The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to its bread-and-butter track type: The 1.5-mile oval for 400 miles at Chicagoland Speedway. Chicagoland has an 18-year-old track surface, which leads to moderately high tire wear. That means tire management and long-run speed will be extremely important.
In addition to practice, track history and 1.5-mile oval performance this year should also be factored in. This is the fifth 1.5-mile race run this year under the 2019 rules package that includes the aero ducts, so looking at the prior four races (Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, Charlotte) will help us get an idea of which drivers have been strong at these tracks this year.
RELATED: Updated odds for Chicago
Another note about 1.5-mile tracks: The favorites usually win. It’s hard to bet long shots at the races where the prestigious teams have optimized their cars with elite drivers in them. So long-shot bets to win are infrequent. However, surprise top-three, -five, or -10 driver placements are a profitable venture under the right circumstances.
Another important note: NASCAR performed technical inspection on Sunday morning. Any car that fails inspection will have its qualifying time revoked and start from the rear of the field. Very often, the betting market will overreact to a driver moving to the rear, which could open up some value on Sunday. (UPDATE: Matt Tifft was only driver to fail inspection on Sunday.)
In the meantime, here are two drivers I like outright for Sunday’s race.
All odds as of 9 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Joey Logano +1200 to Win
The big three of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are appropriately priced and present little-to-no betting value. However, the driver fourth in my model — Joey Logano — is priced with the seventh-lowest odds at the Westgate.
Logano was +800 prior to track activity heading into the weekend, and I haven’t seen anything that should have dropped him to +1200. Yes, he qualified 19th, but starting position isn’t a major factor in a 400-mile race.
In fact, I’d say on-track performance has been a positive for Logano. He began final practice with a 31-lap run, which usually occurs when a driver is happy with his car. If something was significantly wrong with the handling early in practice, it’s likely Logano would have brought the car in much sooner for adjustments.
He then ran another long stint which resulted in the fourth-best 10-lap average among all drivers. His 15-lap time ended up seventh, so he’s right in that upper echelon of practice times, coming in less than 0.6 mph slower than Kevin Harvick’s top 15-lap speed.
Logano has already won at Las Vegas under this rules package, and picked up a second-place finish at the Series’ most recent 1.5-mile race at Charlotte. Notably, these are the two oldest track surfaces among the four 1.5-mile races with aero ducts run so far this year.
Logano wasn’t appealing at +800, but his positive final practice makes him attractive down to +1000.
Kyle Larson +350 to Finish Top 3
Larson is priced at +1400 at the DraftKings Sportsbook. Yes, he’s quite unlikely to win given the way 1.5-mile races have gone this year, but he does have top-three value for a multitude of reasons.
First, Larson dominated the race at Atlanta, which is a 1.5-mile race with the oldest surface among all 1.5-mile tracks. Yes, the rules package did not include the aero ducts at Atlanta, but with as old a surface as Atlanta has, I don’t believe aero ducts would have made much of a difference. Chicagoland has the second-oldest track surface among the remaining 1.5-mile tracks.
Larson also finished second in this race last year, losing out to Busch in one of the best finishes in recent NASCAR Cup Series history
However, the kicker is his final practice times. He steadily improved as the number of laps increased, moving from outside of the top 10, to seventh, to fifth as the number of consecutive laps run in final practice increased from five to 10 to 15. In other words, he improved relative to the field as the number of laps increased.
His dominance at Atlanta, strong track history, and solid long-run speed give me confidence in a top three finish. He’s finished top three in two of his five Chicagoland starts (40%), with two of those finishes that barely missed the top three coming in fifth and seventh place.