With seven races to go in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, Jimmie Johnson is back in familiar territory as the points leader following last weeks Kansas race. Johnson has a slim eight point lead over second-place Denny Hamlin and is only 85 points ahead of eighth-place, but we’ve seen this story before. This is the third time in four years that Johnson has come into Kansas not leading in points, but leaving with it.
With things being so close and so many candidates looking capable of winning, it’s not a given that things will end like they have the previous four seasons with Johnson hoisting the trophy. This weeks race in California will have a major impact on who the final group of contenders are while weeding out a few.
A lot has happened since the first Fontana race ran in February, but California is a track that usually holds true for most teams year after year. If the trend holds true this week, it could be bad news for everyone trying to catch Johnson. Not only has Johnson won the last two races run there, but he’s taken four of the last six and has five Fontana wins overall. There is really nobody even close to his level on the wide two-mile track which is why his odds to win this week are 2/1 or less.
Even though it’s far fetched to believe Johnson could falter at California, since he never does, there could be some solace taken from those rooting for other drivers because of Johnson’s DNF tendencies this season. I know, it’s a stretch, but I have to give some kind of doubt to Johnson once again dominating and four DNF’s on season by the four time champs through 29 races is a pretty good one. It shows that they are more susceptible to having issues and problems like regular drivers have and not just being this robot of fluidity. Johnson will be driving his winning Las Vegas chassis which could be bad news, but the good news is that the same car also finished 35th at Bristol.
Some of the drivers we can take a look at to topple Johnson ran well last week at Kansas, beginning with the Roush drivers. Kansas can be used as a barometer somewhat for California just because of the similar banking even though California is a half-mile larger. Greg Biffle won last week and will carry that momentum over, but teammates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards also had good runs with top-10 finishes.
When the February race ran, the Roush team was in a quandary trying to find horsepower. They didn’t find it until Indianapolis and then Biffle finally captured the teams first win of the season a week later at Pocono. At California, Roush has always been King, even with Johnson winning most of the time. This week they’ll be trying to extend a win streak at California that began in 2005 with at least one Roush driver winning there every year.
Matt Kenseth won there last season for his third Fontana win, while Edwards and Biffle have each claimed a win of their own. Roush also has wins on the track with Kurt Busch and Mark Martin.
Kenseth will be using a new car this week while Edwards comes in with his runner-up Atlanta chassis. Biffle is bringing a strong car this week as well, using his fourth-place Michigan ride. I already have wagers on Biffle and Edwards and will be looking to get increased odds on Kenseth after happy hour.
I like how the Childress ran in February along with last week. Kevin Harvick should be just as strong this week as he was for both of those. He’ll be using his winning Michigan car this week. I also like Jeff Gordon to surprise us somewhere with a win. Fontana would be a great place for him to do it since he’s from California and has three career wins there, and well, just because I have a bet on him to win the championship among others.
Ideally, I would love to have all my drivers up there for the final few races where I could be picky on who pays the most, but I have a bad feeling that Johnson isn’t going to let up and all my bets will be flushed. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the drivers I’m rooting in.
As for Denny Hamlin, he’ll be a contender this week using his winning Richmond chassis. There are so many opportunities out there this week with a lot of drivers bringing good cars making me believe that Johnson can be stopped this week. I will take my chances with a bunch of them as I go for broke betting against Johnson, leaving him out of all equations which is like the equivalent of betting the Broncos on the money line in Super Bowl 24 against the 49ers.
Should Johnson win this week, as all past trends say he will, it still doesn’t make my season future bets a loser just yet, but they are getting closer to the toilet. Whether it’s smart or not, I’ll probably find myself pressing existing bets to whoever is closest should their odds increase from what I already have.
Top-5 California Finish Prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (9/1)
3) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards (8/1)