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Jimmie Johnson may not have won last Sunday’s race Kansas Speedway, but his sixth-place finish -- coupled with point leader Matt Kenseth’s 11th-place finish -- did enough to impress Las Vegas so much that he is now the 5/7 (Bet $140 to win $100) favorite to win the Sprint Cup with six races remaining in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. 
Even though Johnson is still three points behind Kenseth, and Kenseth has three more favorable 1.5-mile tracks to race on, the LVH SuperBook thought enough of Johnson’s consistency over his last four Chase races to raise him considerably higher than Kenseth’s 5/4 odds (Bet $100 to win $125). Basically, we’ve seen this out of Johnson before as he’s won more Chase races than anyone in NASCAR history while Kenseth is kind of new to being the top dog.
Kenseth does have a Cup title to his credit, but that came in 2003, one year before the Chase was implemented. It is said by many that the entire Chase process was thought up because of Kenseth’s rather boring championship run that year which saw him win only one race on the season, but still win the title. 
In all the other sports, we like to talk about nerves and how a pitcher deals with the emotions of a big moment or stage he’s never been on, or a quarterback starting for the first time on the road. Even though Kenseth has been racing in the Cup series since the 2000 season, two years longer than Johnson, he doesn’t have the same database on similar situations to feed off of like Johnson has acquired in winning five championships under the Chase format.
Granted, winning in NASCAR is usually about the car and less about the driver, but for that 30 percent that may come down to the driver, Johnson is the driver most would want to have their money on. So from more than an odds standpoint on what risk the LVH might have on the two drivers, a factor that was involved is the perception of what the public is thinking. In most cases, or least five of the last seven season, we’ve seen Johnson come out ahead.
This week’s race at Charlotte will be the ninth event on 1.5-mile tracks. Kevin Harvick won the first race there in May and also took home the checkers last week in Kansas. His two wins on these type of tracks should give him and his team plenty of confidence this week, and also later at Texas and Homestead. He’s only 25-points behind Kenseth and has been posted at 15/1 odds to win the Sprint Cup and he’ll be around 15/1 to win this week’s race. 
Kenseth will be the favorite this week and comes in with two Charlotte wins over his career, including his first career win in 2000 as a rookie. He won this race in the fall of 2011, but what mostly sets him apart as the favorite here beyond anything he’s done specifically at Charlotte is his four wins on 1.5-mile tracks this season. However, the one negative for Kenseth is that none of his wins came on the high baked tracks like Texas, Atlanta or Charlotte. 
Kyle Busch dropped down to fifth in the standings, 35-points behind Kenseth, after an accident caused a 34th-place finish at Kansas. It ended his run of three straight top-5s in the Chase, but he looked doomed for a terrible weekend after crashing in practice as well. Is Busch resorting back to old his Chase failures now? Is this the beginning of the end? I don’t think so, and it’s just because of Charlotte being a track he has run well at despite never grabbing a win there. On the high banked tracks where Kenseth failed to win at, Busch has two wins this season. Look for a big bounce back this week.
Johnson has six wins all-time at Charlotte, but none since 2009. He won five of six Charlotte from 2003-05. Since his last win, he’s finished 22nd or worse in four of seven races. During the Chase last season, he finished third, which ties his best finish since 2009. So far, so good for Johnson in two 1.5-mile races in the Chase. He finished fifth at Chicago and then sixth at Kansas, which is the best two race stretch on these type of tracks throughout the season. However, he has still yet to win on any of the 1.5- or 2-mile tracks this season, which would be the first time in his career he’s gone winless on those types in a season. He has three chances remaining.
A long shot to take a shot with might be Kurt Busch who has now finished five straight 1.5-mile track races with finishes of sixth or better, a string started with his third-place runs at Charlotte in May and continued through last week with runner-up at Kansas. He has yet to win on the season, but does have a 2010 Charlotte win.   
Top-5 Finish Prediction

1) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
2) #29 Kevin Harvick (15/1)
3) #78 Kurt Busch (18/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (12/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (20/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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