The list contenders for this years NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship got a little shorter following last weeks at California. Heading into Fontana, there were eight drivers within 85 points of the leader. Coming into Charlotte this week, there are only four drivers within 85 points as a series of wrecks, blown engines and bad luck derailed a few of the chasers.
With Tony Stewart winning he moved up five places to fifth in points, 107 points from Jimmie Johnson who extended his lead over second place Denny Hamlin to 36 points. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are third and fourth respectively.
The Las Vegas Hilton has adjusted their odds to win the title with Johnson being the strong 5 to 8 favorite followed by Hamlin and Harvick at 9/2, then Gordon and Stewart at 15/1.
Six races remain in the Chase and even though some drivers have counted themselves out for that title, winning weekly races is still the name of the game. This week we’ll have more candidates than ever capable of winning including non-Chasers like Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and David Reutimann will all have just as good a chance of winning the race as some of the favorites who are involved in the Chase.
Kurt Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May for his second win of the season on 1.5-mile high banked tracks with McMurray, Kyle Busch, Martin and Reutimann right behind him. We’ve seen a great mix of drivers do well on these type of tracks this season. Unlike the first four races on these type of tracks, the Roush drivers figure to major player this week as well.
Even before the Roush program found their horsepower midway through the season, Matt Kenseth was still having quality finishes. In the seven races run on mile-and-a-half tracks, no one in the series has a better combined average finish position than Kenseth. On Charlotte’s sister track of Atlanta, Carl Edwards was runner-up to Tony Stewart. And then of course we have Greg Biffle who won on the flatter Kansas track two weeks ago.
Johnson used to be the King of Charlotte as he accumulated five wins in six races from 2003-2005, but he’s only won one race since -- this race last year. He’s also only won once this year on these types of tracks, but in the last three chances on down-force tracks he’s finished third twice and runner-up.
While Hamlin has played been playing mind games with himself regarding the Chase, Johnson has just gone out and done his thing with no worries. That’s what winning four straight titles does to someone. It makes him calm and cool under pressure, never doubting his ability. This is why he’s not only a big favorite to win this week, but also in the Championship. He really is a machine. I’m sure drivers have to take physicals, but they should check further because he really isn’t human. We’ve come along ways with technology since C3-PO and I’m pretty sure Johnson is a new age droid.
With the Chase out of reach in Kyle Busch’s mind, I’d look for him to settle down and run well this week. The best value on the board may be McMurray at 30 to 1. He’s hit or miss week after week, and always practices well, but he should be able to possibly score a big pay day for supporting bettors this week. Charlotte is the site of his first career win in 2002 while subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin. Look for large odds on Kasey Kahne too who has three wins in 13 career starts at Charlotte.
The best chassis’ of the week belong to Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray, at least from a stand point of the cars having past success. Kurt Busch has decided to leave each of his winning cars from Atlanta and Charlotte in the garage and will go with a new car for some reason. Tony Stewart looks to be a nice choice this week using the same car he with at the sister track of Atlanta.
Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (4/1)
3) #1 Jamie McMurray (30/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (12/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards (12/1)