This weekend NASCAR makes its third trip to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin. In 2022 COTA was one of my absolute favorite races. Was that because I won a boatload of money on Ross Chastain at 40-1? Well that win certainly didn’t hurt, but it was more than that, it was just a fun race with some great battles. In any event, as we return this weekend for races in all three series (Trucks and Xfinity on Saturday and Cup on Sunday) I’m excited, so lets get right into it.
COTA is a 3.4 mile course with 20 turns. While it cannot be disputed that there are no small number of drivers who perform well at all road courses, not all Road Courses are the same. For example, in 2022 there was reasonable correlation in incident adjusted speed between COTA and Road America, the Indy Road Course, and the Charlotte Roval. Correlation between COTA and Sonoma and particularly Watkins Glen was not particularly meaningful. In fact, outside of Daytona and Talladega, no track had less correlation with COTA than Watkins Glen. So when we are making our projections its important to not just blindly focus on all road courses.
Although readers who have followed me for a while will not be surprised by this, new readers may also be surprised to know that recent non-drafting oval performance is also important to consider when projecting road courses. Indeed, in 2022 the first Las Vegas race had one of the strongest correlations of any event to COTA with an r squared of incident adjusted speed of .65. This was among the highest correlation of any track to COTA, road course or otherwise. So my expected performance metric blends a look back at recent “relevant” road courses and recent non-drafting ovals, although the focus is certainly tilted towards the road courses.
My performance metric looks at number of other factors, critically including incident adjusted speed, to give me a ranking of expected performance for the next race. The drivers at the top of my expected performance metric shouldn’t surprise anyone. Tyler Reddick tops my chart, although there is a large amount of uncertainty around him with the move to Toyota given that manufacturers struggles at road courses in 2022. Close in tow behind him are Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain. Even AJ Allmendinger shows up pretty strong here despite his historically poorer performance at ovals.
As with last week the books have gotten quite tight with their odds. When odds first posted on Monday nothing jumped out at me in a way that I felt compelled to immediately bet on it. Kyle Larson is the favorite with odds around +650 at most books. +650 translates to implied odds of 13.33%. While Larson is very good and the absence of Chase Elliott certainly helps his chances, I just can’t get behind him wining this race over 13.33% of the time. Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch are in a tie for second at most books with odds between +700 and +800, but again, I can’t get behind them at these prices. Even Tyler Reddick at +1000 doesn’t offer me value given the overall strength of the field and the uncertainty surrounding Toyota.
Christopher Bell to Win | +1600 (Barstool and BetRivers sportsbooks)
Given what I just said about uncertainty around Toyota it may surprise readers to see that my first bet is on a Toyota to win. Despite the issues Toyota had in 2022, Bell was the class of the Toyotas and had reasonable speed during the year. Bell finished third here last year, although that was somewhat inflated due to the late race restart and issues with a couple of the front runners at that point. Bell also won the Roval, although that again required some late race nonsense. Still, Bell was in a position for those wins due to his strong performance leading up to the late cuations.
Bell is also off to a hot start in 2023. He crashed at Auto Club, but was eighth in incident adjusted speed at Las Vegas (finishing fifth) and fourth in incident adjusted speed at Phoenix (finishing sixth). Bell’s first Cup Series win back in 2021 was also at a road course when he won me a bunch of money by winning at the Daytona Roval. The +1600 price being offered by Kambi (which is the odds provider for Barstool and BetRivers) translates to implied odds of just 5.88%. Given my performance metric’s strong rating of Bell I have no problem believing that Bell wins this race more than 5.88% of the time.
I have half a unit on this bet and would take it down to the +1500 which is available at DraftKings and FanDuel.
Michael McDowell to Finish Top 10 | +165 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on a new model that is specifically aimed at finding value on Top 10 bets. The model is finally ready to go and the biggest value it identified this week was on Michael McDowell. My model has McDowell finishing inside the Top 10 just under 50% of the time and set his fair price for this prop at +105.
There are some reasons to think that my model is a bit high on McDowell, but given the margin of error between my “fair odds” of +105 and the odds offered at +165 I still think the bet offers significant value. The concern that his 2022 season was greatly enhanced by a crew chief who has moved on to Alex Bowman’s team (although he is overseeing no man’s team right now since he is suspended) is valid. The concern that there is an increasing gap between the top tier teams and the field as teams have more experience with the Gen 7 car is also valid. Despite these concerns McDowell has always been a strong road course driver, so even if my model is being overly generous with +105, there is still plenty of cushion to account for these concerns.
I have a full unit on this bet at +165 and would bet it down to +155 which is available at the Kambi books.
Ty Gibbs to Finish Top 10 | +430 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Despite the concern I noted about Toyota when discussing Tyler Reddick, the second Top 10 bet my new model identified is on Ty Gibbs. Gibbs was not great at road courses in his 2022 Cup Series starts, but he tore up road courses in the Xfinity Series in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. In that series he won 3 road course races and finished Top 10 in six of 11 events.
Although it’s a drafting track, so it’s not factored into my ratings, Gibbs having best Cup finish last week may be the shot of confidence he needed to start showing us the “real” Ty Gibbs that most were expecting after he crushed the Xfinity series past 2 years. Gibbs will also be pulling double duty this week, running the Xfinity race in the Joe Gibbs Racing 19 car. That extra track time combined with his overall road course skill and potential boost of confidence from last week has me buying in on Gibbs at +430 when my model has fair at +400.
I have four tenths of a unit on this at +430, but would not go under that price.