshire (1), and Richmond (2), no driver has been inside the Top 10 more than Brad (86.81% of laps completed). Brad is three of four finishing in the Top 10 at those races and had a Top 5 car at Phoenix 1 before the late race restarts ruined his day.

If we look at how RFK is tending over the past year and a half the performance at short flat tracks also stands out. Since the second Richmond race in 2022 RFK has consistently brough speed to the short flat tracks. These improvements cumulated with Chris Buescher winning the second Richmond race earlier this year.

We do have to take into account the higher than average probability that all four Championship drivers will finish inside the Top 10. Which means that we should make some adjustment down to drivers like Keselowski. Even with an adjustment down, the speed Brad/RFK have brought to short flats this year cannot be overlooked. +200 simply doesn’t make sense for the driver with the most Top 10 laps at this track type in 2023. I would bet this down to +125.

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