Irwin Tools Night Race preview
August 24, 2011
By Micah Roberts
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch won at Michigan last week for the first time ever, he’s leading the Sprint Cup series in points and he’s the 3/1 co-favorite to win the Championship with 13 races to go. He’s the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase with three races to go, but once the Chase starts, it’s anyone’s guess how will he do.
Busch was in a similar situation in 2008 when he won eight of the first 22 races and went into the Chase as the points leader, but proceeded to lay a big egg. In 2009, he didn’t even make the chase and then last season, while making it, never became a factor.
It’s hard to believe that this year will be any different for Busch. As much as I’d love to see a Vegas kid win another championship like his brother did, I don’t get the confidence from his tone and body language that says he’ll win. It’s almost like John Elway before he had to face the 49ers in the Super Bowl after having lost two already or Jim Kelly in three successive Super Bowls after losing the close one to the Giants.
There’s a vibe they all gave off and it wasn’t a confident winning one. Busch has to talk as much now about his past failures as he does about what it will take to win which has to be unnerving and rattle around his conscience on a regular basis.
Even when asked about being one of the drivers to watch in the Chase, Busch doesn't exude much confidence.
“No. There’s way too much that can happen, way too many laps to run, way too many miles to run," Busch said earlier this week. "Certainly, we’ve built ourselves into championship contenders this year and that’s where our strong suit has been up to this point, it’s just being able to be consistent or at least try to be consistent. Bristol obviously being one of the best tracks for me, then going to Atlanta — not so great for me. I have won there. See if we can’t get a good run and win the Sprint Summer Showdown, win money for a fan and my foundation. Going to Richmond — one of my favorites as well. We’d love nothing more than to carry on our strong runs through the final 10 weeks. It’s just a matter of being consistent.”
Meanwhile, the co-favorite with Busch to win it all is defending five-time champion Jimmie Johnson who knows nothing about being defeated. He’s only had one win on the season, his least amount at this juncture of any of his winning seasons, but he’s still sitting second in points. If Kyle Busch is John Elway before the Super Bowl, Jimmie Johnson is the cool and collective Joe Montana, undefeated in the big one, undeterred by anything except dominating when it counts.
No one has more Chase wins than Johnson and no one has been more consistent. For Busch to be able to win, he’s going to have to take his game to another level that he may not be capable of and hope that Johnson has an off year. The resiliency of Johnson will be a tough opponent for all.
This week at Bristol Motor Speedway, we can expect Kyle Busch to be brimming with confidence as he has won four of the last five races there. In 13 Bristol races, Busch has won five times tying his brother and Jeff Gordon for the most among active drivers. In Kurt Busch’s case, he’s had 21 cracks at it while Gordon has made 37 starts. He is the overwhelming 5/2 favorite to win and will be using the same chassis this week that he won with in the first Bristol race.
Chance are, based on the way the half-mile track runs now, that Busch will once again be contending for the win. This isn’t the old Bristol we all grew to love so much with the beating and banging of fenders and tempers flaring, this is more of a country drive with multiple grooves making it run similar to the one-mile track of Dover. The drivers all seem to love it, but the fans have quickly turned on it making it no longer the most sought after NASCAR ticket.
Because the probability is high that Busch will win again, it puts more of emphasis on driver matchups with a small part of the bankroll reserved for odds to win.
The top contender to knock Busch off this week is two-time winner Carl Edwards who has a 12.5 average finish in 14 starts. In the first Bristol race this season, Edwards was runner-up to Busch. Edwards currently sits fourth in points and will use these next three races to go all out for wins and seed himself higher when the Chase starts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been sensational at Bristol over his career that includes a win in 2004. In 23 starts he has an average finish of 11.5 with seven top-five finishes. He's also bringing a pretty good car this week too. The chassis finished runner-up at Kansas in June. Of all the tracks that Junior could break his 116 race winless streak, Bristol would seem the most fitting.
Johnson won for the first time ever at Bristol last season and then finished third in the first race this season. He'll be using that exact same car this week and should find himself near the front for most of the race.
I'm going to take a shot with Edwards to beat Kyle this week and I also think Matt Kenseth has some value too. Dover is a comparable track to Bristol now becau8se of the resurfacing and Kenseth was the winner of that race. Kesnseth is also a two-time winner of the Bristol night race.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #99 Carl Edwards (8/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (5/2)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (30/1)