The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway marks the third consecutive short track race on the schedule. Entering the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track, we weren’t sure if that race would be an outlier or fit into a pattern. It turned out to mostly favor short track drivers – and for now at least, it factors into our handicapping formulas.
All three of NASCAR’s little tracks are unique – as short tracks go. Bristol’s high banks behave different than the paperclip of Martinsville. While minimally-banked like last week’s venue, the curvature of the frontstretch in Richmond can often make it drive like an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. In some ways, it is the perfect hybrid that allows short track specialists and speedway kings to both run well. But given its size, these three tracks are similar enough because of how traffic must be navigated.
Handicapping the Toyota Owners 400 means looking at a variety of factors. We study the driver’s record at Richmond, his performance on minimally-banked tracks 1-mile or less in length, and all short tracks including Bristol. When those three aspects agree, it’s time for a substantial wager.
Last week Truex won the Martinsville race with odds of +550 at his height before he lost a few points and closed at +475. If you caught him at his apex of about 6/1, he provided enough Return on Investment (ROI) to cover a fleet of bets in the top 10.
Truex is coming off last week’s Martinsville victory and he experienced movement early on. His odds to win drop almost immediately from +450, which was almost precisely where his odds for last fall’s Federated Auto Parts 400 closed (+460). Truex finished second last fall to Brad Keselowski and since his odds were so low, there was really no way to hedge the bet. The same will be true this week. Truex has to be considered a favorite to win, but it is unlikely that he will provide enough value to rationalize the risk.
Best Bets for a top five
Brad Keselowski (+725) was one of our favorites to finish in the top five last week when he opened at +650. Enough money came in during the week to shave 50 points from his total, but the value proposition was still good. This week he has been heading in the opposite direction, He opened at +625 and had 100 points added to his line. He made a good pick at slightly more than 6/1 and he’s even more attractive if you can get him above 7/1. But you will need to act quickly because it is almost certain that his line will fall back before Saturday.
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Teammate Joey Logano (+850) is another attractive option this week. He struggled in the middle stages at Martinsville but surged at the end and finished sixth. He’s solid on short, flat tracks and Richmond is no exception. Logano finished third in last fall’s only trip to the track. In 2019, he finished second in this race and has had at least one top-10 in seven of the last eight seasons at Richmond. He’s won twice in that span of time with the most recent trip to Victory Lane coming in 2017. Last week’s sixth-place finish at Martinsville was the first time he’s been outside the top five on a minimally-banked course 1-mile or less in length in his last eight attempts.
Chase Elliott (+850) has also come on strong on short, flat tracks recently. His victories at Martinsville and Phoenix Raceway last fall are part of a current streak of five consecutive top-fives on this track type and eight straight top-10s. Since the beginning of 2020, his average finish is 4.4 on this course type. There is no reason to wait for a road course to gamble on an outright win for the driver of the No. 9 – especially given how strong Hendrick Motorsports has been in recent weeks.
Typically we like to showcase at least one longshot worthy of a hypothetical $200 bet among the top five. We’re going to forego that this week because of the Blue-Emu 500 results and what appears to be a reversal of the dark horse winning trend. Short, flat tracks are rhythm courses and generally the same cast of characters runs well on them. There are few better on minimally banked than Denny Hamlin (+625) and after last week’s third-place finish at Martinsville – Hamlin’s eighth top-five in his last nine attempts – we simply have to make room for him at this level.
Best Bets for a top 10
Longshot: If your betting strategy requires a moderate bet on a longshot, William Byron (+2000) could be elevated. He has not generally been considered a good value on short tracks, but basing decisions on stats for a driver this early in his career can be tricky. The best racers eventually find a groove that works and then they begin to run well on unaccustomed tracks. Byron has a pair of top-10s on short tracks this year with a sixth at the Bristol Dirt Track and a fourth at Martinsville. He also scored a top-10 at Phoenix as part of an active six-race, top-10 streak.
Richmond is not one of Kyle Larson’s (+850) better tracks, so we are downgrading him from the top five to the top 10. He won on this .75-mile oval in fall 2017 and was second the previous year, but the majority of his efforts landed sixth or worse. He’s almost a lock to finish in the single digits though because he’s done that five times in his last seven starts. When he misses on this track it’s typically by a narrow margin. Larson has a top-15 percentage of .833 in 12 attempts.
Longshot: Tyler Reddick (+8000) has been one of the most pleasant surprises in recent weeks. Richmond has been kind to first time winners who came from the dirt ranks: Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne both earned their first Cup wins on this track. Ryan Newman finished second in his first two attempts at Richmond and won in his sophomore season. Combine those two facts and Reddick is an interesting pick this week. He has a pair of top-10s in recent weeks and his 80/1 odds for the outright win drag his top-three odds to +1500 and his top-10 odds to +210. Those are attractive bets.
In last week’s Prop Bets article we made the bold recommendation that both Kyle Busch (+1000) and Kevin Harvick (+1200) could be faded. And while neither had a particularly strong run, both Busch and Harvick barely snuck into the top 10. That is likely to happen again this week, but it is difficult to bet on either to win. A better bet will be for them to score top-threes. Busch is listed at +260 for a podium finish with Harvick at +300.
Longshot: One of these days this pick is going to work out. Matt DiBenedetto (+9000) keeps getting close to scoring top-10 finishes with five consecutive results of 16th or better. He closed out the 2020 season with top-10s on the minimally-banked Martinsville and Phoenix tracks and has a 17th and 14th as his last two Richmond results. A top-10 this week could be worth $2.15 on each dollar wagered.
We are not ready to go out on a limb for Austin Dillon (+4000), but bettors should note that he finished fourth last fall in the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Ryan Blaney (+1600) has been a perennial favorite, but we are jumping off the bandwagon this week because he has not yet scored a top-15 at Richmond.
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