The first race in the Round of 8 brought bad news to a lot of the playoff hopefuls that are below the cut line. The short track was supposed to level the playing field a little bit, but Martin Truex Jr. scored his first career win at Martinsville and now the two races left to qualify for the finale at Homestead-Miami are 1.5-mile races.
You know what that means and you know what it means for the odds as we head to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500. We’ve only got three races left for the regular season and we’ll break this one down with odds on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers.
The Hateful Eight
We saw some fisticuffs and some flared tempers after the race at Martinsville. Joey Logano got into a dust-up with Denny Hamlin and one of 22’s crew members pulled Hamlin to the ground from behind. It was an ugly display and we’ve seen some rising emotions this season at various points.
Logano remains above the cut line for the last four spots, but his lead is rather precarious given that Kevin Harvick, who is fifth in points, owns ISM Raceway, where next week’s race will be held. Hamlin finished fourth after being the pole sitter and now sits second in points behind Truex, who has already clinched a spot in the championship race.
Sitting between Hamlin and Logano is Kyle Busch, who hasn’t won a race since the first race at Pocono. Harvick will have his chances with Texas and Phoenix, but time is running out for Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott. That is especially true for Elliott, who finished 38th and is now 44 points behind Logano. He’ll have to win one of these next two races to advance. In all actuality, that is probably true for both Blaney and Larson, too.
Denny Hamlin will look to complete the rare feat of sweeping both races at Texas Motor Speedway. It has happened three times since a second Texas date was added in 2005. Carl Edwards was the first in 2008. Hamlin did it in 2010 and Jimmie Johnson pulled it off in 2015. Hamlin is among five drivers priced at +775 this week. The others are Elliott, Harvick, Logano, and Larson.
Kyle Busch and Truex are the co-favorites at +550. For all of Truex’s success on 1.5-mile tracks, he has never won here. Busch has three Texas wins, but all of them have been in the spring race, with the most recent coming in 2018.
Harvick has won this race each of the last two years. He needs a win and these are two of his better tracks left in the Round of 8. Even though he is sitting below the cut line right now, a prop bet on “Will Kevin Harvick advance?” would likely show Yes as a favorite and a clear one at that.
Up Against It
Many people are probably rooting for Chase Elliott, but he is up against it this week. Chevrolet hasn’t had much success here outside of Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Chevy has seven wins in this race, but five are by Johnson, who is a shell of his former self. Ford and Toyota have six wins in this race, including the last three. That also sets up poorly for Larson.
Most of our focus has been on the playoff drivers, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the non-playoff guys make some moves. We saw aggressive racing from William Byron and Brad Keselowski last week at Martinsville with second and third-place finishes, respectively. In the Texas race earlier this season, Hamlin won, but none of the playoff drivers finished in the top five otherwise. Those finishers were Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, and Johnson.
A top-five finish like that would be a massive surprise given the stakes and the camaraderie between teammates in the playoffs, but you never know. It is worth pointing out, though, that Busch led the most laps and Logano won Stage 1 in that first race.
For(t) What It’s Worth
How have the drivers done in Fort Worth? Truex hasn’t won here, but was second with the most laps led two years ago in this race and third the year prior. He only has four top-five finishes here, with the others coming in 2013 and 2007. Busch, the other co-favorite, has those three wins in the spring among his five career top-five finishes in that race. He’s got six career top-fives in this race, but none higher than third. Given how he’s been running, I’d look at Truex in matchups.
Of the +770 crowd – Harvick, Hamlin, Elliott, Logano, Larson –Harvick has the best resume with seven top-five finishes in his last 10 starts, including two wins. Hamlin has three wins, including the spring race, but only two top-five finishes since his 2010 fall win, with the spring win and a third in this race two years ago. Logano was third last year and second three years ago with the most laps led. He’s run much better in the spring race, but he hasn’t been bad here. Larson was fifth last year and second in the spring in 2017, but he doesn’t have much to write home about. Same with Elliott, who has a couple top-five finishes, but not much else.
Keselowski has run better in the fall than the spring, but this has been one of his weaker 1.5-mile ovals. Blaney was actually second here last year and fifth in the spring race last season. He was 37th in the spring, but he could be lively at +1320.
It’s hard to look at a long shot this week with so much at stake.
You have to look at Harvick this week. He knows he has two cracks to make the championship and these are two tracks that he has a ton of confidence at when it comes to high finishes. At +770, he’s definitely worth a play and he’s a good matchup pick against the others in his price range. Logano is good in matchups as well.
Blaney is a decent grab at +1320, since he, too, has to be aggressive. Unlike Harvick, he has not run well at Phoenix, so this is likely his last stand.