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Best bets for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway

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The NASCAR Cup Series will run its second road course race of the year on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Sonoma is one of the “traditional” road courses on the Cup Series schedule. The Cup Series first visited Sonoma in 1989. With the exception of the 2020 Covid impacted season, the Cup Series has made one trip to Sonoma every year since then.

The Cup Series will not run the full track at Sonoma. The Cup Series will use the Chute to bypass what would normally be turns 5 and 6. This means that rather than being 2.52 miles in length, the Cup Series circuit is just 1.99 miles long with 12 turns.

When trying to handicap Sonoma my primary focus is on road course and more specifically Sonoma history. There are some drivers who are just good at Sonoma. Additionally, recent speed at all tracks is important. Although there is a significant technical element that makes road courses different than ovals, drivers who are running fast in recent weeks tend to perform better at road courses.

Given the importance of road course performance and recent speed my two bets this week may be a little surprising, but lets get into why I’m fading Austin Cindirc this weekend.

Fade Austin Cindric with a pair of head to head bets

Last Sunday Austin Cindric scored the second win of his Cup Series career. Cindirc was running in second when Ryan Blaney ran out of gas as he took the white flag. This allowed Cindric to steal a win while Blaney faded all the way back to being the last car on the lead lap. This isn’t to say Cindric didn’t have speed. In my incident adjusted speed rankings Cindirc was the third fastest car on the day. Cindric has also had success on road courses in his career. In the Xfinity Series Cindric won 25% of his road course starts in four full time seasons. In the Cup Series seven of Cindric’s 17 Top 10 finishes have come at road courses.

Austin’s win and his road course history can’t cover up what a dreadful season he is having though. Prior to his win at Gateway, Cindric had just one Top 10 finish all year. That lone Top 10 was a fourth place finish at Atlanta, a drafting track. Over his past 36 starts, dating back to Sonoma last year, Cindirc has just five Top 10 finishes. Two of those Top 10 finishes were at drafting courses and another was at the rain shortened Chicago Street Course. Over that time his best incident adjusted speed rank outside of a drafting course was 13th at the Charlotte Roval last fall. Over that same time period his two teammates have a combined 19 Top 10 finishes and two wins. In addition, Ryan Blaney won the 2023 Cup Championship. Simply put, Austin Cindric is not performing the way a Team Penske driver should be.

Given his win last week the books seem to be giving him more credit than I think he deserves, so I’m ready to pounce on these two matchups.

Denny Hamlin -115 over Austin Cindric | Bet365

(Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin does not come to mind for most people when they are compiling lists of strong road course drivers. In 52 road course starts Denny has just one win (1.9%) and 20 Top 10 finishes (38.5%). This is compared to 53 wins in 613 starts at other tracks (8.6%) and 328 Top 10s (53.5%). However, while he hasn’t won at Sonoma, he has put up a number of very strong performances. He has led laps in nine of his 17 starts here and in five starts has led double digit laps.

Over the past year Denny has also been running much better at road courses than Austin Cindric. This week for Front Runners at Win the Race my primary data set is the the six road course races in 2023 and 2024. In those races Denny has a weighted average running position of 12.47. Over that same time period Cindric has an average running position of 19.61.

Some bad luck at the end of races has Cindirc beating Denny in average finishing position. It also means that Denny is just 2-4 over that time period in this matchup. However, even with the higher variance that comes with road course racing, the clearly superior numbers from Denny over this time period mean that I have no problem paying a the juice for Denny in this matchup.

Ross Chastain -118 over Austin Cindric | FanDuel

Ross Chastain has not had the start to the 2024 season that he was hoping for. After winning the Cup Series finale at Phoenix last fall it seemed like Ross was primed to have a great 2024 season. Though 15 races though he is tied for 10th in the points standings with Alex Bowman. He hasn’t won a race, has just one stage win, has a single Top 5, and is 117 points behind series leader Denny Hamlin.

All of that said, Ross is running significantly better than Cindirc who is 112 points behind Ross in the standings. Ross should be a bigger favorite in this matchup. Over the past six road course races Ross has a weighted average running position over four positions better than Cindric. Ross is also 4-2 over that time period going head to head vs Cindric.

The Speed Geeks Sim Center at Win the Race grades this as the single best head to head bet that we are tracking right now. Even if the simulations are significantly off there is a huge margin for error here.

Cindric is getting credit for having won last week and having a history as a strong road course driver. However, as noted, Sunday’s race was the first time Cindric has had good speed in the past 12 months. Its likely that this was a byproduct of Joey Logano doing an extended tire test at Gateway earlier this year, giving Team Penske a detailed book of notes for the race. Cindric won’t have that advantage this week. He should be a much bigger dog in these matchups.

I’ve spread out my bets, putting 1.15 units on Denny and 1.18 units on Ross so that an issue for one driver doesn’t kill a large bet.

North Carolina Moonshine and Motorsports Trail

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