Goodyear 400 NASCAR Preview

Back in February, I previewed the NASCAR season, and I shared my excitement level about the betting possibilities for 2024, whether it would be on projecting race winners, top threes, top fives, or head-to-head driver matchups. At the time, I was quite comfortable with how my NASCAR simulations continued to improve over the course of the last two full seasons as I collected more and more data on the new, or next gen cars. I figured the sky was the limit this season. So far, I am thrilled with the results, and quite honestly, so is my betting account. After accurately pegging the last two race winners and getting four overall, we are well ahead of the pace of last season. In this piece, I’m here to share some of the results from the first 12 races, what has worked best, and what hasn’t. Hopefully, you’ve been along for the ride, as with the cars. I don’t see it slowing down as we enter the summer months and some of the typically more predictable races.

The first thing I want to share with you is that compared to last year, using what I call my “handicap stats,” which only take into account driver stats when they finish 95% or more of the laps in a race, the projections by both and Driver Rating Average Simulation Finish position are doing solid compared to normal averages. Here is the average margin between my projection and the actual finish for all drivers in all 12 races.

  1. OVERALL SIMULATION PROJECTION vs. ACTUAL DRIVER RATING: 5.76 positions (usually around 6.5)
  2. OVERALL SIMULATION PROJECTION vs. ACTUAL FINISH POSITION: 8.18 positions (usually around 9.0)

The other thing that I must mention at this point is that my FINAL SIMULATIONS (released on Saturdays usually) have been slightly more effective than the initial simulations I put out on Tuesday. The averaging variances on the two stats listed above for the initial simulations were 6.92 & 8.28. These represent improvements of about 20% & 1%, respectively, for the two measures. I would recommend waiting until the final simulations are released if you’re betting races using them as a foundation.

Remember that these numbers include wild Daytona and Talladega races that both produced variances over 12.3 on finishes, as usual. This leads me to an interesting thought: finding out which races have been most predictable so far by simulation, as bettors can use this information to decide which races to partake in most, or perhaps even not at all, the rest of the way. With that in mind, here is the order of race finish variations against the final simulation thus far:

  1. Richmond – 4.9 position variance
  2. COTA – 5.1
  3. Martinsville – 5.9
  4. Dover – 6.1
  5. Phoenix – 6.7
  6. Kansas – 6.8
  7. Las Vegas – 7.7
  8. Bristol – 9.2
  9. Texas – 10.2
  10. Atlanta – 10.8
  11. Talladega – 12.3
  12. Daytona – 13.1

This is precisely why I supply the HANDICAP-ABILITY GRADES for each track and why Talladega and Daytona are the lowest-graded venues.

Here are some key stats from my Final Simulations so far in 2024. As you analyze these numbers, consider that NASCAR races have at least 36 different drivers in each race.

  • FINAL Simulations have accurately pegged FOUR OUTRIGHT NASCAR WINNERS, including Kyle Larson (+450) at Las Vegas, William Byron (+375) at COTA, Denny Hanlin (+750) at Dover, and Larson (+400) again last week at Kansas. Simply betting my projected winner has thus produced a profit of +11.75 units thus far (19.75 on winners minus eight on losers)
  • INITIAL Simulations have accurately pegged FIVE OUTRIGHT NASCAR WINNERS, including Kyle Larson (+450) at Las Vegas, Denny Hamlin (+550) at Bristol, +400) at Richmond, (+750) at Dover, and Larson (+400) at Kansas. Simply betting my projected winner on this simulation has thus produced a profit of +18.5 units thus far (25.5 on winners minus seven on losers)
  • Doubling up and backing BOTH the initial simulation winner and the final simulation winner has netted +30.25 units to date! At this point, we will probably need only one or two more race winners in the final 24 events to clinch profitability for a second straight season.
  • There have been three occasions this season (Las Vegas, Dover, Kansas) where my initial & final race simulation pegged the same driver to win. That driver won the race ALL THREE TIMES, resulting in +16 units on just three bets, an ROI of 533%!
  • Only four of the 12 race winners thus far were projected outside the Top 8 on my simulations: William Byron (13th at Daytona), Daniel Suarez (20th at Atlanta), Chase Elliott (17th at Texas), and Tyler Reddick (18th at Talladega). However, if any of you recall reading my Daytona 500 predictions, Byron was one of my top longshot picks to win at 22-1. That is the type of opportunity that tracks like Daytona & Talladega offer bettors.
  •  Of the actual 36 Top 3 finishers this season, my final simulations pegged 11 of them accurately, good for 30.6%, and an improvement of over 1.5% on last year at this time. This has produced a profit of +4.9 units, and a ROI of 13.6%.
  • Of the actual 60 Top 5 finishers this season, my final simulations pegged 25 of them correctly, good for 41.7%. a noteworthy 2.0%+ jump over a year ago. This is a bit below the even line at -0.55 units, but take away a 2-13 performance at Daytona, Atlanta, and Talladega and we are well into profitability.
  • On Top 10 finishes, the projections on the final simulations versus the actual finishes are over 50%, at 61 out of 120. Again though, six of the “misses” were at Talladega alone.

Simulation Projection Results by NASCAR Driver

Naturally, different drivers will have different predictability levels based on their overall consistency at certain tracks. In looking at the full-time drivers that my simulations have projected most closely in this season’s first 12 races when considering variance between projection and actual finish, they are:

Rank. Driver: Average Margin
1. Kyle Larson: 5.0
2. Martin Truex: 5.33
3. Josh Berry: 5.45
3. Chase Briscoe: 5.45
5. Austin Dillon: 5.82
6. Ross Chastain: 6.0
7. Michael McDowell: 6.13
8. Chase Elliott: 6.17
9. Todd Gilliland: 6.27
10. Harrison Burton: 6.73

Incidentally, the least predictable driver this season has been Joey Logano (11.82), followed by Brad Keselowski (10.64).

Driver Variations from the Norm

One of the key handicapping principles I have always embraced in betting NASCAR is finding drivers who are supposed to do better or worse than usual at any given race. For instance, when my final simulations typically project a driver around 15th in any given race, but they are suddenly pegged 10th in a certain event, I believe that driver has betting value.

So far, in 2024, there have been 144 instances that didn’t involve trouble in a race in which my final simulations projected a driver at least 2.0 positions higher than his average. Of those 144 instances, 91 (63.2%) of the projected drivers finished better than their season-average finish position by an average of 7.2 positions. The vice-versa situation is similar but not as dramatic.

Using this powerful information for handicapping purposes, these are the average final simulation projections and average finishes for the 2024 season thus far using my handicapped races (95% or better laps). Consider these going forward to spot drivers expected to do better or worse than usual.

Driver – AvgFinSimProj / AvgFinPos
Christopher Bell – 5.33 / 12.56
Josh Berry – 20.27 / 20.82
Ryan Blaney – 6.42 / 13.67
Alex Bowman – 14.27 / 10.91
Chase Briscoe – 17.82 / 13.82
Chris Buescher – 12.36 / 11.55
Harrison Burton – 31.09 / 27.09
Kyle Busch – 14.75 / 15.08
William Byron – 5.09 / 11.18
Ross Chastain – 11.42 / 13.75
Austin Cindric – 18.2 / 21.4
Austin Dillon – 24.55 / 24.36
Chase Elliott – 9.17 / 9.67
Ty Gibbs – 10.42 / 13.25
Todd Gilliland – 24.27 / 22
Noah Gragson – 22.55 / 14.91
Justin Haley – 33.33 / 24.33
Denny Hamlin – 4.64 / 11.27
Daniel Hemric – 31.08 / 22.75
Riley Herbst – 38.5 / 29.5
Carson Hocevar – 28.55 / 19.64
Jimmie Johnson – 26 / 28.33
Erik Jones – 24.22 / 19.56
Brad Keselowski – 16.82 / 14.91
Corey LaJoie – 27.27 / 22.73
Kyle Larson – 4.55 / 9
Joey Logano – 8.18 / 17.27
Michael McDowell – 16.38 / 17.5
J.H. Nemechek – 25.73 / 20.91
Ryan Preece – 25.73 / 19.45
Tyler Reddick – 9.91 / 11.73
Zane Smith – 33.2 / 27.2
Ricky Stenhouse – 25.82 / 22
Daniel Suarez – 22.25 / 19.08
Martin Truex – 9.25 / 8.92
Bubba Wallace – 10.5 / 14.6

Looking Ahead to Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington

This coming Sunday will be NASCAR’s first stop this season at the famed 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway. Known by a couple famous nicknames such as the “Lady in Black”, and the track “Too Tough to Tame”, Darlington is considered one of the toughest and most grueling tracks on the circuit for drivers. Most drivers would describe it as physically challenging, and it’s very tough to go 293 laps around the oval without making a mistake or, more specifically, picking up a Darlington stripe coming out of the tight turns. It is typically a track where I find the cream rises to the top.  Thus, not surprisingly, the initial simulation finds William Byron topping Denny Hamlin among the favorites. With that said, let’s dig right into the key stats for Sunday’s event.

 Who are the statistical leaders at Darlington?

These are the leaders from my weekly simulation factors in some categories I deem to be key in analyzing race data. Note that Darlington is the only track on the circuit in which the Track & Track Designation Ratings are the same, as it really is its own animal in comparison to other facilities.

Steve’s Track Handicap Ratings:

  1. William Byron – 113.8
  2. Denny Hamlin – 104.6
  3. Martin Truex – 104
  4. Tyler Reddick – 101
  5. Kyle Larson – 99.9

In looking at the leaders above, two things stand out right away. First, this is kind of a who’s who right now in the Cup Series in terms of the best drivers. Second, Byron has a significant edge of 9.2 ratings points over any other driver, that is the primary reason he is projected to win on Sunday.

Steve’s Last 10 Overall Ratings (Momentum)

  1. Denny Hamlin – 112.9
  2. Kyle Larson – 107.5
  3. Martin Truex – 105.8
  4. Chase Elliott – 95.6
  5. Christopher Bell – 95.2

The lists above are a good place to start your handicapping. Noticeably, Byron is missing from the momentum list as he currently ranks eighth in that stat, heading into Sunday, as he has struggled a bit late. He can use a good run right now and Darlington is the perfect place to get it. Chase Elliott is just 12th in track & designation rating and needs to prove he can run well here before getting my backing for a potential win.

Keep in mind, these following variances are off of my INITIAL SIMULATIONS from Tuesday and can/will change based upon qualifying/practice on Saturday morning. Recall that the first list would theoretically be the drivers to follow, the next list the drivers to fade on Sunday.

NASCAR drivers projected higher-than-average simulation

1. Erik Jones: 14 / 24.22 (10.22)
2. Ricky Stenhouse: 16 / 25.82 (9.82)
3. Kyle Busch: 7 / 14.75 (7.75)
4. Tyler Reddick: 3 / 9.91 (6.91)
5. Brad Keselowski: 10 / 16.82 (6.82)
6. Derek Kraus: 28 / 34.5 (6.5)
7. Harrison Burton: 25 / 31.09 (6.09)
8. Martin Truex: 4 / 9.25 (5.25)

NASCAR drivers projected lower-than-average simulation

36. Ty Gibbs: 19 / 10.42 (-8.58)
35. Corey LaJoie: 33 / 27.27 (-5.73)
34. Alex Bowman: 20 / 14.27 (-5.73)
33. Chris Buescher: 18 / 12.36 (-5.64)
32. Chase Briscoe: 23 / 17.82 (-5.18)
31. Todd Gilliland: 29 / 24.27 (-4.73)
30. John Hunter Nemeche: 30 / 25.73 (-4.27)
29. Chase Elliott: 13 / 9.17 (-3.83)

For those of you insistent on me making some of my top picks for Sunday heading into the weekend (BEFORE PRACTICE/QUALIFYING ON SATURDAY), here are some of my top predictions, with odds courtesy of DraftKings:

Top 5: Byron (+700), Truex (+600), Bell (+900), Hamlin (+450), Busch (+1500)

Top longshots: Busch (+1500), Blaney (+2200), Logano (+2200), Wallace (+2800), Stenhouse (+10000)

Favorites to struggle: Larson (+400), Elliott (+1400), Gibbs (+2200)

I will have my final race simulation for the Goodyear 400 available on sometime between the wrap-up of the practice/qualifying sessions on Saturday morning and Sunday morning.

Races at Darlington are usually entertaining and competitive. Perhaps not to the level as last week at Kansas, but still cool. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch while celebrating your mothers, wives, or grandmothers!