Want A Phoenix Winner? Maybe, Ask The Midwest.
When we started doing the research this week for NASCAR Cup and Xfinity, we asked ourselves what tracks are the closest physical match to Phoenix.
The selection of flat tracks isn't that large, and some of them are substantially shorter than Phoenix. So, while Richmond and even Martinsville are relevant, this longer track doesn't have many true analogs.
New Hampshire is close, but has been only once a season for a while. Darlington has similar length and excessive tire wear, but is a higher-banked track that shares more with Homestead.
There are a couple spots, though, off the beaten path that can help us. Or at least give us some more data points.
The first is Gateway Park, on the Illinois side of St. Louis, which is finally getting a Cup race this year. Gateway is a 1.25 oval (sort of), flat, who has hosted Trucks and Xfinity on and off since 1997. Rough surface, pretty aggressive tire wear, and a fair of amount of equipment attrition. And, a lot of our current young guns in the NASCAR Cup & Xfinity Series have some substantial seat time here, especially in Trucks.
The other is the Iowa Speedway, just trying to stay in business in Newton, Iowa, east of Des Moines. 2007 through 2020, they hosted a steady diet of Xfinity, Trucks, ARCA and IndyCar races.
But, it's been a money-loser, and Trucks & Xfinity skipped in 2021. This place may close.......or not. But, it's a 7/8 Mile flat track that sits someplace around Richmond (current configuration) or Gateway. Same sorts of guys & cars are good here. If nothing else, Iowa confirms a lot of the biases in my model and eye test.
A lot of the help we get from Gateway or Iowa are on the younger guys, especially many still active in Xfinity.
We overvalue him every week. I swear he is going to be a thing. But Christopher Bell just owns Iowa. Owns it.
He won the pole last week at Vegas and I spent much of last year chasing his best price.
At Iowa, in the last four Xfinity races, Bell won twice, was second the other two, and led a combined 516 laps. That's a complete domination. Flat tracks demand tire management and aggressive tactics. Bell is right there, and is as cheap as 3300 to open in the domestic books this week for Cup. Bell also won Gateway in Trucks back in 2016.
Does Bell win? Unlikely. But was an early week dart when the lines opened on Tuesday. Subscribers got that early DART list, but a lot of the early value there happens to match positively to the guys with the top finishes and in-game speed we see at Iowa & Gateway. Will want to play him via best prices on Top 3/5/10, and maybe as Top Toyota.
Am sure he gets way more expensive after qualifying. He won Phoenix Xfinity in 2018.
Aric Almirola has been an odd cheat code at New Hampshire over the years, stealing another win there last year. Opened 4000 in a couple spots this week, great at flat tracks, and has been surprisingly solid so far this year against the Penskes and the rest of his SHR Ford team. Will find value for him in matchups, threw a DART at +4000 and Top 5 in the +575 area.
These two extra flat tracks also love Chase Briscoe, who has been competitive in spots, but not brought back a good finish yet in Cup in 2022. Briscoe beat Bell late at Iowa in 2019 to win, and has an average finish there in Xfinity of 3.5
Briscoe had a dominant run at Gateway in Trucks in 2017 (led 88 laps), and finished second to John Hunter Nemechek (who also projects well this weekend in Xfinity). Briscoe's eventual first win may well be on a road course, but he opened too cheap this week in the +6000 to 6600 area.
Nemechek is actually well-priced, now that it's established that his week-to-week Xfinity equipment is not trash. He looked competitive enough last week to prove that. He's had a 5th and a 3rd in Xfinity at Iowa, average finish across three Phoenix races of 7.3, and had wins in Trucks at both Iowa and Gateway. And a 4th at New Hampshire Xfinity in 2018. This is a good weekend for his skillset, and will be a value in matchups I'd assume. +2200 to Win.
Who else? In Xfinity, both of the Childress Chevys have a ton of seat time at Gateway & Iowa. Remember, while running Trucks so well the last 2-3 seasons, both Sheldon Creed and Austin Hill have gotten Xfinity tastes on their days off. Those two, and Brett Moffitt (albeit in better quality Truck Series ride), project well at these flats for the Phoenix Xfinity race on Saturday.
The only other optional data point for Cup or Xfinity this weekend is Nashville. The new track there (not the Fairgrounds). 1.33 miles, flat, and was maybe the jumping off point for Kyle Larson's domination of the late Summer of 2021.
The Top 5 there last year for Cup was Larson (led 264 laps), Ross Chastain, Will Byron, Almirola and Phoenix expert Kevin Harvick.
Bell was 9th at Nashville, competitive all day. As was Chase Elliott......who got disqualified post-race.
Nashville had been on a decade-long hiatus from NASCAR. The 2021 Xfinity show had an easy win for Kyle Busch (in superior All-Star equipment), but was a coming out party for Josh Berry (4th).
Austin Cindric led 53 laps, but was wrecked late.....which seems to be his pattern at every flat track BUT Phoenix. He won Xfinity there in both 2020 and 2021.
Other Xfinity fluke? Trevor Bayne in the Joe Gibbs All-Star Toyota. He roasted us in matchups two weeks ago with a 3rd at California. His career record in all three series is pretty mediocre on these flat tracks and similar.........except for an Xfinity win at Iowa back in 2013. Bad at Phoenix, average at Richmond, nothing special at New Hampshire. May short him again this week in matchups. He's way too expensive at +1000 straight up..
Long for the Weekend: Bell, Almirola, Nemechek, Cindric, Briscoe, E.Jones (if price based on +8000 to Win)