Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway will be the third of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. The races held at sister tracks at Atlanta and Las Vegas gave us a huge blueprint on how things will likely unfold this time around.
This will also be the third race using the new package on the cars with 550 horsepower and aero-ducts.
When the series raced at Atlanta, the engines were reduced to 550 horsepower but didn’t use the aero-ducts as they did at Las Vegas and Fontana. Despite Fontana being a 2-mile layout, the results should still be thrown into the mix with the 1.5-mile tracks because of the package. So we have three races to review as the main part of the formula to pick a winner and then we can add in a little bit of past history.
Through six races this season, the winners have come between just two teams: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. In the three races we’re reviewing here, it was Joey Logano winning at Atlanta, Brad Keselowski winning at Las Vegas and Kyle Busch winning at Fontana. Those three drivers were amazing in all three races. In the races Keselowski didn’t win he was runner-up and third, and he comes fresh off his second win of the year in a dominating performance last week at Martinsville.
Those three drivers will be great again this week which is why they’ll all have short prices as the top three favorites. So rather than discuss why they’re so great, let’s take a look on a few drivers that are close to joining them in their exclusive VIP club.
The first contender to unseat the Big 3 is Kevin Harvick, who was part of last season’s Big 3 at this stage when he had three wins already. He’s been the model of consistency so far with the 550 horsepower engine, finishing fourth at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana. He led 45 laps at Atlanta and a race-high 88 laps at Las Vegas. He’s just been a notch below the Big 3, but there’s a strong chance that the Stewart-Haas Racing stables have found something with this package to find a bit more speed for Harvick to win.
Harvick certainly knows the high-bank turns of Texas well with 10 top-five finishes in 32 Cup starts, including winning the past two fall races there during the playoffs. He’s also got five Xfinity Series wins and another in the Truck Series. And because the Big 3 will have such low odds, Harvick should fetch a decent price with sportsbooks looking to offer a low theoretic hold percentage.
Martin Truex Jr. was part of last seasons Big 3 and the 1.5-mile tracks have been where he’s had his most success with 11 of his 19 career wins coming on them. He’s yet to win at Texas but has been runner-up twice. He was also runner-up at Atlanta in February.
Kurt Busch won at Texas in 2009, but the top reason to suggest he can win Sunday is his performances so far with the 550 horsepower engine: he was second at Atlanta, fifth at Las Vegas and sixth at Fontana. He’s made the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 the top Chevrolet in the series and he’s done it on a one-year contract.
Ryan Blaney hasn’t had the success as his Penske teammates have, but he has a car set-up almost the same and in the last race using this package at Fontana he finished fifth. This could be a great spot for him to grab the win that everyone believes will eventually happen this season. Expect odds at 18-to-1 or higher.
Along the same lines of supporting Blaney because of his teammates is Denny Hamlin, the Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Kyle Busch. Hamlin won both Texas races in 2010 and has 10 top-five finishes in 26 Cup starts. He’s been good everywhere this season finishing 11th or better in all six races, including his season-opening Daytona 500 win. He’s averaging a 6.5 finish this season.
Aric Almirola will be in the 25-to-1 range and has top-10 finishes at all three tracks with the 550 horsepower package. A couple of longshots to drop $5 or $10 on that showed well with this package includes Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon.
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