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Talladega Superspeedway will host the second race of the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. A wild Dover race featured major mishaps for three playoff contenders, as Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney all finished 34th or worse. The nine other playoff drivers finished inside the top 13. These results should create interesting dynamics heading into Monday’s conclusion of the third superspeedway race under the 2019 rules package.
The top three drivers in points — Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch — could be points racing and running a relatively conservative race until the end. That’s because any finish on the lead lap should put these drivers in a strong position to advance to the Round of 8 heading into next weekend’s elimination race at Kansas.
Kevin Harvick also is likely in the same boat, sitting 42 points ahead of the elimination bubble. Kyle Larson, meanwhile, has clinched a spot in the next round and can race for stage wins and the overall victory to accumulate playoff points.
The rest of the playoff drivers are likely racing each other for the final three transfer spots. Each of them would love to clinch a spot in the next round with a win at Talladega. Only Ryan Blaney is really in a must-win situation, sitting 22 points behind the cutline for advancement.
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With three or four drivers possibly playing it conservatively, and some drivers in must-win mode, it could open up the door for longer value at a track that’s already known for long-shot wins.
Below, I’ll take some insights from the first two superspeedway races of the year, as well as past superspeedway history and playoff dynamics, to find a few long-shot bets offering value to win today’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.
Ryan Blaney +2000
MGM is offering a very generous line on Blaney, especially considering he’s essentially in must-win mode. Blaney nearly won the 2017 Daytona 500, and also has a fourth-place finish at Talladega to his name. The real kicker for me is watching back the first Talladega race of this year.
In that race, Blaney led three times for four laps. More importantly, he looked to be just as strong as teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, who led 47 and 10 laps, respectively. Blaney had the fourth-best average running position.
Perhaps more eye-popping, he also had the third-most green flag passes. That’s an incredible feat at superspeedway races, because green flag passes have an inverse relation with average running position. Generally, if you’re running toward the front of the pack, it’s harder to pass because cars are better and there are fewer of them to pass. Blaney ran toward the front and made a lot of passes. He had a great car.
Blaney is a discounted version of his teammates Logano and Keselowski. Logano is the race favorite, with single-digit odds across the market. Keselowski is straddling the high single- and low double-digit odds. Instead, take Blaney at twice the odds but with essentially the same upside. I’d feel good betting Blaney down to +1600.
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Erik Jones +3300
Jones is a boom-or-bust superspeedway driver. He has four top-nine finishes in 11 career superspeedway starts … but also five finishes of 33rd or worse. But when you’re placing outright bets, you shouldn’t be concerned with downside. Ceiling is what matters most, and Jones’ upside is certainly there, especially with some situational factors in play.
First, let’s consider that there may be three or four top contenders who could play it safe. There may also be several big wrecks under this aero package, especially with bubble drivers pushing for stage points. Any wreck will take out more contenders. Yes, one of those wrecks might take out Jones. But if he avoids the wrecks, he’s an aggressive driver with nothing to lose (Jones is eliminated from the playoffs) and a proven superspeedway driver on a top-tier team.
Jones has the longest odds of any driver on one of the big-four teams (Penske, Stewart-Haas, Hendrick, Joe Gibbs) other than Daniel Suarez — and Suarez has not shown the superspeedway prowess that Jones has, with only a single top 10 in 11 races.
Bubba Wallace +8000
Wallace opened the week +8000 at many books, but has been bet down to +6000 at many places. However, you can find him at his opening line at PointsBet, among other books. At this price, Wallace is my second-favorite superspeedway bet of the past two years from a value standpoint, behind only Aric Almirola at +6000 for the 2018 Daytona 500. Ironically, Wallace finished second in that race after Almirola was taken out on the last turn by eventual race winner, Austin Dillon.
Wallace is an aggressive driver who has at times gone too far, causing big wrecks. But that aggressiveness could also pay off. The prime example is at this year’s first Talladega race, where Wallace started 28th, and made it all the way to the top three in less than 10 laps.
He did this without any teammates to help, and by mostly making well-timed maneuvers on his own accord. That aggressiveness also bit him, as he underestimated the power of the draft under this aerodynamic package, clipping Blaney’s rear bumper as he was trying to slingshot and starting a multi-car wreck.
I actually think that incident is a positive for Wallace. First, it’s a learning experience, so I expect him not to make the same mistake twice. Second, he was so good that he was pushing for second place, nearly breaking up the Penske tandem of Logano and Blaney on his own after just 10 laps, despite starting 28th. If he has anywhere similar a drive like he had in the early stages of the first Talladega race, then 80-1 is a steal. Feel free to bet Wallace down to +6000. He just might be there at the end.