The final race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup season is here. The Cup Series will race one last time at Phoenix Raceway for 312 laps (500km). Books were slow publishing their NASCAR odds this week. Only Caesars and Kambi released Cup Series Championship odds on Monday and even then they only published outright odds. As more books have added odds its time to dig into this weeks best bets.
The Championship 4 drivers, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano are the clear favorites. To date no non-Championship 4 driver has ever won the final race of the season, so this makes sense. However, this could be the year that changes. For the first time in the current Cup Championship format, we have a driver, Kyle Larson, racing for the Owners Championship but not the Drivers Championship. This means that except for his teammate, Chase Elliott, Larson is likely willing to beat any of the other Championship 4 drivers. Kevin Harvick is also always a strong performer at short flat tracks. Since Harvick has no teammates in the Championship 4 he is also a threat.
Phoenix is a mile long, “flat” track. The banking in the turns is varied, but is never more than 11 degrees. The best comparable tracks are Richmond, New Hampshire, and even Martinsville. While Martinsville generally has more randomness, the track does still have meaningful correlation. Two tracks that don’t correlate well despite being shorter flat tracks are are Gateway and Nashville. Predictive metrics, such as green flag speed and average running position do not correlate well to Phoenix.
On the other hand, Auto Club and Las Vegas both have high correlation with Phoenix in my incident adjusted speed metric this year. Nick Giffen of The Action Network also noted correlation with Sonoma. Nick hypothesized that it could be due to the hot dry weather at these tracks. He was able to improve his model’s accuracy by including Auto Club, Las Vegas and Sonoma in his model.
I hadn’t planned on using Auto Club, Las Vegas, or Sonoma in my model before talking to Nick. After talking to Nick about this though I’m sold that the correlation I’m seeing isn’t random, its the weather. So for my Phoenix model I’m using data from Phoenix, Richmond, New Hampshire, Martinsville, Las Vegas, Sonoma, and Auto Club.
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NASCAR BETTING ANALYSIS: Cup Series Championship
As mentioned above, since NASCAR adopted a single race final playoff, every season finale has been won by a Championship Four driver. This is likely to continue, but as discussed below, this year could see a non Championship Four driver in victory lane on Sunday. So, while the odds to win the race are tilted towards the Championship Four, there may be some value in “long shots.”
First, for the first time with this Championship format we could see a split Drivers and Owners Championship. Kyle Larson has been eliminated from the Drivers Championship. However the 5 Car is still racing for the Owners Championship due to the unfortunate injury to Kurt Busch earlier this season. This means that Larson will still be racing hard. Unless it comes down to Larson and his teammate, Chase Elliott, I expect Larson to race for the win.
There are also several drivers with good short flat track skill who are lurking. The Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, particularly Kevin Harvick are unlikely to care about “spoiling” the day of a Championship Four driver. Kevin Harvick dominates this track, Chase Briscoe won here in the spring, and Aric Almirola’s best track type is short flats. As such all three drivers are a threat this week.
Ultimately I think this race will be won by a Championship Four driver. Chase Elliott, Christophe Bell, and Joey Logano all have great short track resumes. In addition, while Ross Chastain hasn’t been the fastest at short flat tracks this year, he has still found a way to finish up front. This spring Chastain had the best finish of any Championship Four driver at Phoenix. So while I will discuss a long shot play below, my focus is on other prop bets.
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#4 Kevin Harvick
There are a lot of ways you can go with betting Harvick this week. Which option you take depends on how aggressive you want to be. I took Harvick for 3.3 units for a Top 10 at -110 when Caesars first published its odds Tuesday afternoon. Its my largest single bet of the year, that’s how strongly I felt about it. Unfortunately -110 is LONG gone and now the best that you can find Top 10 odds for Harvick is -170 at DraftKings.
Here is what you need to know about Harvick at Phoenix. The last time he finished outside the Top 10 at Phoenix was 2013. Harvick has 18 straight Top 10 finishes and is going for the all time consecutive Top 10 record at any track. He is a short track monster. He won at Richmond earlier this year. In my incident adjusted speed ranks he was fourth at Phoenix, first at Richmond 1, 10th at Martinsville 1, fourth at New Hampshire, third at Richmond 2, and 14th at Martinsville 2. I have him ranked between fourth and seventh this week depending on the specific factors considered.
Below I am laying out the case for three bets on Harvick. Personally I am only on the Top 10 bet because I got it at -110 for 3.3 units when Caesars first released Top 10 odds. But if you missed that, at this point I would put to do 1.7u on the Top 10 and a splash on the other two.
Top 10 -162 | (Barstool and BetRivers Sportsbooks)
If you want to be conservative I don’t hate -162 for a Top 10, available at BetRivers and Barstool. Early Tuesday I was talking with some folks in the Garage Guys Discord and I said that I thought I would be him as low as -160. So -162 is close enough I would have taken it. In addition, Jim Sannes (one of the Action Network Verified NASCAR Experts) say that he has Harvick at 66.5% for a Top 10 (approximately -200). So I would be OK with going to -170 (available at DraftKings). I absolutely would not go any lower than -170 though. HardRock also has Harvick at -160 for the few with access to that book.
Top Ford +600 | (Caesars Sportsbook)
While I am using other tracks in my performance metric, the two tracks with the highest correlation to Phoenix are Richmond and New Hampshire. Looking back at the Phoenix race, the two Richmond races, and the New Hampshire race, Harvick has the best average finishing position, 3.5, of any Ford. In fact, that average finish is actually the best of any Cup Series driver. The next best Ford is Ryan Blaney at 9.8, followed by Chris Buescher, 11.3, Chase Briscoe, 12.5, and then Joey Logano at 13.8. Harvick is also tied for the series best average running position with Joey Logano at 6.7.
Harvick has been the Top Ford at three of the four races mentioned above. The exception was Phoenix where he still performed very well. At Phoenix he was the third best Ford. He finished sixth, behind Chase Briscoe who won the race and Ryan Blaney who came in fourth. Given how well he has performed here and that his only major competition is Logano (since I assume Blaney will not pressure Logano) +600 feels like a gift. As noted above, I am not on this bet given my large Top 10 position, and I wouldn’t go under +600 because of how hard it can be to top the Championship Four drivers in general, but half a unit at +600 feels like value.
To Win +2500 | (DraftKings Sportsbook)
If you want to take a big swing you can go for Harvick outright. While most books have him around +1700 or +1800 he is +2500 at DraftKings. Outside of Kyle Larson who is still fighting for an Owners Championship, Harvick is the biggest threat to the Championship 4. Harvick is an older driver who is writing the last chapters of a Hall of Fame Career. He doesn’t need to make friends with the young drivers. He won’t care about “spoiling” the day by winning the race.
This is also the track he has been strongest at throughout his career. If this were any race but the Championship there is no way Harvick’s odds would be this long. He closed around +1700 at the first Phoenix race. His odds for both Richmond races closed around +1500. At New Hampshire he also closed around +1500. Even accounting for the mythological 100HP boost for the Championship Four, +2500 is too long for someone as talented as Harvick. As with the Top Ford bet, given my large Top 10 position, I’m not on this bet. I wouldn’t go more than 1/2 a unit here, but if you want to pick a non-Championship Four driver, Harvick is your man.
Christopher Bell +360 | (PointsBet)
But for the fact that Bell is racing for a Championship I can’t envision a situation where I would bet him at this price. That said, Bell IS racing for a Championship. My model doesn’t have him as the favorite but the eye test suggests he should be. Bell, like all of Toyota struggled early this year. So his data from Phoenix, Auto Club, and Sonoma is pulling his rating down.
Looking to recent history, Bell has won the last two races where he was in a win or go home situation. He also had the best car late at New Hampshire and the second Richmond race. He won at New Hampshire and just needed another 100 ft at Richmond. At Richmond would have caught Kevin Harvick if the start finish line was in the middle of turns 1 and 2. He is performing at a very high level at this track type right now.
As I noted above, I think Larson and Harvick can challenge for a win. At the end of the day though I still think a Championship 4 driver wins. Right now Bell is putting up the best performances of the Championship 4 drivers. He has the best recent history not just at relevant tracks, but everywhere. +360 implies a win rate of just 21.74%. The way Bell is racing right now he wins this race closer to 25 or 26 percent of the time. I still want some edge, so since I think Bell wins this close to a quarter of the time I would bet him down to +325.
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