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As the regular season winds down and the likelihood of more than 16 unique winners diminishes, 2022 will nevertheless be remembered as a season of parity. Fourteen unique winners is one of the marks showcasing the equality of field, but it can also be seen in 34 top-10 finishers and 28 drivers with top-fives. These have not all been on wild card tracks and currently, two-thirds of the field has finished among the top three.
Finishing in the top three means only slight changes in their strategy or setup might have added of the 10 winless drivers to playoff contention. Austin Dillon has three top-three finishes this season; Bubba Wallace and Kevin Harvick have been that strong twice, while Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones each have one top-three. All but Blaney and Harvick are outside the top 16 in the points’ standings, and if any of them can find a perfect setup in the next four weeks, the playoff complexion changes dramatically.
Kurt Busch will miss his third consecutive race as he recovers from the concussion sustained in qualification at Pocono Raceway. With a 219-point advantage over 31st is the standings, he is safe from losing eligibility for the playoffs under that rule, but he is now the low hanging fruit if there is a 17th winner.
With Busch sidelined again this week, Ty Gibbs (~ +5000) is getting a great opportunity to gain experience without the pressure of racing for points. He has shown a lot of poise for a teenager. At 50/1, winning is a longshot and not worth the bet, but this puts him in the same category as Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, and Austin Cindric. On another sportsbook, he shows current odds of +180 to finish in the top 10 and, considering that he has mid-teens finishes in his first two attempts, this is worth a modest wager.
We’ve taken several shots at making Harvick (+2500) a Best Bet and so far it hasn’t worked out. As noted, he has a pair of top-three finishes, however, so he’s come close at Richmond Raceway with a second and Charlotte Motor Speedway with a third. If we weren’t gun shy, this would be a great track to favor him again because Harvick entered last year’s FireKeepers Casino 400 with four wins and a second-place finish in his previous six Michigan International Speedway attempts. At 25/1, there is a big upside to betting on him and his odds will probably be lower next week on the short track.
Joey Logano (+1600) has been erratic this season, so favoring him for the win is difficult. Like Hamlin, however, he’s locked into the playoffs because he found the magic setup twice on the rough-surfaced tracks of Darlington Raceway and World Wide Technology Raceway. That means he can experiment on a track where he has won as recently as 2019. On the combined 2-mile tracks, he has two top-fives, an eighth, and a 12th in his last five attempts.
Intangibles play a part in this sport. Three weeks ago, Brad Keselowski (+9000) earned a rare top-10 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and what made that special was that it was in the backyard of Fenway Sports Group – one of the owners of this team. This week he is in the shadow of Detroit and manufacturer Ford is not happy with the lack of consistent performance from their drivers. That will light a fire under all the blue oval crew, but this is Keselowski’s opportunity remind them that RFK Racing deserves to be one of their top teams.
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In the Best Bets post this week, we said Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) had the potential to sweep the top 10, but stopped short of adding Christopher Bell (+1600) to the list. That is because he has not yet finished that well in three previous Michigan starts. He hasn’t been any worse than 17th, however, and he has the comfort of knowing he is high enough in the points to be safe if the last four events are swept by new winners. He can gamble for the win and if he falls short, it won’t cost him anything in terms of confidence or status on a track where little is expected.
Aric Almirola (+10000) fits into the same category as Bell. He has actually been stronger overall at Michigan and Auto Club Speedway, but Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) faces more substantial obstacles in 2022 than Gibbs, so it levels that playing field. Almirola is inside the top 16 in points, but he does not have a shot at overtaking Martin Truex Jr. or Ryan Blaney. That means he must win – and that pressure is a double-edge sword. If you’re going to bet on him at all, don’t worry about any props, just place all of the money you have earmarked on his 100/1 odds and hope for the best.
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