NASCAR Cup Series preview: Should bettors back off Kyle Larson until his luck turns?

In this week’s column, we dive into Kyle Larson’s bad luck with crashes, we wonder if there will be retaliation for Ross Chastain’s aggressive style, we’ll have even more praise for Josh Berry, and more. Again…

Why does Kyle Larson crash so much? He’s done it in 3 of his last 4 games. Should this be a weekly concern where we should have some degree of concern that he might DNF despite being a 5-1 or 6-1 favorite?

Jeff: Especially bad luck. It is legitimately what it is. Larson was advancing through the pack last week when Ross Chastain knocked Brennan Poole into Larson’s path. The week before, Larson had been the victim of a typical Talladega wreck. And then at Bristol Dirt, Ryan Preece decided to hit back at Larson for an incident earlier in the race. Unfortunately, that’s the risk you take when betting on NASCAR. You can identify the fastest car and the best driver on this track, but they can still finish 36th if they are wrecked or have a mechanical failure. Personally, that’s why I think head-to-head matchups and even group bets might be better games in some cases.

Jordan: The crashes at Talladega and Dover were due to the wrong place at the wrong time, something that was largely beyond Larson’s control as his crash at Bristol was upon him. Knowing this, the concern is usually minimal. The big takeaway is that Larson has speed in his cars, and as long as that continues, he’ll be a threat to win most weeks – if he can shake off his bad luck. Look what happened in the one race where he hasn’t crashed in the past four weeks – he won.

Josh Berry, our unofficial patron saint here, finished 10th in Dover. If he maintains those solid finishes, would there be a way to keep him in the Cup Series? Or is he the victim of a numbers game and destined to return to Xfinity when Alex Bowman returns?

Jeff: All signs point to Berry being a full-time Cup Series driver next year. What is this sound? Wait, this is Jordan’s music! I’ll let him take it from here.

Jordan: Let’s just say there’s a very high likelihood that Berry will race full-time in the Cup Series in 2024 and do so with a big team of four.

Ross Chastain was at the center of the accident which indirectly knocked out Larson (although he said he didn’t want to). This seems to be a recurring theme with him causing wreckage. Is there a line of drivers looking to fight back? Or is it going to keep happening because of his style and people accepting it?

Jeff: Phew, the biggest question of the past two years here. Chastain seems to anger so many drivers, and yet none of them really do anything. Larson got in his way and held him up at Dover for a bit, but there was no contact. Hamlin “fired back” at Phoenix (sort of) and then got penalized for it, which might discourage others from trying anyway. So yes, if Chastain continues to have an aggressive style and pisses off the pitch but no one ever does anything about it, when why change?

Jordan: Oh, there’s a long line of drivers unhappy with Chastain and his aggressive driving. A line that apparently increases every week. But while Chastain won’t win any popularity contests, his style is working for him – and pretty well – as he nearly won the championship a year and is currently top of the points standings. So, no, it shouldn’t change.

Are we back on a course where long shots can appear?

Jeff: No, probably not. Bubba Wallace won Kansas’ last race, but that was actually pretty predictable considering 23XI Racing’s strength at the track last year and the quality of Wallace’s racing back then. Like Dover, it is likely that Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing will have the advantage, followed by a few cars from a combination of 23XI, Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Team Penske. But none of those really qualify as underdogs, and it’s hard to imagine an upset winner this weekend.

Jordan: Something weird would have to happen for a surprise winner to emerge on Sunday, such as the race coming down to fuel economy – not entirely uncommon in Kansas. The likely outcome is one of the usual Suspect wins, continuing a trend we’ve seen this season where upsets have been few and far between.

NOOB QUESTION OF THE WEEK: We haven’t talked much about F1 in this column. F1 Academy looks like the greatest slam dunk of all time, but can’t find a streaming service and we haven’t seen any trading cards for it yet. What’s the best way to look at this? And do you think NASCAR will do something like an all-women’s circuit in the future?

Jeff: As our Madeline Coleman noted, you can’t watch F1 Academy races right now – and even highlights from their first race have been delayed in posting. You’d assume it would be something people could eventually stream. But in terms of an all-female series, it’s actually quite controversial in racing. Why couldn’t a woman drive a race car as fast as a man? It has nothing to do with strength (coupe cars have power steering, for example), so why would men have an advantage? If you’re creating an all-female NASCAR series, are you basically saying, “Women can’t hang out with men, so they need their own place?” The NHRA would certainly disagree, given the success of women in drag racing. A better bet in NASCAR would be to continue to invest in female drivers in the development ranks and allow them to move up the current ranks. It’s a numbers game. Hopefully we will soon see a handful of female drivers in the Cup Series.

Jordan: Jeff answered this question perfectly and I completely agree with what he said.

This week’s odds (via BetMGM)

(Top photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Josh Berry by James Gilbert/Getty Images; Kyle Larson Online photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

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