Firekeepers Casino 400
June 5, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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Kyle Busch won three of the first eight races on the NASCAR Cup season and then he went winless for five races until taking the checkers last week at Pocono Raceway last week for the third time in his last four starts there. Now in Week 15 the series heads to Michigan International Speedway where Busch has just one 2011 win, but he's rolling so good with the new race package featuring aero-ducts and engines with 550 horsepower that the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has posted him as an 11/4 favorite to win Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400.
Last week he was 3/1 at a place he's recently dominated at, but now he's lower than 3/1 at his third worst statistical track (18th-place average) behind Talladega and Daytona.
“I’m not entirely sure," Busch said regarding what to expect at Michigan. "We’ll just go into the weekend like we always do – keep working on our car to be the best it can be in practice on Friday and hope we have a shot to get back to victory lane there. We had a lot of struggles on the repave but turned that around a bit last year. Our whole team has shown how well we’ve worked together and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) has been able to make the right calls, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for me at Michigan this weekend. I’m hoping Michigan will be at least a little bit more worn in than when we were there last August."
Michigan's wide 2-mile D-shaped oval was repaved before the 2012 season and Busch had only one top-five in his next 12 starts there. But then things got better last season with fourth place in this race and third in the August race.
So the question we have to ask ourselves this week is whether Busch driving this new race package coupled with breaking the funk on the new surface last year outweighs his overall poor performances since last winning there. Also, it's important to note that Busch won at Michigan's sister-track at Fontana in March that was using the same package they'll run this week. It's the same package he won with at Pocono last week.
With all the data we have on Busch, I just can't bet him this week. He'll probably finish top-five again like he's done eight times already in 2019, but I had to throw him out of my wagering portfolio for the week. It's not like he's Jeff Gordon at 5/2 odds in the late 90s to win on a road course. This is Kyle's worst track that's not at a traditional restrictor-plate track. No way I can take less than 5/1 on him here, but I can tell you he worries me and I definitely won't be taking big prices in match-ups betting against him. I'm going to pretend he's not even racing and leave him out of everything.
The good thing about the SuperBook's odds with a desired 26 percent theoretic hold percentage is that when they post an option at such low odds like Busch, all the other options are bumped up in price to keep it balanced at 26 percent. Believe it or not, not all Nevada books follow this practice and most offer a theo hold at 40 to 50 percent. But with the SuperBook, they give you something back with other drivers almost like a dare so I'm centering my attention on Chase Elliott at 10/1 odds.
Elliott gave Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports their only wins of the season at Talladega and has been hard-charging ever since. He comes into this weekend with five straight top-five finishes.
“We’ve had some good NAPA Chevrolets the last couple of weeks," Elliott said. "We’ve been good, just not great and you have to be great to win these things. I’ll go to work and try to do a better job, and we’ll see what we can do (at Michigan)."
Okay, let's see what Elliott has done at Michigan. I know his dad, Bill Elliott, holds the record for four consecutive wins there sweeping the 1985 and 1986 seasons. I know that Chase has finished in the top-10 of all six of his Cup starts which includes three runner-ups. And I also know his 5.3 average finish is the best all-time at Michigan. All-time? Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Jeff Gordon? That's wild stuff because this will be the 100th Cup race held at Michigan -- lots of legends participated.
So yes, 10/1 sounds pretty fair to me, and it's probably a bit generous, but that's what happens at a fair book when they offer the favorite below 3/1 odds on a betting index featuring at least 30 options. Value sprouts up elsewhere.
I need a few other drivers to pair Elliott with in odds to win wagers and I'm going to start with Team Penske's Brad Keselowski (8/1) and Joey Logano (10/1) who have combined for four wins this season, including three using this race package. Keselowski won at Atlanta (no aero ducts) and Kansas and Logano won at Las Vegas. Logano also finished second at Fontana, an almost identical twin of Michigan, while Keselowski finished third. Logano is a two-time winner at Michigan.
Keselowski also has a knawing pain eating at him because he's yet to win a Cup race on his home track. He's got two Xfinity Series wins there, and been runner-up twice in the Cup Series there, but no wins and I'd bet he'd have a long pause before selecting what would mean more to him personally, a Daytona 500 win or a Michigan win. Keselowski finished second behind Busch last week at Pocono.
Another Michigan native I'll have a piece of this week is Erik Jones offered at 25/1. He's averaged an 11th-place finish in four Michigan starts with a best of third-place in 2017. I like the desperation with him on several fronts beginning with negotiating a new contract. A win will give him some leverage in negotiating. I also like that he's the only driver from Joe Gibbs Racing that doesn't have a Cup win. The other three all have multiple wins and have combined for nine of the 14 wins this season. He was third last week at Pocono and third at Kansas on May 11, two of the last three times the series used this package.
Another Gibbs driver I've played is Denny Hamlin at 16/1 odds. He's a two-time winner at Michigan and just ended a poor May with a sixth-place at Pocono last week. One of his two wins on the season was using this same package at Texas on March 31.
“I think the race at Michigan is going to be one of the best shows we’ve put on at that track," Hamlin said. "That track offers plenty of grip, and we should be able to keep the throttle wide open and close the gaps to make passes. Our FedEx team has had pretty good success there before, and it should be another good weekend for us.”
In 26 Michigan starts, Hamlin has seven top-fives and last fall he won his first pole there.
Another part of my wagering plan this week is Kyle Larson who just can't seem to finish races in 2019 after good starts. Last week at Pocono he won both stages and then had trouble late and finished 26th. He led a race-high 142 laps at Atlanta and had trouble late and finished 12th. Michigan is his house in the sense that three of his five career Cup wins have come at Michigan. The SuperBook certainly reeled me in with 14/1 odds.
I should mention that last season Stewart-Haas Racing swept the season with Clint Bowyer winning in June and Kevin Harvick winning in August. Harvick leads all active drivers with 12 top-fives at Michigan which includes six runner-ups in his last 12 starts. But all that stuff was with a different race package. In 2019, SHR has yet to win. And at 5/1 odds with Harvick, I just have to pass and give him the Kyle Busch treatment as if he doesn't exist while respecting him. Bowyer is at 20/1 odds and showed at Texas and Kansas with this package that he was capable of winning before settling with top-fives.
I've also thrown Martin Truex, Jr. at 6/1 odds out. He's won three of the last six races on the schedule and Gibbs cars have been the best, but he's never won at Michigan in 26 starts.
I'm also in search of the best odds on Alex Bowman who the SuperBook has at 30/1. I think this will be a good track for him and I expect his performance to be almost as good as Elliott's.
Good luck this week and don't forget that next week is Father's Day if you need to get that card and mail it out on time.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #9 Chase Elliott (10/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (10/1)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (14/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (11/4)