I can't take this parity stuff in NASCAR anymore. It may be great for TV ratings, but my wallet is taking a beating. The latest mugging took place Sunday at the Brickyard where tradition usually has the cream rising to the top, but the results mirrored what we have seen all season, another long shot winner.
In 17 past Brickyard 400 races, eight of them have gone on to win NASCAR Championships that season. The winners circle has been reserved for the best of the best, or at least someone that was outstanding during practices prior to the race. But on Sunday, Paul Menard won his first career race at 75/1 odds offered by the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
We've now had four first-time winners and 14 different winners through 20 races this season that includes many of them paying out at odds of 40/1 or higher all the way up to 500/1 when Regan Smith won at Darlington.
Handicapping trends that have been successful in the past are taking a beating this season because of all the parity, which in turn hurts the weekly handle on odds-to-win wagers for the sports books because money isn't being churned in a normal fashion.
Because of the weekly upsets, odds-to-win wagers now have to be minimized with more emphasis than ever being put on driver vs. driver matchups, which aren't nearly as fun to root for.
However, if throwing out the betting angle, you could argue that this is the best NASCAR season ever with so many gripping story-lines. Menard's improbable win on Sunday elevated him five positions in the standings to 14th and currently has him in position to make the Chase for the Championship on the basis of the win.
The final two positions among the 12 drivers making the Chase are wild card spots reserved for drivers having the most wins within the top-20. Menard passed David Ragan for the final position and has six races to try and hold onto it. Based on the way things have gone this season, it wouldn't surprising to see someone else emerge over the final six races and pass Menard down the stretch like a Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle or Juan Pablo Montoya.
This week it's back to Pocono for their second race of the season. In years past, when picking the winner was much easier, bettors would use results from the first Pocono race and the Brickyard 400 to have a solid base of drivers to bet on early due to the car being set-up similar for each. If a driver does well in one of those races, they'll likely do well in the other.
Jeff Gordon won at Pocono in June and unfortunately, finished second in Sunday's Brickyard 400. Although Gordon had the best car Sunday, he was out of sequence in what eventually became the winning pit strategy for Menard with no caution coming out over the final laps.
The best active driver at Pocono is Denny Hamlin with a 9.2 average finish in 11 starts. The relationship between Hamlin and Pocono started off with a bang as Hamlin won his first two races on the track during his rookie season in 2006. Hamlin also won the fall race in 2009 and the spring race in 2010. In June's race, Hamlin led the most laps but blew a tire late in the race causing him to settle for 19th.
Hamlin is once again the favorite to win this week and could solidify his place in the Chase with another win. He currently sits 11th in points with only one win on the season.
Jimmie Johnson swept the season in 2004, but those two wins remain his only Pocono conquests. However, Johnson has excelled in almost every since compiling the second best average finish (9.3) behind Hamlin. Johnson sits second in points, 11 behind Carl Edwards, but he's not playing it safe by any means based on his tenacity last week at Indy.
The Busch brothers fared well in the first Pocono go-around in June finishing second and third. Kurt Busch sat on the pole and exhibited his newly found horse-power on the long straightaways better than most. Kurt Busch is a two-time Pocono winner with five runner-up finishes over his career while Kyle Busch has yet to win on the track.
Kevin Harvick has been relatively quiet after winning three races early in the season, but Pocono is place where we should expect him to be a top-five finisher based on his recent history of doing so in his last three starts there.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (5/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (10/1)
5) #2 Kurt Busch (10/1)