Last Updated: 2017-11-01
There are only three races left in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. This week’s AAA Texas 500 is the second race in the Round of 8 Cup Championship Playoffs at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Toyota drivers have won six of the seven playoff races to date and two of them are at the top of the odds board once again this week.
Let’s actually narrow the focus a little bit more. Six of the seven playoff races have been won by Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. It seems to be pretty clear that Joe Gibbs Racing runs NASCAR nowadays and Truex, a member of the Furniture Row Racing satellite team for JGR, and Busch are incredibly hard to stop. This week’s race comes on the 1.5-mile oval in Texas, which means that it is tailor-made for these two guys to be at or near the front of the pack once again.
Eight drivers are still in the running for the championship. The nice thing is that the playing field is leveled once four are left standing heading into Homestead-Miami Speedway, otherwise this could become a runaway. Martin Truex Jr. leads with 4,117 points. Kyle Busch is next with 4,100 points. Brad Keselowski, the only other driver with a playoff win, is third with 4,079 points. Kevin Harvick is fourth with 4,053 points. Jimmie Johnson is just below the cut line with 4,050 points. Ryan Blaney is sixth with 4,047 points. Denny Hamlin is seventh with 4,045 points and Chase Elliott needs a win with 4,027 points.
Truex won at Chicagoland, Charlotte, and Kansas, which are the three 1.5-mile tracks that we have seen in the playoffs so far. Busch won at New Hampshire, Dover, and Martinsville. Keselowski survived the race at Talladega that took out large chunks of the field, including Truex and Busch, otherwise, those two drivers may be looking at a clean sweep in the playoffs.
It’s hard to bet against Martin Truex Jr. this week. He is the race favorite at +250 per 5Dimes Sportsbook. Truex does not have a win at Texas, despite all of his success on 1.5-mile tracks. He finished eighth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 back in the spring. In fact, Truex only has three top-five finishes at Texas, with one coming in this race last year when he finished third. Truex was second back in 2013 and third in 2007. Texas hasn’t been that great of a venue for him, but he has seven wins this season. He entered the season with six career wins. Don’t count him out on any track, especially one that suits his strengths.
Kyle Busch is +450 this week and the second favorite. Busch does not have a win in this race, but he does have two career victories in the spring race. The most recent came last year, when the race was delayed by rain and not finished until nearly 3 a.m. local time. He finished 15th in the spring race earlier this year. Four of the last five fall trips to Texas have resulted in top-five finishes, but none of them have resulted in a win. Busch actually didn’t get his first win until Pocono this season. He has four more since then and has won five of the last 13 races. Bettors seem to be getting a decent number on him this week.
Kevin Harvick finished fourth and had the pole position in this race back in the spring. Amazingly, Harvick doesn’t have a win at Texas. Typically, Harvick has one of the fastest cars on the race track, but his only win this season came on the road course at Sonoma. It has been a strange year for him and his team to say the least. Harvick has five straight top-10 finishes in this fall race, including a second in 2014 and a third in 2015. He’s been all around the winner’s circle but hasn’t visited in his career at Texas. With how Busch and Truex are running, this doesn’t seem like his year either.
Chase Elliott at +750 may come as a shock to some, but Elliott needs to be extremely aggressive over these last two races. He needs a win in one of them. He has four top-five finishes, including three second-place finishes, in the playoff races thus far, but he was so far behind on bonus points that he has had a lot of ground to make up. The 21-year-old does not have a Cup Series win yet, but he was fourth in this race last year and fifth in last year’s spring race. He was ninth this year. Elliott has to take some chances. The price isn’t high enough for that gamble, but he’s worth looking at in some matchups.
Jimmie Johnson has seven career wins at Texas, so some may see value in his +1350 price tag. Johnson just hasn’t been consistent enough. He only has one top-five finish since the first race at Dover and it came at Dover, when he finished third. He’s not the right bet this week.
Except for Johnson, you have to go all the way back to 2010 to find an active driver with a win in this race. That was Denny Hamlin. Tony Stewart won in 2011 and Carl Edwards won last year. Hamlin is also +1350 and has three career wins at Texas. Perhaps he’ll get a bit of help from his teammates here. Also, he’s been in the top seven in five of the seven playoff races, so he hasn’t run bad, he just hasn’t been able to run with the top guys. He might be worth a beer money bet.
There aren’t a whole lot of long shots worth a look this week. You might get a long shot in with a restrictor plate race or some other type of congested raceway, but this is a pretty cut-and-dry 1.5-mile oval. That means the equipment and the drivers play a huge part and that’s why the board looks like it does.
Coverage of the AAA Texas 500 will be on NBC Sports Network on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET.
Odds as of November 1, 2 p.m. ET
Martin Truex Jr +250
Kyle Busch +450
Kevin Harvick +500
Kyle Larson +650
Chase Elliott +750
Brad Keselowski +1000
Denny Hamlin +1350
Jimmie Johnson +1350
Ryan Blaney +1750
Matt Kenseth +2000
Erik Jones +3000
Joey Logano +4000
Clint Bowyer +4400
Kurt Busch +5500
Daniel Suarez +7500
Jamie McMurray +7500
Dale Earnhardt Jr +10000
Kasey Kahne +13500
Austin Dillon +17500
Ricky Stenhouse Jr +17500
Paul Menard +20000
Ryan Newman +20000
Trevor Bayne +33000
Ty Dillon +33000
Chris Buescher +33000
AJ Allmendinger +55000
Aric Almirola +55000
Danica Patrick +55000
Michael McDowell +75000
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
Only three races are left on the NASCAR schedule for 2016 and they are all of great importance. This week, the drivers head down to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500, the second race in the Round of 8 for the Sprint Cup Championship. Things get back to a greater sense of normalcy for the drivers with a trip around the 1.5-mile track in Texas rather than last week’s short track at Martinsville.
Five of the eight drivers still eligible in the Chase for the Sprint Cup finished in the top 10 at Martinsville. Three did not and those are the guys with their backs against the wall here this week. Next week’s race in Phoenix will thin the herd down to four drivers and the top finisher at Miami-Homestead will win the title. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t have to worry about running well at either Texas or Phoenix. He won last week at Martinsville for his second Chase win and he’s in for the season finale. Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch are all in pretty good shape after finishing third, fourth, and fifth, respectively. Joey Logano was ninth and he has a four-point deficit to make up on Busch. Kevin Harvick was 20th, but his best chance to advance is to win next week at Phoenix, a track he dominates. Kurt Busch finished 22nd and Carl Edwards needs a win after finishing 36th.
This is the second stop of the NASCAR season at Texas. The Duck Commander 500 was a mess back in April. Kyle Busch grabbed his second win, but the night race was delayed by rain and finished at almost 3 a.m. local time. This is one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR circuit, with speeds averaging upwards of 200 mph. With those high speeds and a relatively short history, there are only two drivers that have won more than twice at Texas.
One of those drivers is one of the three co-favorites priced at +500 at 5Dimes Sportsbook. That is last week’s race winner Jimmie Johnson. Johnson can go for it the next two weeks at Texas and Phoenix because he’s already in for the finale. It just so happens that he’s also a six-time winner in Texas and he hasn’t lost this particular race since 2011. Johnson did the Texas two-step in 2015 by sweeping both of these races. He was fourth back in April during the Duck Commander 500, so it’s not like he was a non-factor. He’s finished second three times in the spring race and has one additional second-place in this race. He’s always a threat at Texas and he has nothing to lose by going for the pay day this weekend.
Kyle Busch won the spring race and he’s a +500 shot to win the fall race. History is sort of in his favor when you realize that Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are in the same boat as Jimmie Johnson in terms of guys that have swept both races in a season. Considering the fall race wasn’t added to the calendar until 2005, that’s a decent trend. It’s not relevant or predictive, necessarily, but Busch was second at Dover, fifth at Kansas, and fifth at Martinsville last season en route to his first career championship. He’s finished the same way at those tracks this year. He has finished fourth in this race each of the last two years.
The other driver with a +500 next to his name is Kevin Harvick. Harvick, like Martin Truex Jr., who is +550, runs very well on these 1.5-mile tracks. He’s never won a race in Texas, but he has finished third and second over the last two years in this race and was 10th and second in the two spring races in the Lone State State. Harvick has put himself in bad positions in each step of the Chase by finishing 20th at Chicagoland, 38th at Charlotte, and 20th at Martinsville. He won the middle race in each round of the Chase, so there’s some recent results to point to in that respect. He hasn’t finished lower than 16th in this race since it was added to the calendar.
Martin Truex Jr. failed to make the Round of 8 even though he won two races in the Round of 16. He’s got a great shot to play spoiler here in this one, as 1.5-mile tracks are his specialty. He led the most laps at Texas in the spring, but finished sixth. Truex really hasn’t performed all that well in Texas. In this particular race, the best he’s finished is third way back in 2007 and he has only been in the top 10 three times since. Truex runs a little bit better in the spring race, but not enough to really swing the odds this much.
At +1350, Carl Edwards is a decent look. Edwards is a three-time winner at Texas, with two wins in the fall race. He won the first one back in 2005 and then won again in 2008. He was fifth in this even last year and finished second back in 2011. He has three top-10 finishes at this track with the Joe Gibbs Racing team and had the pole position in the spring race. He’s a threat here because he needs to race aggressively in order to make up a lot of ground in the points.
One other long shot that could make things interesting here or could be worth a top-five or top-10 finish prop is Kyle Larson. He’s run well on 1.5-mile tracks this season and he’s coming in at +1650. Larson finished 37th here last year, but he had two top-10 finishes in 2014, so he could be around the leaders. He usually has good speed, but doesn’t have the driveability of the others in the field.
Interested viewers and bettors can catch this one on NBC on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET.