Aug. 15, 2021
After 27 seasons of racing on the most famous 2.5-mile layout in the world, the NASCAR Cup Series decided to shake things up in 2021 and use Indy’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course instead as the 23rd of 36 races on the season. It will be the sixth of seven road course races this season when the last three decades have featured only two to three road race dates per season.
When I first saw the 2021 schedule unveiled last year, I didn’t think much of it. Attendance has been decreasing at the Brickyard for the last decade, but when I’m on race week doing driver ratings the week after the fifth road race the week after NASCAR was told to take two weeks off by NBC for the Olympics, I now feel like my head is going to explode because I don’t get to watch the 28th Brickyard 400 this week.
Don’t get me started about that March dirt race at Bristol that ruined one of two annual races on the high-banks of Bristol. Put dirt on Rockingham or North Wilkesboro, don’t take away one of my pleasures. I love racing at Bristol, as do most fans, but that dirt race had no flow and made half the field look like fools.
What’s next? Ice racing? Uphill snow climb with chains on the tires? Figure-8 demolition race? No, of course not, it’ll be another road course. Pick the driver that benefits most from all the roads and it makes a little more sense.
The Brickyard change hits the hardest. I was so thrilled to watch the first race there in 1994 when a youngster named Jeff Gordon won and then equally thrilled and entertained when Dale Earnhardt won in 1995 and proclaimed that he was “the first man to win the Brickyard 400” as a poke at the Gordon kid.
Martin Truex, Jr. enters the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard as one of the favorites with odds to win at 6/1. (AP)
NASCAR Verizon 200 at the Brickyard Analysis
NASCAR built its foundation on those first Brickyard races and grew into a national sport instead of just regional popularity in the southeast. It was from that inaugural Brickyard race that NASCAR was eventually able to parlay the exposure to build tracks at Fontana, Las Vegas, Texas, Chicago, Kansas, and Homestead which also led to huge TV contracts and big ratings.
It was also about that time that I got the chance to create odds and make props on the weekly NASCAR races because I was the only person in the office who followed the sport. I’ve always said that the Brickyard and Jeff Gordon was when my sportsbook started getting regular requests for more NASCAR stuff to bet. Regular midwest folks who liked Indy Cars were now exposed to NASCAR and enjoyed it and wanted to bet it. No book was offering NASCAR props in Las Vegas and some books only offered the Daytona 500 and Firecracker 400 at Daytona.
For some reason, it makes it worse that Sunday’s Verizon 200 is only 82 laps on a 2.439-mile course. I’m getting my entertainment value cut by half from the traditional 400-miles on the 2.5 rectangle layout.
What also got me is that three-time Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick would have been racing for an unprecedented third straight NASCAR Cup win on the traditional layout. “Sorry guys,” NASCAR might say, “We listened to a survey of non-NASCAR fans who said they liked Formula-One racing and road courses so we made changes.”
Verizon 200 at the Brickyard Betting Resources
I was kind of shocked to hear what some of the drivers were saying about the change to the Indy road course beginning with Harvick.
“For me, I grew up with a certain perception of how I wanted to race, and I just believe (for) with the biggest racing series in the country that when you go to the Brickyard, you race on the oval,” Harvick said
Yes, I second the Harvick motion. It would have been nice if NASCAR discussed items like these with current NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, and car owners.
The Brickyard 400 is a big deal just because of its history and prestige. No one kisses the finish line of any track as drivers and teams do when winning the Brickyard 400.
“We lost a crown jewel,” Denny Hamlin told Autoweek. “People hated the racing, but I don’t know, are they really going to get more people out to the road course than what they did for the Brickyard 400? I’m not sure. I don’t love it; I don’t love the move. It took away a crown jewel.”
The crown jewel races were the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600, and Brickyard 400.
But it is what it is and we just have to deal with what the NASCAR higher-ups have done.
“I’m not going to throw up,” Martin Truex Jr. told Autoweek. “I haven’t won two in a row there or whatever like (Harvick) has. That’s probably a little bit of that. It is a historic track, but I don’t know. I don’t really think about things like a lot of people. I’m looking forward to the road course and another opportunity to get a win.”
Verizon 200 at the Brickyard Contenders
Fair enough, and at least NASCAR couldn’t change my favorite weekly habit of betting on races, although road racing odds don’t offer as many opportunities for a long shot to win. However, I caught a nice score on Denny Hamlin at 50-to-1 to win at Watkins Glen in 2016.
I’ve got a couple of drivers I’m going to take a shot with this week like Christopher Bell at 25-to-1 odds at Caesars Palace sportsbook, Joey Logano at 29-to-1 odds at Circa Sports, Denny Hamlin at 15-to-1 at Caesars, and Martin Truex, Jr. at 11-to-1 at Circa.
Everything starts with Chase Elliott who the Las Vegas SuperBook is offering at 2-to-1 odds and when we’re done talking about him, we drift off to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson who is 4-to-1 at Circa. The duo has won the last four road races so far and deserves to take up more than half your odds to win betting bankroll.
Elliott has won on the two new road courses already at COTA and Road America and then he was runner-up to Larson on the traditional roads of Sonoma and Watkins Glen. It’s obvious that the Hendrick organization put extra effort into the roads since it accounts for seven races on the season. Larson never won a road race in his first 16 starts on them and has now won two of the last three road races.
Elliott’s on another level, and I know it sounds a lot like last week’s write-up, but let’s refresh why he’s such a huge favorite. In his last nine road races, he’s won six of them and he was runner-up in two of them. He has seven road wins in his last 12 starts on them. He’s third all-time in the Cup Series with seven wins behind Tony Stewart’s eight and Jeff Gordon’s nine wins. Elliott has done all this since his first win on the roads at Watkins Glen in 2018. Elliott gave a little preview of how he feels the Indy infield will race on Sunday.
"You know, that road course, to me, is not going to be your average infield road course.” Elliott said. “That place was the host of an F-1 event, many INDYCAR events over the years, and obviously Xfinity last year. It was laid out probably more like a traditional road course – a place that was kind of made for it and has a little more flow to it than some of the infield tracks that we see, like the ROVAL.
“A lot of these tracks have infield tracks.” he continued. “We just might not go to them. But I think it’ll be more like a normal road course, more so than the ROVAL. One thing about those types of tracks is they don’t have any elevation really. And that, to me, is kind of what makes them different. Charlotte has a little more elevation and up and down than you might think, but watching that race last year, the thing that stood out to me the most was it is super flat. There is really no up and down to it. So, I think that could be a little different than the norm.”
Handicapping NASCAR at the Brickyard
By the way, the first Xfinity Series race on the Indy road course was won by Chase Briscoe last season and Briscoe is being offered at 75-to-1 odds by Caesars sportsbook. Circa Sports has him at 40-to-1, the most liberal book in Las Vegas, but they know Briscoe has road skills and his program is coming together lately like his SHR teammate Harvick.
While using the low downforce package with engines producing 750 horsepower, Briscoe was ninth at Watkins Glen and sixth at Road America and COTA.
Ross Chastain has had similar success with the 750 HP package lately and is being offered by Caesars books at 50-to-1.
Tyler Reddick (50/1) is in a similar spot this week improving each week and currently holds the No. 16 playoff slot with three races remaining. A win gets anyone in, but Reddick may have to pull the reins in late to point well. Good for match-ups and fantasy lineups, but maybe not so much with the odds to win.
I don’t know what happened to Logano last week, but it was a terrible run for him and all of Team Penske who started 1-2-3 at Watkins Glen. Brad Keselowski (65/1 at Circa) led the first nine laps, Logano led the next 11 laps, and then they disappeared. I’ve bet Logano this week because I expect adjustments by the team but also respect what they’ve done all season with the 750 HP package with eight top-fives in 13 starts including his only win of the season at Bristol with the dirt thrown on it.
Another driver with eight top-fives in 13 starts using the 750 HP package is Hamlin who is still searching for his first win of the season after winning seven times last season. He's still tied for the most points (917) with Larson as he goes for the regular-season championship. Only three races to go until the Playoff field is set.
“I think it’s going to be a battle all the way to Daytona,” Hamlin said. “It might even come down to the last lap. It’s exciting. I’ve been racing him hard every race and will continue to do so.”
Hamlin and Larson are close friends and I’ve noticed that Hamlin does seem to take advantage of that friendship on the track. I’ll just say he races Larson harder than anyone. Last week at Watkins Glen, Hamlin battled for a fifth-place finish, led six laps, and wasn’t on the same pit cycle as the leaders. He made up ground by passing lots of cars on the day and it made me think they have something for the Hendrick cars this week and I’ll be especially happy if I can get 12-to-1 odds. Caesars is giving me 15-to-1 bait, so I’m biting.
All Hamlin’s JGR teammates have a win this season, even newcomer Bell who won his first Cup race ever at the Daytona road course in February. Bell is on quite the roll right now in the 750 package with four straight finishes of ninth or better, including two runner-ups. Circa Sports thinks highly of him as well, only offering 11-to-1 odds to win.
Of course, there is Kyle Busch at +850 odds to win offered at Caesars books, a driver who has top-fives in his last three road course races and is tied with Truex for the most road wins among active drivers at four each.
Verizon 200 at the Brickyard