NASCAR Betting Guide: FireKeepers Casino 400
If the past two months have taught us anything, it's that Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are about to put on a show this weekend.
The NASCAR Cup Series is running a double-header in Michigan, the first being the FireKeepers Casino 400. Michigan is a big, fast track where you need massive top-end speed to compete.
This will be the fourth race at a track like that since the middle of June. Harvick and Hamlin have combined to win each of the first three.
And they didn't just win; they outright dominated. The two swept the top two spots in the two Pocono races. Then in Indy, Hamlin was leading with Harvick second and only six laps left. But Hamlin cut a tire and crashed, giving the win to Harvick.
Although Michigan is higher-banked than Indy and Pocono, we should expect more of the same this weekend. The big question is whether we should swallow short numbers and bet them or if we should let it ride with someone else.
Let's break that down first and then get to some other bets that stand out for the first leg of the Michigan double-header based on the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.
Kevin Harvick (+420) or Denny Hamlin (+500)
Even with the odds being as short as they are, you could justify betting both Harvick and Hamlin in the same week; you'd just have to avoid other outrights. But that could be a worthwhile choice.
Most of you will probably be looking to pick one or the other, though. Harvick leads my model overall, but Hamlin is second there and first in the current-form section. Given the slightly longer number on Hamlin, he's going to hold the edge for me.
Harvick's number is likely shorter due to his stellar track history at Michigan. He has won two of the past four races here and was runner-up in another. His Stewart-Haas Racing team has borderline untouchable speed on this track type, making it hard to push back on Harvick even at +420.
It's not as if Hamlin's speed is poor, though. He was runner-up behind Harvick in the second Michigan race last year and was tied for the best average running position of any driver in that race. Plus, Hamlin has demonstrated this year that his car can keep up with Harvick's at the high-speed tracks.
This is Hamlin's age-39 season, which is the age where NASCAR drivers typically peak. He and Harvick seem to be on equal footing, so as long as we're getting Hamlin at the longer number, we should favor him by a hair.
Ryan Blaney (+1300)
Oh, hey, waddya know. Another week where I'm shoving Ryan Blaney in your face. I promise it's for good reason. Maybe. I hope.
There was a point during the final stage of last year's Michigan race where the Penske Racing cars occupied each of the top four spots (counting the Wood Brothers Racing car of Paul Menard, which is affiliated with Penske). The whole team had massive speed. Blaney was running fifth with one lap left but ran out of fuel and finished 24th.
Blaney's Penske teammate, Joey Logano (+700), also won the first Michigan race last year. This should combine to make us want exposure to someone within this camp. But with Logano at +700 and Brad Keselowski at +800, it seems like Blaney gives us the best path for doing so.
Blaney has had a top-seven average running position in three of the past four Michigan races, so he knows how to get around this joint. His finishes have fallen off a bit in recent races, but he has still had a top-six average running position in three of the past four races. When you do that over a long enough period of time, you're eventually going to wind up in victory lane.
Logano and Keselowski have shown better ability to convert on quality runs this year, so it makes sense that they have shorter odds than Blaney. But in Blaney, we get that same upside at a better number. So let's give this puppy a crank one more time and see what happens.
Erik Jones (+3500)
The angle on Erik Jones is similar to what we just discussed with Blaney: we want access to elite equipment without hanging a short number. Jones checks the exact same box at Joe Gibbs Racing.
There are roughly 15 different narrative reasons that Jones would want to snag a win this weekend in Michigan, but let's start with the data first. We've seen that top-end speed out of Jones already this year as he finished third in the second Pocono race. He also has a third-place finish to his name in Michigan, getting that done in his 2017 rookie season.
So we know the speed is there. That's why we should bet Jones at +3500. But the narratives help make it a bit more fun.
As of right now, Jones is 56 points out of the playoffs with just six races left in the regular season. Unless someone falters ahead of him, his best shot to make it is a victory.
If he doesn't make it, there will be big ramifications. Jones is in a contract season, and he may be on his way out of Joe Gibbs Racing. Christopher Bell (+7500) will be looking for a new home after his team announced this week it will fold after the season, and the most logical landing spot is Jones' current ride. Jones will have plenty of suitors, but missing the playoffs would put a major dent in his leverage.
And, just for funsies, this is Jones' home track as he is a Byron, Michigan, native. That doesn't really matter. But who will argue with a good narrative?
Whether you want to roll with the data or the narrative, Jones works this week. He needs a good run this weekend, and we shouldn't be surprised if he logs just that.
Matt DiBenedetto (+4700)
As mentioned earlier, Paul Menard was competitive in Michigan last year, logging two of his five best average running positions of the entire campaign. Matt DiBenedetto has taken over for Menard this year and helped elevate that team to a new level. Importantly, he has done this especially on tracks similar to Michigan.
In the four races at big, non-drafting tracks, DiBenedetto has had a top-13 average running position all four times. In two of those, his average running positions were eighth or better, and he converted one into a sixth-place finish in Pocono. He would have had another top-10 in Indianapolis, but a last-lap crash sent him back to 19th. Those top-eight average running positions represented two of DiBenedetto's three best runs this season.
DiBenedetto has been a clear upgrade over Menard, and we saw Menard run near the front at this track last year. With DiBenedetto behind the wheel, we should expect something similar this weekend. You could also consider DiBenedetto at +140 to log a top-10, but he's not a bad bet as an outright winner, either.
Cole Custer to Finish Top 10 (+195)
Once again, at a high-speed track like Michigan, we want exposure to elite equipment. Not many drivers are in better situations than Cole Custer, so getting him at +195 for a top-10 is enticing.
After a sluggish start to the season, Custer has really rounded into form of late. Four of his five top-10 finishes have come within the past five races. That includes a win in Kentucky, which locked him into the playoffs. It also helped him sneak into the top 24 in owner points, meaning he'll start between 13th and 24th on Saturday rather than between 25th and 36th.
More important than the win in Kentucky, though, was what Custer did in Indianapolis. There, even after starting 30th, Custer had a 12th-place average running position and finished 5th. With the similarities between Indy and Michigan, that bodes well for this weekend.
Michigan wasn't necessarily Custer's strongest track in the Xfinity Series, but he was third here in 2018, and he led at least 15 laps in his two other races. Given the giddy-up he'll have under the hood, Custer's a good value at this number to finish in the top 10.