Food City 500 Preview
March 11, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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Las Vegas probably experienced the most dramatic race of the 17 years the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has been coming to town. Of course the main reason for the heightened drama was because of Dale Earnhardt Jr. being part of the mix, as he ran out of fuel on the final lap which allowed a hard charging Brad Keselowski to pass for the win. Keselowski could have been found as high as 12/1 (Bet $100 to win $1,200) during the week, but he closed around 7/1 (Bet $100 to win $700) at many books.
As for Junior, he was the most heavily bet driver of the week because fans can see there is a definite change not only with the equipment of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy, but also with his actual demeanor. It’s okay to say it now because he’s won, but let’s be honest, Junior had been a failure for the past six seasons with Hendrick where he won only two races.
But so far this season, we’ve had three races and three vastly different tracks and Junior has finished no worse than second in any of them. That is Jimmie Johnson-type stuff, and it’s possible that Junior may finally be getting the good stuff, or it could be the good stuff was there all along and Junior is now finally motivated. Whatever it may be, only four other drivers have started as season as good as Junior has and three of those, including Johnson, have gone on to win a championship that same season.
If liking those numbers, then maybe a wager at the LVH SuperBook on Junior to win the title at 8/1 should be looked into. There is a new format in the Chase this year that rewards winning, but if running through his final 10 races of 2013, Junior would have won the championship using the new rules, despite not winning a single race, by virtue of having the best finish at Homestead, which is now the Championship game.
We’ve had several stories of drivers carrying momentum over from last season, but there is no better example than Junior, and while I still consider him a long shot to win the title, I can honestly say that I am a little more excited abut watching a race just to see if he can keep the momentum going. Yep, I’ve fallen into the trap so many others have. Junior matters now, and I think I like it.
Heading into this Sunday’s race at Bristol, no place is happier about Junior’s success than Bristol Motor Speedway. Once the toughest ticket to get in sports, Bristol has had plenty of empty seats the past three seasons, but the Junior angle might get the track to a sellout status again. Junior is worth at least 20,000 additional seats purchased because of his current run. If I’m excited in Las Vegas, and not even a fan of his, how about everyone in the southern region who are huge fans of his.
The funny thing is that they just might see him win the race. Over the past 20 Bristol races, no one has a better average finish than Junior (9.4). His only win came in 2004, which ironically is the last time he won the Daytona 500 before this season. Last season he finished sixth and 10th.
The driver that really stood out last season at Bristol was Kasey Kahne, who this race and finished second in the fall night race. Without even seeing how his car looks in practice, you have to consider Kahne just because drivers have shown a penchant for winning multiple times in quick bunches at all different stages of the many layout configurations of the track. Kyle Busch won four times in three seasons, Kurt Busch five times in five seasons, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth twice each in two seasons.
If we’re talking about momentum with Junior, it’s also appropriate to mention momentum on an individual tracks, and Kahne would appear to have that.
However, the top dogs at Bristol are still Kyle Busch and Keselowski and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish 1-2.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #5 Kasey Kahne (12/1)
4) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (12/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)