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Early Best Bet for the United Rentals 500 at Phoenix Raceway

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Last week I, and those who tailed me, were lucky enough to hit on Alex Bowman Top 3, 5, and 10, leading to a profitable day. Unfortunately, this week, while it is still early, the books are not offering us any big value like we found on Bowman last week. Phoenix is normally one of the more predictable tracks on the Cup Series circuit, unfortunately books seem to have picked up on this and have been quite stingy with their odds. Books have also been slow to release odds for markets other than outright winners. In addition, the new “low downforce” package adds some uncertainty to the equation. So, while I will be keeping an eye out for additional value later in the week, right now I only have one bet that I have made, and it’s a small one.

Projecting Phoenix

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Phoenix is the first short flat track of the season. The track is 1-mile long with just 3-degree banking on the straightaways and a maximum of 10 degrees in the turns. Green flag speeds will be significantly lower than what we have seen the past two weeks at Auto Club and Las Vegas. Traditionally the tracks that have the strongest correlation with Phoenix are Richmond and New Hampshire. My expected performance metric has the drivers and teams we typically expect to show up at the top. Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney lead the way. Other short track experts, including Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Christopher Bell are close behind. However, I don’t see value on any of these drivers where their odds currently are.

In fact, I am very hesitant to make many bets right now. In addition to the short odds we have available, this week we also have to contend with a new “low downforce” package. While the Gen 7 car debuted to generally positive results in 2022, there is no doubt that short flat track racing suffered. In an attempt to make the short track racing better NASCAR is introducing a “low downforce” package and has made a number of changes to the specification of the cars that will be used at Phoenix and other shorter tracks. The changes include a smaller spoiler and modifications to the underbody of the cars. This creates a lot of uncertainty in a normally predictable track and so I want to see some on the track data before I make many bets.

I am by no means an expert on car design or what the specific changes NASCAR has made will do. So, if you want more details about them let me suggest taking a look at the Twitter thread below from Bozi Tatarevic, which covers the changes and what they should do in detail. Bozi’s conclusion is that the changes should reduce downforce by 15-20%, although I have heard higher numbers from others. The bottom line though is that the reduced downforce should make the races more competitive with more opportunities for passing.

Aric Almirola to win | +6500 (FanDuel Sportsbook)

The one driver that stood out to me when FanDuel released its odds Tuesday night was Aric Almirola. After looking strong at Daytona, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Aric Almirola in particular, have not had a great start to the season. Although Kevin Harvick has a pair of Top-10 finishes, the three other drivers have a total of zero finishes inside the Top-10. Last week at Las Vegas SHR, and indeed Ford in general, looked lost. However, this week there is reason to believe they will be better.

SHR’s strength in recent years has been short-flat tracks. Last year Chase Briscoe won the first Phoenix race and Kevin Harvick won the second race at Richmond while also nearly winning the first race there. Almirola didn’t have great finishes, but with the exception of New Hampshire, where he simply had a terrible day, Almirola has above average speed at all of the short-flat tracks in 2022. In 2021 Almirola won the New Hampshire race. Simply put, outside of superspeedways, this track type is where Almirola and SHR have the best opportunity to shine.

+6500 is out of line with every other book which has Almirola priced at +5000. Given the uncertainty with the new low downforce package I’m staying very light on this, and I wouldn’t bet this under +6500. However, if SHR nails the setup for this race, which given the team’s history at short-flat tracks is certainly possible, I expect Almirola to be in contention on Sunday. I’ve got .15u on this at +6500.

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