It may not end up being the exciting race that everybody wants to see, but a nice and calm Pennzoil 400 might be just what the doctor ordered for the NASCAR Cup Series. The focus shifts from Daytona International Speedway to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and from 2.5 miles of tight and close racing to 1.5 miles of follow the leader.
There has been a bit of a push recently in NASCAR to add more short tracks and road courses to enhance the excitement of the product. For 499 miles, the Daytona 500 was exactly that. Then the Ryan Newman crash happened on the last lap and the entire motorsports world stopped.
Drama is almost always a good thing for NASCAR, but that wasn’t it. This week at Las Vegas could be a salve for a lot of wounds if it runs like it did last year.
We’ll break this one down with odds from 5Dimes Sportsbook and hit on some other notes and nuggets along the way.
Remember our Daytona 500 discussion last week? For starters, we almost got Ryan Blaney to Victory Lane, but he was edged in a photo finish by Denny Hamlin. But, the biggest story betting-wise for the Daytona 500 is that the favorite hit at +950. This week, the co-favorites per 5D are Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at +465. This is the price range that we can expect to see in any generic oval race for the favorite as the year goes along.
Here are the odds for this year’s Pennzoil 400:
|Martin Truex Jr||+550|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||+11000|
|John Hunter Nemechek||+110000|
|Darrell Wallace Jr||+110000|
Because we won’t have “The Big One” that wipes out a third to half of the field, the prices aren’t nearly as spread out at the top of the board, but we are getting the fifth and sixth choices at 11/1, which is about where the second and third choices were last week. It’s just tougher for those guys to take the checkered flag in a race more about car than driver.
What Happens in Vegas
This is the earliest for the winter race in Las Vegas. The previous record was February 28, but the changes to the schedule put this race second to kick off the western US swing. Next week will be at Auto Club in California and the fourth race of the season will be in Avondale at Phoenix Raceway.
The second Vegas race this season is actually the first race in the Round of 12. Previously that late-summer race, which used to be the second date in New Hampshire, was the first race in the playoffs. Now it is the fourth and will take place on September 27, so it goes from a summer race to a fall race with a little more on the line. It will also be a scheduled night race again this season.
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are the two winners of the September race. Keselowski also has two wins in the winter race. Jimmie Johnson is the active leader with four wins in this race, but he hasn’t won one since 2010. Kevin Harvick is the only other driver with multiple wins in this event, with the most recent coming in 2017.
Horse for Course
Kyle Busch only has one win at Vegas back in 2009, but the hometown boy has had a lot of top-five finishes. Busch was third last year in this race and second the year before. He was fourth in 2016. He hasn’t had nearly as much success in the two playoff races, finishing 19th and seventh.
Harvick led the most laps last year en route to finishing fourth. He has those two wins in 2015 and 2018, in which he led the most laps in both. His three most recent events have been with Ford. He finished 38th in 2017. He was second in the playoff race last year. If we’re picking between the two favorites, Harvick is the one that I would take a look at. It sure seems like Ford has leveled the playing field with Toyota and maybe even passed Joe Gibbs Racing.
Martin Truex Jr. would just as soon never run a restricted race again after yet another bad finish in the Daytona 500. But, he goes into this week with a renewed sense of confidence. In the two playoff races, he has been first and third, with the most laps led in that show finish. He was eighth in this race last season to snap a modest two-race streak of top-fives, including a win in 2017. He was also second in 2015 before he really had his big breakout.
Realistically speaking, one of those three or Keselowski, who has the four career wins here and runs very well on 1.5-mile tracks, is likely to win this race. I don’t think we’re going to see any surprises.
Vegas is all about the gamble, right? Well, are there any long shots of intrigue? Kyle Larson isn’t a long enough shot at 11/1, but he was second in 2017 and third in 2018 in this race. He’s been second and eighth in the two playoff races. This is one of his more consistent tracks, but after not finding the winner’s circle in all of 2018 and just once in 2019, he’s a hard bet to make.
Youngsters Erik Jones and William Byron are going to be on my radar quite a bit this season. Jones was fourth at Texas, third at Kansas, and third at Kentucky before finishing the season on a low note with the playoff races. He did win at Darlington last year for his second career NCS victory. Jones also finished third at Homestead in last year’s finale. He isn’t the best racer in tight conditions, but he has the Joe Gibbs Racing backing on the 1.5-mile tracks and those cars run well. At 33/1, you could do a lot worse.
Similarly, I think Billy Byron is on the verge of a breakout. The 22-year-old was sixth at Texas, ninth at Charlotte, eighth at Chicagoland, seventh in the Vegas playoff race, and fifth at Kansas last season as far as 1.5-mile tracks go. He got more consistent and more confident late last season. He hasn’t won a race yet and has actually performed admirably on tighter tracks, including seconds last year at Daytona in the summer and Martinsville in the playoffs.
My worry with Byron is that Chevy has one win here since 2012. The 1.5-mile tracks seem to work better for Toyota and Ford. So, I’d prefer Jones to Byron this week, but it is a good time to plant the seeds about Byron going forward.
For the Pennzoil 400, we’ll roll with Harvick, Keselowski, and the long shot on Jones. Obviously bet accordingly when talking about a +465, +660, and a +3300. You wouldn’t bet the same on the 33/1 that you would on the 4.65/1.
For additional thoughts on the race, I encourage you to check out Brian Blessing’s video thoughts.
Coverage of the Pennzoil 400 will be on Fox on February 23 with a 3:30 p.m. ET start time.