Sixteen years ago at the Subway Fresh 500, Martin Truex Jr. was widely known as “Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s teammate,” a 25-year-old rookie in his 16th career NASCAR (then-Nextel) Cup Series race and first start at the Phoenix Raceway.
This week at the Ruoff Mortgage 500, Truex arrives as the teammate of another future Hall of Famer, though he does so as a future Hall of Famer himself with 588 career Cup Series races and 31 wins, including last March at the track southwest of downtown Phoenix.
Truex started ninth and briefly sat in the top five during the 2006 race before finishing 22nd, one spot ahead of Earnhardt, then-teammate with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and 12 spots ahead of fellow rookie Denny Hamlin, his future teammate with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Neither seriously contended for their first career win, nor were they expected to do so.
That won’t be the case on Sunday.
Expectations are high for the veteran drivers with 65 combined career starts in Phoenix. Both sit among the favorites in NASCAR odds and face off in the blockbuster Featured Matchup at BetMGM:
Martin Truex Jr., (-115) vs. Denny Hamlin (-110)
“Phoenix has been a tough one,” Truex said after last year’s win, referring to 30 previous winless starts at the 1-mile oval. He posted only seven driver ratings of at least 100 and led 123 total laps in those 30 starts.
In Truex’s last two starts in Arizona – most recently a second-place finish in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race – he posted career-high ratings of 124.7 and 127.4 and led 136 laps. And dating back to 2019, only Joey Logano and Hamlin have a higher rating than Truex in Phoenix.
As of Wednesday, only Kyle Larson (+400) sits ahead of Truex (+700) and Hamlin (+800) to win the Ruoff Mortgage 500. While Larson has been a popular pick among BetMGM bettors with 12.1% of the handle – second to Christopher Bell (12.8%) – Truex and Hamlin haven’t.
Truex has only 3.1% of the handle at BetMGM, 15th among all drivers, while Hamlin is sixth with 5.5%. But Truex is dominating the Featured Matchup splits with 96% of tickets and 97% of the handle, both the highest among all matchups this week.
Kevin Harvick (-165) vs. Brad Keselowski (+135)
Kevin Harvick is years removed from one of the most dominant runs at one track in NASCAR history – six wins in eight starts over five years at Phoenix Raceway – but the 46-year-old ranks fourth in average finish (6.17) and driver rating (107.4) since 2019.
He’s the only driver with six top-10 finishes at the track over that time as he carries a streak of 17 straight top-10 finishes into Sunday’s race.
Harvick, however, is coming off his first winless season since 2009 and, without a win yet this season, has a winless streak of 49 races, the longest since he went 115 races without a victory from 2007-09.
But he doesn’t necessarily need a win on Sunday to win his Featured Matchup against Brad Keselowski, who’s never won at Phoenix but has 13 top-10 finishes in his last 20 starts at the track.
The two are relatively even in ticket and handle share for race winner, but 96% of the handle (on 60% of the tickets) is on Harvick to finish ahead of Keselowski in the Featured Matchup.
Alex Bowman (-120) vs. Christopher Bell (+100)
In Las Vegas last weekend, Alex Bowman needed only 0.178 seconds to turn around a self-proclaimed “pretty awful start to the year,” leading only 16 laps en route to his fifth win in his last 31 starts.
The Tucson native is now seeking back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series wins for the first time in his career. In six previous attempts at back-to-back wins, Bowman finished an average of 17th and has zero top-five finishes. And in 13 career starts at Phoenix, he has one top-10 finish and one driver rating of at least 90.
For the first time this season, bettors are pounding Bell at the book.
While receiving 12.5% of all tickets – nearly double the next-highest share – his odds have jumped from +3300 at open to +2500 as of Wednesday. He’s also receiving a majority of the tickets against Bowman, though his 88% ticket share accounts for only 28% of the money.
Aric Almirola (-150) vs. Ross Chastain (+125)
Aric Almirola is the only driver with three top-10 finishes this season. And the 37-year-old Stewart-Haas driver has done so comfortably with finishes of fifth, sixth, and sixth to extend his top-10 streak to five straight races after back-to-back sixth-place finishes to end last season.
Almirola hasn’t fared particularly well at intermediate tracks over the last few years but has six top-10 finishes in his last nine starts at Phoenix. He led the No. 10 Ford to two straight fourth-place finishes in November 2018 and March 2019.
Bettors and oddsmakers are responding to Almirola’s early success this season. His winner odds have skyrocketed from +4000 to +2500 as he receives a season-high 6.8% of tickets and 6.4% of the handle.
He’s also dominating the handle in a Featured Matchup with Ross Chastain; he has 96% of all money despite a 43% ticket share.