This week, last shall be first

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Austin Dillon paid out at 100-1 odds for winning Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, one week after Cole Custer paid out at 300-1 for his win at Kentucky Speedway, making it the largest back-to-back payouts in the history of betting NASCAR in Las Vegas.

Yes, Dillon and Custer, names that sound more familiar as Pinkertons chasing the Jesse James gang than NASCAR drivers. We’ve been hearing the names of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin for most of the year as they’re tied for the series lead with four wins each. But the wheel of fortune was ready to burst after paying out mostly favorites all season.

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Triple-digit dogs. I’m still amazed and scratching my head about what happened Sunday.

What’s the story behind back-to-back NASCAR winners paying out triple-digit odds? It doesn’t happen, so why now in a hot July of an already bizarre 2020?

First off, we have to realize that the race package they use the most (550 horsepower) has made it easier for lesser funded teams to compete with the top teams. It’s all about the air and being able to manipulate it to gain speed around turns compared to old days with the cars having 750 horsepower on the big tracks and using their extra money to do testing to gain an edge. So the teams are better, and not just the blue-bloods.

Now let’s factor in COVID-19 and all the changes NASCAR made to quickly put live sports entertainment back into our schedule. I still don’t know how they did it so effectively, but they laid down the meat and potatoes of the operation knowing they would have to sacrifice other areas to make an event happen as safe as possible with so many safety procedures with social distancing as the main component. This is why there are no practices Friday and Saturday and no qualifying. The teams show up, race, then leave town like a rogue group of carnies.

Last season’s Cup Champion Kyle Busch has insinuated several times that the reason he hasn’t won through 18 races, which is half the entire season, is because they haven’t been able to find the right set-up at each track without a few practice laps before the race. There’s a little sour grapes in his message, but there’s also lots of truth. Everyone is coming in with hopes of having a fast car prepared in Charlotte and coming off the hauler ready to roll. The lesser funded teams the more to gain here because of not having practice because practice makes the elite teams better.

Does that make a little bit of sense? How about a bet before the season that Custer and Dillon would have wins at the halfway point while Kyle Busch would have none?

The final factor is the tire compound being used by Goodyear at Las Vegas, Kentucky, and Texas this season. The used tires didn’t lose much speed compared to cars that took four tires on a stop. The Texas surface was repaved three years ago so abrasion and tire wear isn’t a problem. And then to make things stick even more, some of the tracks have been putting a sticky compound around the track to give even more grip. With the tires maintaining speed throughout a run with little drop-off, taking tires is not essential. All three of those races using the tires that didn’t wear down saw late pit strategy with just two tires changed or none. In all three races, the thick tire compound allowed teams to approach the last pit stop with different strategies than normal situations and helped give Joey Logano, Custer and Dillon wins.

As of writing this piece on Monday, Goodyear hasn’t announced the tire compound for Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout. If it’s the same compound as Texas, then it’s a good reason to maybe bet another long shot to win.

But along with the tires, the sticky grip, no practices or qualifying, I was sitting great at Texas with tickets on Ryan Blaney, who led a race-high 150 laps, and Aric Almirola, who led 35 laps and climbed back from two laps down to be third late in the race chasing down Blaney, until a caution came out just after they pitted. It reshuffled the whole deck. You can throw in luck as the final reason for back-to-back triple digits payouts.

There have been 28 Cup races held at Kansas Speedway and only one has been a high-paying driver when Joe Nemechek won in 2004 at 40-1 odds. Everyone else has been lower than 20-1. You’ve got elite championship drivers driving the best cars in the series. The winner’s list looks like a who’s who of NASCAR drivers from the past 20 years, starting with Jeff Gordon winning the first two races there in 2001, 2002. Tony Stewart has a couple wins, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson each have three wins there, and Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano each have two wins.

One last note on the Kansas race weekend. It will be the first time that the Cup Series will race on a Thursday night while its other two touring series race after. The Truck Series runs on Friday at Kansas and the Xfinity Series races on Saturday.

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