Digital Ally 400
May 8, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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Just like an NFL team that has to play on Thursday night, the NASCAR Cup Series has a short week heading into Saturday night's Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway following Monday's race at Dover International Speedway.
“Our team’s week will be thrown off a little bit due to the extra day, but we are headed to a mile-and-a-half track where we have a lot of confidence in our intermediate program," said 2012 Kansas winner Denny Hamlin who is 20/1 betting choice this week. "We won at our last intermediate track and know we can do it again in Kansas.”
The last win Hamlin is talking about is March 31 at Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile layout. This will be the fourth race of the season on a 1.5-mile layout and the fifth using the race package with engines producing 550 horsepower. The one difference between the four races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, and Fontana is that Atlanta didn't use aero ducts like the others. By the way, NASCAR made a change regarding this package on Wednesday that will put aero ducts on all races using this package.
From an oddsmaking and handicapping perspective, those four races with this package mean more than past history and two organizations have figured it out best: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske with two wins each.
The major question coming in this week is wondering how much the other teams gained over the last six weeks since Texas. Chevrolet showed some gains at Texas after being almost non-existent in the first three with this package. Chevrolet has looked outstanding the past two weeks, but different packages were used in each. Chase Elliott gave Chevrolet its only win of the season and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman has been runner-up the past two weeks.
“We are coming off two great weekends," Bowman said. "Talladega is a superspeedway, so there is a lot of luck involved in that one. Dover, however, is just physically exhausting. We had a shot at the win and that is all that you can ask for. I have to give credit to (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the No. 88 guys. They put a great car together last weekend and they should definitely be proud of Monday’s execution. We will continue moving forward with this momentum and try to finish one spot better on Saturday night.”
Bowman's best finish with this package was 11th at Las Vegas, but there's definitely some momentum coming in and might be worth taking a shot at 60/1 odds. The HMS driver that showed the most improvements along the way with this package is three-time Kansas winner Jimmie Johnson who started form the pole at Texas, led 60 laps and finished fifth.
“It would be nice to leave Kansas as the only four-time winner there," Johnson said. "This weekend will be a bit different with the new rules package and the race being at night. I am anticipating a lot of speed, a lot of grip and a lot of action. This package promotes a lot of passing in the pack, so it should be a very charged-up race. I’m looking forward to it.”
Johnson's odds to win are posted at 25/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. His 60 laps led at Texas were more than he led the entire 2018 season.
Elliott won the fall race at Kansas last season and while his progression is similar to Bowman's the last two weeks, his best finish with this package was ninth at Las Vegas.
The youngest of the HMS drivers, William Byron (80/1), was sixth at Texas leading 15 laps. He also won a Truck Series race at Kansas in 2016.
Texas is the same distance as Kansas, but the progressive banking in the turns at Kansas is 17 to 20 degrees compared to Texas at 20 degrees between turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees in turns 3 and 4. But the comparisons are still relevant just because it's the last time the series raced the 550 HP package.
“Our cars ran fine at Texas," Kevin Harvick said. "Obviously, we had some isolated problems. Our cars from the Stewart-Haas standpoint haven’t won a race, but they ran fine at Texas. We’ve been in contention. We were plenty good at Bristol and Richmond, so it’s really just a detail thing at this point to get one of them to victory lane.”
Harvick won this race last season, the third of his career to tie a track record. His 9.6 average finish in 26 starts is the best among all active drivers. He's led laps in 10 of his last 11 starts at Kansas and has led 751 laps overall. His worst finish in his last 17 starts there was 16th and 10 of those starts he finished sixth or better.
If there's a track he can break through in the win column, it's certainly Kansas. His win last season gave him five wins through 12 races. But this season he hasn't had dominant cars and if we use Texas as an example he was only eighth while his SHR teammates did very well with Clint Bowyer finishing second and Daniel Suarez coming in third.
Bowyer might be a driver to throw into your wagering plan this week at 18/1 odds because of the way he was reeling in Hamlin at Texas. He also finished fifth at Atlanta and the last reason to take a shot with him is that this is the Emporia, KS native's home track. He's dying to win there.
“I’ve said before that if we ever win at Kansas, I probably wouldn’t be in very good shape for Mother’s Day,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “We would probably have to postpone that to Monday. It would be huge to win at home and finally seal the deal after all this time. It would be ultra-special. This is where all my family and friends and people who helped me get to where I am today all live, in the area, and it would be cool to celebrate that with them. I think probably everybody would have an open invite.”
Joining Hamlin with wins using this package was Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, Joey Logano at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch at Fontana.
Busch comes in as the 7/2 favorite because he's got eight straight top-10 s at Kansas, including his lone win there in 2016. He's also finished in the top-10 of all 11 races to start the season to tie a NASCAR record. He's aware of it and says the team is having fun with it. His three wins this season lead the series.
Between Busch, Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr., JGR has seven wins on the season. For Truex, surprisingly he doesn't have a win on a 1.5-mile layout, the type of track he won a Cup Championship with. He won at Dover last week and grabbed his first short track win at Richmond. He swept the 2017 season and was runner-up in this race last season and fifth in the fall. On about six different occasions over his career, he's had the best car at Kansas. His best finish this season with this package was runner-up at Atlanta (no aero ducts). No other top-fives on the other three.
Keselowski's lone Kansas win was 2011 and he was 14th in this race last season and sixth in the fall. But his best reason to bet him is first-place at Atlanta, runner-up at Las Vegas and third at Fontana.
For the same reasons, I like his teammate Logano to fare well. In addition to winning two Xfinity Series races at Kansas, he's also got two Cup wins. Since moving to Penske in 2013 he's been a force at Kansas in almost every starts. Seven of his last 11 starts have been top-fives. He was third last spring and eighth in the fall. After winning at Las Vegas this season using this package he finished second at Fontana.
Although I believe Chevrolet is getting better and Stewart-Haas will win soon, I still believe the Penske duo and JGR have an edge.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
4) #9 Chase Elliott (10/1)
5) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (7/1)