The beauty about NASCAR’s current 10 race Chase for the Championship format is that not much changes throughout the season -- according to what the experts thought -- and the top drivers who were expected to be there likely will. From a betting stand point, the questions of when, where, why, and who to wager on to win the 2010 title presses on.
Is there any value on betting right now and if not, when should the wager be made? Obviously if liking Jimmie Johnson to win his unprecedented fifth straight NASCAR Championship, there may be more value on him if waiting a while. Who knows what will happen with him in the first few Chase races. He could possibly stumble during the run in similar fashion to what we saw during a seven race stretch following his Bristol win that saw him slide down to seventh in points.
The value of betting right now rests with those drivers whose odds are above 10/1 that can have a case made for them to run consistently over the final 10 race chase. When trying to figure out who those drivers are, you have to handicap all 10 races, right now. Who has shown they have what it takes to run well on the varied tracks of the Chase and who will be that driver that is part of an organization on the upswing.
Last year the Childress stable of drivers all ran terrific down the 10-race stretch. None of the four drivers were eligible for the Chase, but they turned things around quickly which set up for a great start to the 2010 season and has proven to be very successful with Kevin Harvick continuing to lead in points.
On the opposite end, Brian Vickers and his Red Bull team spent all the energy that they had within their organization in 2009 just to make the Chase. Once they qualified as one of the top-12 after several great runs to accumulate points, they stumbled badly in the Chase. Vickers slid back as far as possible with continuous poor runs. Who knew that something like a slide that bad could happen after being so strong, but it's a least something to consider when looking at drivers close to not making it this year who have high odds placed on them.
Through it all, Johnson was just too tough an obstacle to conquer for everyone else. All the tracks on the Chase schedule are tracks that Johnson has been NASCAR’s elite at. He owns more Chase wins than anyone by a wide margin and is mentally on top of his game like no one else. If waiting for Johnson to make the mistake to benefit someone else, you might be waiting for quite a while. The driver who could take the title from Johnson this year will have to do some extraordinary driving and likely go above what they have done at any juncture during the regular season.
In 2008 Carl Edwards had three Chase wins along with five other top-four finishes and still lost to Johnson thanks to mishaps at Talladega and Charlotte that saw him finish 29th and 33rd respectively. In any other era or time, Edwards would have won it all, but this is the Johnson era where it takes something real special to have a chance.
Here’s a look at the current top-12 in points, along with my predictions and updated odds to win the title courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book. I do believe this will be the year that someone actually stops Johnson’s reign.
1. Kevin Harvick 12/1: His two wins will serve him well in the Chase, but he’ll still be in the hole by 30 points -- as of now -- once the Chase starts because of his win differential from Denny Hamlin and Johnson. There is definite value with Harvick at this juncture just because he has been so good at every track. He’ll need to continue his mastery in the restrictor-plate races at Talladega as well as run strong at the 1.5-mile tracks like he did prior to Chicagoland.
2. Jeff Gordon, 6/1: He currently finds himself second in points -- 103 points behind Harvick -- and still doesn’t own a win yet this season. The best thing he has going for him is experience and knowing how to play the game well. He should get a win soon and it’s likely to come in the chase at either Kansas, Fontana, Charlotte, Atlanta, or maybe even a first time win at Homestead.
3. Jimmie Johnson, 2/1: There is no weakness for Johnson at any of the tracks. Talladega may present a problem for him and even though he’s never won at Homestead, we haven’t seen him have to race for a win there lately because of point racing for a title.
4. Denny Hamlin, 4/1: He looks to be the best candidate to oust Johnson from his throne. He has shown the ability to win on just about every track on the circuit and could put together a nice consistent 10 race run like he did during a 12-race stretch that began at Martinsville that saw him gain all five of his season's wins. If that Hamlin from that stretch shows up during the Chase, there will be a new Champion.
5. Kurt Busch, 12/1: Good for value for Busch here as he’s shown the ability to run strong on all the tracks this season with the 1.5-mile high banked tracks -- which include two wins -- giving him some value during the Chase. On the tracks he hasn’t run well at this year, like Phoenix, he has a great past history there that suggests he may be able to over come some team deficiencies and finish well. A definite sleeper and one who presents value.
6. Kyle Busch, 9/2: The new and improved, mature, Kyle Busch is an interesting look to win it all, but there doesn’t seem to be much value on him considering he hasn’t been a money Chase player down the stretch. He’s been brilliant at times this season that suggest he could be the one to slay the monster that is Johnson.
7. Jeff Burton, 15/1: He has been consistent all season and has even had the best car on the track on two instances, but hasn’t been able to close the deal. Burton will run conservatively through the first few races and see where he stacks with hopes that the other top contenders will have a few rough days. Once Burton see’s an opening with his strategy, than the Mr. Nice Guy mentality on the track will change drastically.
8. Matt Kenseth, 25/1: No wins on the season and not really in any contention to win under regular circumstances, but he’s playing the game well. If anyone slips up, Kenseth’s continued top-10 finishes could make him a contender.
9. Tony Stewart, 15/1: This is the driver who could be dangerous. We’ve seen a major change with his teams performance on all types of tracks after struggling early in the year. He may be the most complete driver on tour with his versatility at adapting to every track, especially with the ones during the Chase. Look for Stewart to get a win or two in the Chase races and elevate himself to a contender. There is great value on him right now so Stewart would be one of those drivers to bet now if thinking he’ll continue his great runs down the stretch.
10. Carl Edwards, 25/1: Like Kenseth, Edwards is going to contend for top-five finishes, but not wins. He’ll have consistent finishes, but a wager on Edwards to win the title isn’t a good idea as he is still struggling just to make the Chase.
11. Greg Biffle, 35/1: He falls into the category of being better than most, but not good enough to force a wager on like the other Roush drivers. There are just too many better candidates capable of being better on a daily basis. His only hope lies within the possibility that Roush found the answer to all their questions like what happened to the Childress team late last season.
12. Clint Bowyer, 30/1: He’s been too up and down this year to believe that he can put a great 10-week stretch together, let alone just make the Chase.
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 50/1: I do believe he’ll make the Chase, but can’t see him drastically improve to the level of his teammates Gordon and Johnson. It’s likely to be more of the “Hooray, Junior got eighth-place” where his bar and level of expectations have been lowered so much that we don’t even expect him to contend for wins anymore. Would love to see if he could do anything with a Gordon or Johnson chassis.
14. Mark Martin, 50/1: He’s only 57 points out of the Chase right now and it looks like he should find his way in. Even though he’s sort of in a lame-duck situation right now at Hendrick Motorsports, he’s capable of getting top-five finishes down the stretch of both the Race to the Chase and the Chase itself. Look for him to make it and be good value just on the possibility that he returns to 2009 form.