Best Bets – Chicagoland
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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS heads to the Chicagoland Speedway for the Overton's 400, the first and only race at the Illinois track. It is now a regular season race, too, after years of being the playoff opener. The goes off at 2:32 p.m. ET on NBCSN, moved up slightly due to rain/thunderstorms in the early-evening forecast. With lights at the track, it can be run in the night time if needed.
Surprise, surprise...Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (5/2) is listed as the favorite for this weekend's race. Harvick, Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. (7/2) and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch (3/1) have been like a NASCAR version of the NBA's 'Big Three', dominating this season and leaving everyone else fighting for scraps.
Harvick has picked up two checkered flags at this track, although it has been a while. He won the inaugural race at Chicagoland in July 2001, putting the squeeze on everyone in the Tropicana 400 in a caution-filled race, and he repeated as champion in the summer of 2002. Lately, he has had mixed results at the suburban Chicago run. He was 42nd in 2015, while posting a very pedestrian 20th in 2016. However, he righted the ship and was third last season. In his championship season, MTJ used this as a springboard into the Chase. He posted a victory last September in a rather boring race with just 12 lead changes, the second-fewest leader swaps in the history of this race. There were also just four cautions, also tied for the least in the 17-race history of the track. Truex Jr. has won the past two races in Chicagoland, and his speeds of 145.161 mph in Sept. 2016, and 145.401 mph in Sept. 2017, are the fastest average speeds of any race in the history of the place.
Don't count out the youngest Busch in the No. 18, either. He did have a five-year Top 10 streak at Chicagoland snapped last season with a very mediocre 15th-place showing, but he has a victory, four Top 5s and seven Top 10s in 13 career starts with an Average-Finish Position (AFP) of 11.4. That's slightly better than Harvick's 11.7 and MTJ's 13.8 AFP. So if you're looking to bet one of the favorites, Rowdy might be the best of the lot. NASCAR's Loop Data concurs, as he is listed with a 120.1 Driver Rating, best among all drivers with five starts over the past five years, with Harvick sixth with a 103.8 mark, and Truex slightly ahead of him at 105.8.
There are plenty of other good choices, and if recent history is any incidcation then this could be the track Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott (14/1) runs to the front and never looks back. He has just two Cup races under his career belt, but he has been strong both times. He took what he learned here on the Xfinity circuit and brought that success to MENCS, finishing third in his 2016 debut, and second last season behind the No. 78. He has a sparkling 125.6 Driver Rating during the span, leading 117 laps over the past two years while turning the fastest lap on 52 occasions. Elliott has run 100 percent of his Cup career laps at Chicagoland inside the Top 15, which is something to turn the heads of bettors and fantasy players alike.
Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski (10/1) is listed third in Driver Rating over the past five seasons at 108.7, and he has led the pack for 72 laps during the span while running 94.0 percent of his laps inside the Top 15. He will be looking to extend his streak of Top 10 finishes to eight straight races at the Midwest track, and that includes victories as recently as Sept. 2012 at the GEICO 400, the last win here for Dodge, and Sept. 2014 in the MyAFibStory.com 400 in his No. 2 Ford. His partner in crime, Joey Logano (20/1) , hasn't enjoyed the same type of success at the track, finding himself No. 8 in Driver Rating (100.9) over the past five seasons. That's a bit deceptive, however, as the averages are all sucked down by a 37th-place run in 2013, an anomaly as far as his history is concerned. Even with that finish, he has a 12.9 AFP in nine career races at the track. If you take out that poor showing, he has a 9.9 AFP which be sixth among all active drivers.
Penske third-wheel Ryan Blaney (25/1) could step out of the shadows and outperform his more heralded teammates. He doesn't have a lengthy Cup history at the track, but he has been good in his brief encounters. Blaney burst onto the scene with a fourth-place showing in 2016, falling back to a still impressive 11th last season. He has led eight laps with an AFP of 7.5, so he is one to watch despite his limited history.
Chip Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (7/1) should not be underestimated this weekend, although with the Big Three dominating the headlines it seems the No. 42 is running a bit under the radar. He has three career Top 10 finishes in a Cup car at this track, including a solid fifth last year. While he is yet to take checkers at Chicagoland, he has managed a strong 8.3 AFP while leading 22 laps. Among all drivers with at least four Cup starts he tops the charts at this particular run. And, hey, for what it's worth, Larson did win the Xfinity race on Saturday ahead of the likes of the Big Three.
Don't sleep on SHR's Clint Bowyer (25/1), as he could be dangerous. While he doesn't check into the Top 10 in Driver Rating over the past five seasons, remember he was in inferior equipment for many of those years. He has a couple of checkered flags under his belt this season and he has a 14.4 AFP in 12 career starts with seven runs ending in a Top 10 finish.
Hendricks driver and, oh yeah, seven-time champ, Jimmie Johnson (30/1) seems to be a forgotten man these days. While yes, David Reutimann actually has more career wins at Chicagoland than Johnson, he has been consistent here. In 16 career starts he has finished outside of the Top 10 just five times, posting a 9.38 AFP. He also leads all active drivers with 695 laps led. It's never wise to count out Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team.
As far guys you might want to avoid, look no further than Aric Almirola (80/1) . He has a dismal 22.8 AFP in six career Chicagoland starts. Alex Bowman (100/1) has struggled at the track, too, ending up 10th, 35th and 37th for a 27.3 AFP.
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