Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Whoa, Texas. Guns up! Let's get this seventh weekend of our NASCAR party started. And let's find the winner.

Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway will be the third of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season as well as the being fourth race using the new rules package with engines using only 550 horsepower.

We have a lot of data to go off of using results from races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Fontana.

So far through six races with multi-packages, the winners have come from just two organizations: the stables of Joe Gibbs (3 wins) and Team Penske (3). Are they way ahead of everyone else, or are others catching up and about to come through with a win?

“I think everybody is doing a fantastic job," said Kyle Busch, who won this race last season. "I don’t know that anybody needs to get any better. The fields are pretty competitive each and every week. You never know who’s going to qualify where. You’ve got the RCR guys up front and in the race things kind of happen that way, too, so I’m OK (laughs)."

It's easy for Busch to laugh when his team has things figured out this season with two wins and three Cup wins at Texas along with Xfinity Series wins there along with two Truck Series wins. But he does see things getting better for all others moving forward. Maybe this the week another organization steps forward.

"I would expect everybody to continue to put improvements in their car and get better," he said. "It’s just the amount, the size, of the improvements and what they gain out of what they’re able to change and how much improvement they get, and whether or not you kind of jump ahead or whether you just get back equal, and then the guys who are fast get another upgrade and then they’re back ahead a little bit. You play this see-saw moment all life long in this sport. We even see it on the engine side, as well. They’re like, ‘Oh man, we made some gains on them and then they go and stretch it back out,’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, that just kind of defeats everything that you just worked for,’ but you’ve got to keep working.”

Busch has been posted as the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook's 5/2 betting favorite (Bet $100 to win $250) to win this week and it's a very top heavy odds board which looks like something closer to last season than what NASCAR had hoped for when unleashing the 2019 rules package for cars aimed at parity.

Last season Kevin Harvick had three wins at this juncture of the season and was sort of a catalyst for rule changes, but he doesn't have a win yet in 2019.

“I think we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this package because it is a lot of work," Harvick said. "It isn’t what everybody expected from the testing with the drafting and low drag and things you are prepared for. The aero balance and all the things that come with that. For us, I feel like we have had top five, top three cars the last four or five weeks. They are just not quite winning cars.

"I think as you look at it, I think we have just raced a superspeedway package we aren’t going to race anymore. A package at Atlanta that we might not race much. You had cars all over the country. It is really just a survival game at this point trying to keep up with the schedule. We are learning at such a rapid pace right now that the changes to the car will be extreme by the time you get to Texas.”

Harvick has won the past two fall Texas races and has five Xfinity Series wins there along with a Truck Series win. His experience there matters this week with the new package.

“I think in the last month or so you have seen the veteran guys shine," Harvick said. "I used to tell Danica Patrick this all the time – ‘I have 25 years on you and you will never catch up.” And that is the truth. Experience matters, more so in our sport than maybe any other sport. The knowledge of the racetrack, things you have been through, things you have done."

Harvick is 5/1 to win this week and has finished fourth in all four races using the 550 horsepower engine package this season, including leading a race-high 88 laps at Las Vegas. They're close and this might be the week for him to wave the checkers.

Denny Hamlin is an interesting look this week at 25/1 odds. He swept the season at Texas in 2010 for his only two wins there, but what's more important is the effort put in this season on every track with four different packages that have seen him average a 6.5 finish through six races. He probably should have more wins than his season-opening Daytona 500 victory but the team has been plagued by various penalties.

“While our team has suffered from some penalties in recent weeks that have put us in a tough position to win, I am impressed by our team’s ability to respond to adversity and still come out with a good result," Hamlin said. "Every week we learn more about ourselves and are constantly correcting as much as we can to give us the best chance to win, and this weekend in Texas will be no different.”

In the last race using this week's package at Fontana, Hamlin battled back to finish seventh. The set-up on his cars this season have not been far off from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. For bettors who play match-ups, Hamlin should be considered as a strong play this week against almost anyone. And because of his mishaps on pit road, his odds are inflated to point where a wager might be in store for him to win.

The best value of the Westgate SuperBook board might be Kurt Busch at 30/1 odds just because he's been the best Chevrolet this season, especially using this package. He was third at Atlanta, fifth at Las Vegas and Sixth at Fontana. He won at Texas in 2009 and also grabbed an Xfinity Series win there in one of his few Xfinity Series races there. He was seventh in both Cup races last season and was on the pole in two of the last three there. For a dude on a one year contract with all other Chevy's struggling, his 2019 has been amazing.

One of the best longshots this weekend is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at 80/1 only because there are glimpses of Roush Fenway Racing finding speed with this package. He was sixth at Las Vegas last month and also has a 2012 win at Texas in the Xfinity Series.

“Texas is one of my favorite tracks," said Stenhouse. "They definitely know how to put on a great show for all of the fans. After our strong performance at Las Vegas, I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Last year, we had a penalty on pit-road so if we can have a mistake-free weekend then I see us leaving Texas with another solid finish.”

Can Stenhouse win this week? Maybe. It's not likely, but probably more likely than any six-team parlay you might dump $5 on this weekend in the NCAA Tournament.

Another longshot that has some value because of the speed shown with this package is Austin Dillon at 60/1 odds. He was fast in Las Vegas practices and did it again at Fontana in practices and sat on the pole. In the Fontana race, he had the flu and also had a tire go flat during a green flag run, but stormed back to finish 10th. It was quite impressive. With another week to work on this package, Dillon and Richard Childress Racing might just find the magic potion to battle Penske and Gibbs for the win.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (5/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/2)
4) #1 Kurt Busch (30/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)

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