On Sunday Ricky Stenhouse edged out Joey Logano to win the Daytona 500 under caution. As a holder of a Logano +1300 ticket that finish hurt. A lot. Despite the less than ideal finish on Sunday, 2023 Speedweek was still profitable and we head back across the country to Auto Club in Southern California up 3.55 units thanks to Alex Bowman winning the Pole and Logano winning his Duel on Thursday.
Sunday will be the last the time the Cup Series runs at Auto Club in its current 2 mile tri-oval format. Following this race Auto Club is going to be reconfigured, likely into a short track of some sort, and the Cup Series will not be back to the new track until at least 2025. In any event, in its current format Auto Club has 14 degree banking in the turns and very high tire wear. With its significantly lower banking as compared to Daytona the racing at Auto Club is nothing like what we saw last week. This means nothing we “learned” last week is going to help in projecting Auto Club.
Projecting the Final Auto Club Race
The high-speed high tire wear tracks historically correlated with Auto Club are Homestead and Darlington. At times some handicappers have included Michigan in the list of comparable tracks, given that the tracks are of similar length, but there was minimal correlation between the two tracks in 2022. Stewart Hass Racing associate shop foreman, Brian Murphy, noted that “Auto Club isn’t relatable to Michigan in any way, shape or form.” So I trust that the lack of correlation is meaningful.
Conversely, I am going to continue including Homestead in my model. Correlation with between Auto Club and the single race at Homestead was down to just an r squared of .577 for incident adjusted speed. At .577 the most that I would normally say is that the drivers who are better overall were likely good at both events. Given that Auto Club was just the second points race and third race ever with the Gen 7 car the inconsistency makes some sense though.
Further adding to the confusion, correlation with Las Vegas an intermediate track, in a similar climate to that of Auto Club, and which moved into the higher wear category last year was inconsistent. Correlation between Auto Club and Las Vegas was high for the first Vegas race but was lower than the correlation between Auto Club and Homestead for the second race in Las Vegas. As already noted though, Auto Club and Las Vegas 1 were early in the season. Teams were still figuring out the new car, Toyota in particular had significant issues at intermediates early in 2022. This means I’m going to view the 2022 data with a skeptical eye.
With regards to which tracks to consider, I’m largely falling back on prior years data and looking at tracks with historical correlation to Auto Club. The exception to this is that I’m adding Phoenix to my model. Although Phoenix is just half the length of Auto Club and has less banking, the similar climate of the two tracks seems to result in some correlation and adding Phoenix into my model has helped its accuracy. I’m also making some manual adjustments to the Toyotas since they had early issues but came on strong at the intermediate tracks later in 2022.
.1u Noah Gragson +8000 to win | Widely Available
I’m starting with the longshot this week because I have a feeling Noah Gragson could be my 2023 version of Tyler Reddick in 2022. Last year it seemed like every week I found a reason to bet on Tyler Reddick. Like 2022 Reddick, 2023 Gragson is an exceptionally talented young driver, who is in mid-tier equipment. Reddick rewarded me with several big wins last year and I feel that Noah is well positioned to do the same in 2023. So, while it’s nice to know I’m generally high on Gragson this year, what you probably want to know is why am I specifically betting on him this week?
Simply put Gragson is strong at high-speed high-wear tracks. Last year in the Xfinity Series Gragson finished second in the first Darlington race, won the second race there. Gragon won the Xfinity race at Homestead and finished second here at Auto Club. In the Auto Club race he led 25 laps and recorded 19 fastest laps.
Gragson doesn’t have the equipment advantage he had last year. JR Motorsports is an elite level Xfinity team, while Legacy Motor Club is a mid-tier Cup Series team. This means Gragson will have to rely more on his pure talent to win, however he has plenty of that and his equipment shouldn’t stop his talent from shining through. His teammate, Erik Jones, nearly won at Auto Club last year and did win the Southern 500 at Darlington. Even 2022 Legacy Motor Club equipment in the hands of a talented driver was clearly up to the challenge of winning Cup Series races. With Jimmie Johnson putting his stamp on the team there is no reason to think that the quality of the equipment won’t improve adding even more value to this bet.
My expected performance metric has Gragson as a solid upper-mid tier driver this week. At +10000 however he is priced well into the back half of the field. For a driver with as much upside as Noah has, that just doesn’t make any sense. I’ve got a tenth of a unit to win 8 units on Gragson at +8000 and I would bet this down to +6500.
.4u William Byron +1800 to win | DraftKings Sportsbook
DraftKings is a bit of an outlier with regards to pricing Byron for this race. Other books have him at +1200 to +1600, which is a more reasonable price in my mind. The first run of my expected performance metric rated Byron as the third best driver for Sunday’s race. Subsequent runs of the model have seen him get as high as first depending on the specific races and factors used.
Bryon was one of the three best cars here in 2022. Before he was caught up in Tyler Reddick’s blown tire incident, Byron had led 16 laps and was in second place at the end of the second stage. Byron was also third in my incident adjusted speed metric. Bottom line, Byron had a car capable of winning here in 2022.
Byron also showed serious speed at the two most relevant comparable tracks, Darlington and Homestead. At Darlington Byron was third in incident adjusted speed in the first race and fifth in adjusted speed in the second race, leading 75 laps across the two races. At Homestead he was only eighth in incident adjusted speed, however he still managed to lead 32 laps, was second in stage 1, and third in in stage 2. In 2021 Byron won at Homestead, driving through the field from his 31st place starting position to dominate the race leading 102 laps. Byron has consistently shown the ability to get it done at this type of track. He hasn’t finished strong at Auto Club, but his raw ability at this type of track means that +1800 is simply too long. I wouldn’t bet him under this price, but at +1800 I’ve got four tenths of a unit to win 7.2 units on Willy B.