NASCAR Betting Guide: Instacart 500
Even though Phoenix isn't a speed-heavy track, it's one where the big boys tend to shine. That matters when trying to bet Sunday's Instacart 500.
Part of Phoenix being a stud-heavy track is that it hosted the championship race last year and was a part of the playoffs even before that. Clearly, this race isn't as high-impact as those, so it could skew more chaotic. But just this track type in general tends to favor the top teams.
The NASCAR Cup Series has run 13 races on short, flat tracks the past two seasons. All 13 races were won by Cup Series champions. Only one of the winners had a projected average running position lower than 10.5 in my model, and only two had a projected mark higher than 9.5. These winners all made sense.
That ups the appeal in the favorites for this week. And in looking at my win simulations for the race, there's a lot of betting value at the top of the odds board.
That's where we're going to start things off today. We're going to do a broad overview of the favorites, see which values make the most sense, and then dive into the mid-range. In a year defined by upsets, it's a good week to lean on the known entities.
Dissecting the Favorites
With longshots being overvalued this week, there's inherently going to be plenty of value on the studs. This puts us in a position where we can be more picky and decide which of those values we like most.
To me, that comes down to Penske Racing with Brad Keselowski (+700 at FanDuel Sportsbook) and Joey Logano (+800).
Although these two guys aren't the betting favorites to win, they are the two topping my win simulations. Keselowski has simulated win odds of 15.7% compared to Logano's mark of 14.9%, both higher than their implied marks (12.5% and 11.1%, respectively). They grade out so well for a reason.
In six races last year, Keselowski and Logano combined for three wins compared to just one finish outside the top four. That one poor finish was Keselowski in the first Phoenix race, a race in which he led 82 laps and won the second stage despite spinning early. He just had some rough luck with cautions at the end, pushing him back to an 11th-place finish. Penske put an emphasis on the 750-horsepower package in the offseason with the championship race moving to Phoenix, and it paid clear dividends.
We could see other teams (Joe Gibbs Racing, specifically) try to do the same this year and make up ground. But with the Penske drivers having mastered them already and still not being the odds-on favorites, there's a window to buy in.
Although the win sims see higher value in Logano (who also has the highest projected finishing position of anybody in the field), I'm going to go with Keselowski here. The reasoning is that Keselowski was just the more dominant driver last year, leading more laps in the 750-horsepower package than any other driver in the sport. He closed the deal with wins in Richmond and New Hampshire, and he was runner-up at the championship race in Phoenix. Even at the shorter number, give me that upside.
Logano's optimal market for me is +225 to finish on the podium. The implied odds there are 30.8%, and he snags a top-three finish 34.9% of the time in my simulations. A top-three finish doesn't require dominance, so I'll plug Logano there with Keselowski in the outright.
William Byron (+1800)
The other team that mopped up in the 750-horsepower package was Hendrick Motorsports. Chase Elliott (+550) won in both Phoenix and Martinsville, so the speed was clearly there.
Elliott's odds are too short to buy into. But William Byron? I can get behind that.
Byron's win two weeks ago does not influence this mark. That came on a 1.5-mile track using a totally different rules package than what we'll see this weekend. But even just focusing on tracks like Phoenix shows hope for Byron.
In the six races on short, flat tracks, Byron had three top-10 finishes and five top-14 average running positions. Two of the top-10 finishes came in Phoenix.
That doesn't, though, show the upside necessary to win a race. We can see it in his 2019 races, though. In the 2019 fall race at Martinsville, Byron started 11th, posted a fifth-place average running position, and finished second. Martinsville and Phoenix are different tracks, and that was using a different rules package than what they have this weekend, but it did show that Byron can push for a win.
Because the 2019 Martinsville race was in a different rules package, it's not factored into my model. But even without it, Byron still wins 8.3% of the time in the simulations, much better than his 5.3% implied win odds at +1800. That's the best value to get on Byron. If you'd like some extra wiggle room, there is a smidge of value in his podium odds, as well (16.1% in the simulations versus 15.4% implied).
Kurt Busch (+2500)
Kurt Busch isn't someone I bet to win often. His equipment at Chip Ganassi Racing is lackluster, forcing Busch to do all the heavy lifting himself.
That's not totally out of the question, though, given how good of a driver Busch is. He could be one of the guys to contend with the heavyweights even without elite equipment.
In six races on short, flat tracks last year, Busch had four top-10 average running positions. Two of those came in Martinsville, which -- again -- is different from Phoenix. But he also had top-10 average running positions in the second Phoenix race and at Richmond, and Richmond is a tremendous comp for Phoenix. A top-10 average running position gives you the potential to snag a win if you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
The concern around Busch -- due to the equipment -- is upside. That's accounted for in the model, though. Busch ranks eighth in the model straight up but is just 11th in the win sims due to a lack of dominant outings. Even down in 11th, though, his win odds simulate out to be 5.85 compared to his implied odds at 3.9%. If you're concerned about the upside, there's a healthy amount of value in his -110 mark to finish in the top 10 (60.4% simulated odds versus 52.4% implied), so you have multiple routes for checking out Busch. I just view +2500 as an outright forgiving enough to take the plunge.
Chris Buescher to Finish Top 10 (+450)
This is one spot where we're going to go against the model. It doesn't look very fondly on Chris Buescher, who ranks just 24th overall. That, though, is due to a down 2021 season, and I'm thinking he's positioned well for a bounce-back.
Buescher's performances in the 750-horsepower package last year were, frankly, bad. He had just one top-10, and it came at Bristol, which is about as different from Phoenix as you can possibly get. The 2020 data isn't going to get us to bet Buescher.
The 2019 data is more promising, though. Even while in lesser equipment, Buescher still had a top-15 average running position in both Richmond and New Hampshire, the two closest parallels to Phoenix. He also had a good run at Martinsville that year and followed it up with a 13th-place finish there even in a down 2020. The guy can get around these spots; he just didn't show it last year.
As such, betting Buescher is a bit of a leap of faith. But he has shown already in 2021 that Roush-Fenway Racing may have made gains over the offseason as he won a stage at Homestead. If those gains translate to this package, too, Buescher could wind up being massively undervalued at +450 to get a top-10.