April 4, 2012
By Micah Roberts
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When the 10-race “Chase for the Championship” format came around in 2004, it also changed the way many sharp bettors made future wagers to win the Championship at Las Vegas sports books. Prior to the Chase, it served a bettor well to get a jump on the sports books early on with odds because inevitably, the driver who led in points by the time the series hit the midseason Firecracker 400 at Daytona usually went on to win the Championship.
Now, under the Chase format, the urgency isn’t quite there yet and bettors can get a better read on how drivers will perform on the key tracks before investing in future wagers. So much can change in the final 10 races, but the one constant is the type of track that dominates Chase races, which is the 1.5 and 2-mile tracks that require lots of horsepower and great handling.
For five of the last six years, Jimmie Johnson dominated on those types of tracks and left a sour taste in every bettor’s mouth who dared to bet against him to win the championship. Because Johnson’s odds were so low, there wasn’t much perceived value with him despite knowing he was going to be hard to topple.
But last season gave us a great example of quick things can change in the Chase. Tony Stewart didn’t win a race in the first 26 events, but came charging out of the gate by winning the first two Chase races and eventually winning five of the 10, culminating with a fantastic NASCAR moment in the season finale at Homestead where Stewart won the race and Championship by beating Carl Edwards, who came in second.
What last year showed us was that things could change drastically in the middle of a season for a team that looked like they had no business of making the Chase. It now offers bettors a reason to try and be ahead of the curve in finding some value on drivers a little earlier than usual because we know the giant of Jimmie Johnson no longer casts such a fierce shadow.
When looking at the first six races run thus far, the driver you have to look at as the favorite is Tony Stewart just because of his wins at Las Vegas and California. Those types of tracks are great indicators to how we’ll see Stewart run for most of the season since they dominate the schedule. Stewart opened the season with 8/1 odds at the LVH Super Book and is now currently the 5/1 co-favorite with Johnson.
Carl Edwards hasn’t looked like his normal self during practice on the tracks he’s supposed to do well at and has had his odds go from 5/1 up to 6/1. But despite the uncharacteristic poor practices, Edwards still managed to finish fifth at Las Vegas and California which could be a sign that things might be better than they appear moving forward. It’s more likely that Edwards will improve which makes his odds right now the best you’ll probably see all season.
The current points leader is Greg Biffle and despite all his consistency early on, his odds are at 12/1 to win the title, a small drop from his opener of 20/1. Biffle’s got the Fenway-Roush backing behind him and also fared very well at Las Vegas and California with third and sixth-place finishes, respectively.
The driver that Las Vegas isn’t buying into is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who currently sits second in points. Even with all of his fans betting and thinking this is the year Junior finally wins a Championship, yet alone a single race, he can still be bought at 18/1 odds. Strangely enough, I’m buying into it as well. For the first time since he’s been with Hendrick Motorsports, his car has the look of being able finish in the top-5 at any track. On the most important type of tracks that will decide his fate, he finished 10th at Las Vegas and third at California.
The strangest odds of all, or possibly the smartest, is Kasey Kahne, who currently sits 31st in points with low odds of 15/1. Despite Murphy’s Law being the theme for the No. 5 team thus far, Kahne has had a car capable of winning at least four of the six races which gives him extreme value down the stretch when they do finally break through. Unlike pre-2004, Kahne can still make up ground and go on a run in the Chase like Stewart did last year. This same No. 5 Hendrick team had similar circumstances occur early on in 2009 with Mark Martin and straightened things out to finish second in points.
A couple of interesting looks that warrant consideration is the Michael Waltrip Racing duo of Martin Truex Jr. (40/1) and Clint Bowyer (30/1), who are both within the top-10 because of strong weekly performances. They each have the look of drivers that could be just getting started. Their strong practices at each track have translated well to race day which is a sign that things are clicking well.
Brad Keselowski (12/1) also fits into that category, but unlike Truex and Bowyer, Keselowski hasn’t shown much on the important tracks of Las Vegas and California which leads me to believe they’ll have a hard time competing for the Championship.
If I was forced to spend $100 right now on who would win this year’s championship, $60 of it would go on Stewart (5/1) with $20 each on Kahne (15/1) and Earnhardt Jr. (18/1).
We’ll see how much changes after we get a third part of the master equation next week at Texas which is a great prelude to what we’ll see at the sister tracks of Charlotte and Atlanta. Until then, have a great Easter weekend and try your best to enjoy the off week without NASCAR.
LVH SUPER BOOK ODDS TO WIN
2012 SPRINT CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
(Odds updated as of 4-2-12)
JIMMIE JOHNSON 5/1
CARL EDWARDS 6/1
KYLE BUSCH 8/1
MATT KENSETH 10/1
JEFF GORDON 10/1
KASEY KAHNE 15/1
TONY STEWART 5/1
KEVIN HARVICK 10/1
DENNY HAMLIN 12/1
GREG BIFFLE 12/1
BRAD KESELOWSKI 12/1
CLINT BOWYER 30/1
DALE EARNHARDT JR 18/1
RYAN NEWMAN 30/1
KURT BUSCH 500/1
MARTIN TRUEX JR 40/1
JEFF BURTON 100/1
JOEY LOGANO 75/1
JUAN MONTOYA 100/1
JAMIE McMURRAY 100/1
AJ ALLMENDINGER 60/1
PAUL MENARD 100/1
MARCOS AMBROSE 100/1