Camping World 400
June 26, 2019
By Micah Roberts
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Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway will be the sixth race on a 1.5-mile track this season, and while the stable of Joe Gibbs Racing has 10 of the 16 races overall this season it's Team Penske that has won three of the first five on 1.5s so far.
Of course, the other two wins on 1.5s come from JGR, but the winning drivers were Denny Hamlin (Texas) and Martin Truex Jr. (Charlotte). Despite Kyle Busch not being in the mix and having top-fives in only two of those five races, he comes in as the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook's 3/1 betting favorite.
Others factors for Busch being so low this week besides four wins and 15 top-10 finishes in 16 starts in 2019 is that his wins at Fontana and Pocono were using the same race package being run this week with aero ducts and engines producing 550 horsepower. He's also got an amazing past history at Chicagoland with two wins, including last season, and leading at least 21 laps in his last six starts there.
But still, 3-to-1 odds is hard to swallow and it's especially hard to bet. Every race we've seen with this package on 1.5s has seen lots of parity with lots of different lap leaders. And somehow in three of those races, Penske has come out on top with Brad Keselowski winning at Atlanta and Kansas and Joey Logano winning at Las Vegas. Both of those drivers are at 8/1 odds this week.
In the case of Keselowski, an argument can be made that he has a better Chicagoland past history than Busch. He's averaged a 9.2 finish in 10 career starts and also has two wins. He's finished ninth or better in his last eight starts and got to the front leading laps in seven of those.
Truex is 6/1 this week and has got all four of his 2019 wins in the past eight races and he's been excellent at Chicagoland the past three years. All three of his top-fives have come in the last three seasons, including back-to-back wins in 2016-17.
“We started out the year kind of searching a bit on the mile-and-a-halves and the bigger tracks with the 550-horsepower package," Truex said. "For us, I definitely feel like we’ve learned a lot the past month and a half and really turned a corner there. That has given us a lot of confidence and we feel like Chicago will be a good race for us.’’
Hamlin has come in under the radar at 18/1 odds despite being good with this package this season and having a great past history at Chicagoland where he's finished seventh or better in his last five starts, including a 2015 win.
The only winless JGR this season is Erik Jones (20/1) who finished sixth last season. This is a track he's done well at throughout his young NASCAR career with two wins in the Xfinity Series. At the similar Kansas layout in May he finished third.
Chevrolet only has one win this season, but they've turned the corner with this package and it was most evident at Kansas when Hendrick Motorsports' Alex Bowman was runner-up and Chase Elliott was fourth. They combined to lead 108 laps that day and I'm looking for both to be very good competing for the win this week.
“Chicago and Kansas are both really similar, but they drive extremely different," said Bowman. "Chicago is kind of bumpy compared to Kansas. They would be a lot similar if they paved the track.”
Bowman has never won a race before, but 30/1 odds should be enough reason to bet something that has never happened.
At this juncture last season, Stewart-Haas Racing had seven wins with Kevin Harvick leading the way with five wins -- not including also winning the All-Star Race. But so far this season with the new racing packages they have none and the pressure is starting to mount.
“I am beyond all the frustration," Harvick said. "To me, it is now a challenge just because I feel like this is very similar to 2014 and 2017. I can see the progression in the speed of the cars and the things we have done and honestly we just chose the wrong direction to start the year. Our cars weren’t where they needed to be and everyone realizes that as a company. We had some situations where we were in position to win some races and had some things go wrong, whether it was my team or the 14 (Clint Bowyer). In the end, our cars just weren’t fast enough. I think everybody has kept his head down and is looking at it as a challenge now.
Despite no wins, Harvick still comes in as the second choice to win at 9/2 odds. The race to point to this season that suggests Harvick is close to winning was May 11 at Kansas when he led a race-high 104 laps. Kansas is the most similar to Chicagoland among the 1.5-mile tracks. Harvick also led a race-high 88 laps at the 1.5-mile layout in Las Vegas.
Among other reasons Harvick has his odds so low this week is that he's a two-time winner at Chicagoland and his 10 top-fives in 18 starts is a track record.
Clint Bowyer had two wins at this juncture last season, and is winless so far in 2019 but has been very close with four top-fives in the eight races using this week's package. He finished fifth last season at Chicagoland.
“Chicago has always been a cool racetrack," said Bowyer who is 18/1 to win this week. "It is a sister track to my home track in Kansas and that fan base up there is that Midwestern fan base I feel most comfortable with, and I enjoy going to that racetrack and interacting with them in the infield and everything else.”
A Stewart-Haas Racing driver that isn't getting a lot of attention this week is Aric Almirola at 30/1 odds. Last season he led 70 laps at Chicagoland, winning the first stage, until experiencing a vibration and was forced to make an unscheduled green-flag pit stop that put him a lap down and led to a 25th-place finish.
"I’m going into the weekend with no expectation like I do every weekend, but it feels good knowing we had success here last year," Almirola said. "I have confidence that we’re going to kick it in full gear before and during the playoffs and be serious competitors for the championship.”
Another SHR driver to consider is Daniel Suarez at 40/1 odds. He's never won a Cup race, but he did finish third at Texas in March with this package and also fourth at Michigan in the last race using this package. In two Cup starts at Chicagoland he's averaged an 11.5 finish.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/2)
3) #9 Chase Elliott (10/1)
4) #88 Alex Bowman (30/1)
5) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)