Buy in on Hamlin, Avoid Harvick
Last week, Hamlin was one of our picks to bring home the checkered flag at Darlington and looked to be making good on that, winning the first two stages and leading 177 laps. But in line with the story of his career, his pit crew let him down as a loose wheel relegated him to a 25th-place finish.
Thanks to the 20 stage points earned, Hamlin sits comfortably above the playoff cutline. And we, once again, like his chances of being the first to cross the stripe. He’s finished in the top-five in each of the last four Kansas races, including a win this spring. Clinching a spot in the round of 12 would surely alleviate any concern of another pit road disaster entering next week’s cutoff race at Bristol.
Speaking of pit road disasters, Kevin Harvick looked to be the favorite following Hamlin’s woes before an ill-timed caution and penalty doomed the No. 4 team. The 2014 champ sits a mere two points below the cutline, though I am not nearly as confident in him as I am Hamlin.
Harvick has failed to score a top-10 in the last three Kansas races, though boasts a strong track record prior to that. But Stewart-Haas Racing has shown little to no speed on 1.5 mile tracks this season. With even NASCAR betting odds to finish in the top 10, We’d stay away from Harvick altogether this week.
Larson Eyes Repeat, Byron Looks to Pad Points Lead
Inconsistent is the best word to describe Larson’s 2023. The 2021 champ has three wins and 11 top fives, but he has nine finishes outside the top-25. This came to a head last week where, after two straight sub-25 finishes, he snapped at 17-race winless streak and punched his ticket to the round of 12.
While Larson is the NASCAR odds favorite (+450) to win again on Sunday, I am not on the No. 5 team this week – though the way his season has gone, nothing would surprise me.
The same could be said about Hendrick Motorsports teammate and current points leader William Byron. Following a five-race stretch of zero top-10s, he won his first road course race at Watkins Glen and followed it up with two top-10s.
If you had to pick one of these two HMS drivers, I much prefer Byron’s +700 odds to bring home the trophy on Sunday. But if you’re looking for a more modest bet, Byron’s odds sit at +125 to finish in the top-five.
Bubba to Follow Up 2022 Win With Top 10
After barely scraping his way into the playoff field for the first time, Bubba Wallace had a nice run at Darlington, avoiding the chaos and finishing a strong seventh, though a lack of playoff points still has him on the outside looking in on the round of 12.
Wallace won this race in 2022, finished fourth here in the spring and has been strong on intermediates all season. Though he has cooled off since a midseason hot streak, he has kept it clean, finishing inside the top 20 in the last eight races. But it’s going to take more than that for him to advance, and we like his chances in doing so.
Elliott, Gibbs Among Non-Playoff Drivers With Top 10 Aspirations
We nailed our non-playoff driver bet last week with Erik Jones’ 10th place finish. Can we do it again? How about Chase Elliott? Overshadowed by Larson’s win and Byron’s top-five finish, Elliott quietly drove his way to an eighth-place finish last week.
While the sport’s most popular driver has not had winning stuff on ovals, Elliott has scored back-to-back top 10s. And with a whopping 13 drivers boasting even or minus odds to finish inside the top 10, Elliott’s +140 odds look pretty appealing.
Despite crashing out in both previous Kansas starts, we are in on Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs. Toyota sits as the favorite manufacturer to win the race at +110 odds, and we expect them to be the cream of the crop, with the 20-year-old Gibbs towards the front of the field alongside his veteran teammates.