Two years ago at the Auto Club Speedway, Alex Bowman was chasing job security. Now, the former midget racing prodigy is chasing history.
Facing an uncertain long-term future with Hendrick Motorsports upon arriving at the 2-mile tri-oval in 2020 for the Auto Club 400, Bowman led 110 laps en route to his second career NASCAR Cup Series win, after which he declared, “Hendrick Motorsports is where I want to be, where I want to stay for the rest of my career.”
Eleven weeks later, Bowman signed a deal with Hendrick through 2021 – then re-upped last summer for another two years – and now returns to Fontana, California, for the newly named Wise Power 400. After a race cancellation in 2021, he’s aiming to join Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch as the only back-to-back spring winners at the track. Bowman, however, is buried in race-winner odds at the BetMGM sportsbook, and is an underdog against William Byron in Featured Matchup odds.
Here’s a breakdown of Featured Matchup betting at the BetMGM sportsbook (odds and betting data as of Wednesday, Feb. 23):
Ryan Blaney (-200) vs. Austin Cindric (+165)
Ryan Blaney was “committed” to Penske teammate Austin Cindric at the Daytona 500 until he “was 100 percent sure” that one of the drivers would win on Roger Penske’s 85th birthday, Blaney said. And when the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series winner was 100 percent sure, he went for the checkered flag and his first win in the Daytona 500 after three top-10 finishes.
One week later, Blaney is still a seven-time winner thanks to Cindric’s block on the final lap, one Blaney admitted, “you’ve got to throw in that situation.” Now, Blaney returns to Fontana, where he also has three top-10 finishes and is favored to finish ahead of Cindric, though the public money isn’t behind Blaney.
As of Wednesday, despite receiving 60 percent of the ticket share in his Featured Matchup against Cindric, Blaney has only 40 percent of the handle. Prior to Sunday’s win, Cindric hadn’t finished ahead of Blaney in a Cup Series race in which they both started since the 2021 Daytona 500, a run of six races.
Chase Briscoe (-125) vs. Bubba Wallace (+105)
Bubba Wallace was happy with a second-place finish at Daytona in 2018. On Sunday, he called coming that close to a Daytona 500 win “a gut punch.” And he likely won’t respond with a win in California, the public is overwhelmingly predicting with their Featured Matchup betting.
While Wallace is receiving a modest 5 percent of the tickets – tied with Blaney for the fourth-highest among all drivers – to earn the second Cup Series win of his career, only 3 percent of the Featured Matchup tickets (and 2 percent of the handle) are on Wallace against Chase Briscoe. It’s the lowest head-to-head handle share of any driver this weekend.
Briscoe, meanwhile, is making his first Cup Series start at the Auto Club Speedway but is familiar with the low-banked, 75-foot wide track. He drove the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300 in 2019 and 2020, finishing fifth and 19th, respectively.
Daniel Suarez (-120) vs. Erik Jones (+100)
The last time Daniel Suarez was in Fontana, he was driving the No. 96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers and was two weeks removed from a failed Daytona 500 qualifying attempt – thanks to a crash on Lap 30 of the Bluegrass Vacations Duel 1 qualifying race. And, after four previous top-15 finishes at the Auto Club Speedway in the Xfinity Series (two) and Cup Series (two) – including a seventh-place run in 2017 – he finished 28th.
Suarez is now driving the No. 99 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing Team and one week removed from a career-best 18th-place finish at the Daytona 500. And he’s favored against Erik Jones, who posted a 10th-place finish here in 2020 when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He has yet to run this track with Petty GMS Motorsports.
Bettors are pounding Jones at the book; 95 percent of the handle and 96 percent of the ticket are on the 25-year-old Michigan native to top Suarez.
William Byron (-120) vs. Alex Bowman (+100)
Despite the nearly nine-second Auto Club win two years ago, Bowman is buried in race-winner odds (tied for eighth at +1200) and a Featured Matchup underdog to William Byron, who’s coming off a breakout season and has four top-15 finishes in four career races (three NASCAR Cup Series, one Xfinity Series) at the Auto Club Speedway.
Byron might get a fifth top-15 finish, but he’s not a popular pick to win, nor is he a popular pick to finish ahead of Bowman. Of the 15 drivers with winner odds of +5000 or better, Byron (+1000) has the lowest ticket (1 percent) and handle share (1.3 percent). And 91 percent of the handle is on Bowman in their Featured Matchup betting.