NASCAR at Phoenix betting preview: Defending champ Chase Elliott enters as the favorite

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Nick Bromberg
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Instacart 500

3:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

Chase Elliott is the defending Phoenix race winner. He's also the defending Cup Series champion. It makes total sense why he's the betting favorite for Sunday's race at BetMGM.

All four of the drivers who raced for the title at Phoenix in November have odds of +800 or better entering the fifth race of the 2021 season at Phoenix. That's reasonable; the drivers who were fast in the fall should be fast again in the spring, right?

Likely. But it's no guarantee, especially with the parity that we've seen so far this season. The gaps between teams that existed at the end of the 2020 season don't seem to be as large in 2021. If that continues, that's a good thing for NASCAR fans. Parity and variability are key factors in a compelling season.

But we think a favorite will head to victory lane on Sunday. And it's a guy who has been really, really, REALLY good at Phoenix in recent years.

Kevin Harvick wasn't one of the four drivers who raced for the title in 2020 after he was eliminated from the playoffs a week earlier at Martinsville. Harvick wasn't great at Phoenix anyway in November. He finished seventh and didn’t lead any laps.

But Harvick carries an absurd top 10 streak into Sunday’s race and there’s no reason to think it’ll end this week. Harvick has finished in the top 10 in every Phoenix race since he was 13th in the spring race in 2013. That’s a string of 15 races.

Harvick has won six of those 15 races, though he’s on a “streak” of five races without a win. There's a reason he's the No. 3 favorite right behind Elliott this weekend.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway on November 08, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott won at Phoenix in November. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The favorites

Chase Elliott, +500

Denny Hamlin, +600

Kevin Harvick, +600

Brad Keselowski, +600

Kyle Busch, +800

Joey Logano, +800

Logano is the defending champion of this race. He won in March 2020, the final race before NASCAR shut down for weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was also third behind Elliott in the fall. Keselowski finished second and was one of the best drivers at short tracks in 2020. That's why he's at +600, too.

Good mid-tier value

Martin Truex Jr., +1200

Kurt Busch, +2500

Truex crashed out of this race in the spring while running up front. That's his only finish outside the top 10 at Phoenix in four races with Joe Gibbs Racing. If you can get a guy like Truex at 12-1 odds, you really need to consider taking it.

Busch has finished in the top 10 in 20 of 36 starts at Phoenix and has an average finish of 13.6. You can do much worse than betting a driver like Busch at 25-1.

Don't bet these drivers

Aric Almirola, +3500

Bubba Wallace, +8000

Almirola's season has been brutal so far. Wait for him to turn it around before you consider betting on him. Especially when his odds are as relatively low as they are at 35-1. Almirola is just 26th in the standings and has finished 30th or worse in three of the first four races of the season.

Wallace and 23XI Racing are 16th in the points standings, but it's clear that they're still working out the intricacies of being a brand-new team. Wallace should be a better value when challenging for wins later in the year.

Looking for a long shot?

Ryan Preece, +30000

Preece is 13th in the points standings. He has 300-1 odds. That's a points position and betting odds combination that doesn't come around very often. Seize the opportunity if you want to throw down a low-dollar bet on a driver with big odds.

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