Goody's 500 Preview
October 25, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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And now we're down to the Elite 8.
NASCAR's version of the playoffs has been whittled down the field of 16 down to just eight drivers after six races and we can call the Round of 8 that starts Sunday at Martinsville Speedway the semifinals of sorts. The eight eligible drivers to win the Sprint Cup will have three races to impress the most before the championship field of four drivers is set for an all-or-nothing season finale No. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The best way to advance for the eight drivers is to simply win one of the next three races, or else accumulate the most points. If there are three different Chase drivers to win each of the races, only one driver will advance on points. Two of the heavyweight contenders to win it all, Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski, both had engine failures at Talladega last week and have been eliminated.
Let's take a look at the eight Sprint Cup contenders, their updated Championship odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and how they might fare this week at Martinsville and then at Texas and Phoenix the following two weeks.
Joey Logano 6/1: He should have nightmares recurring from last season when his championship hopes were dashed immediately at Martinsville when Matt Kenseth repaid a debt and wrecked him while leading. Logano had won three straight races and looked like the favorite to win it all up until that point. His only win between the three tracks came at Texas. I don't like him to advance.
Jimmie Johnson 4/1: No driver has more Chase wins than the six-time champ. This round also suits his likes well: eight wins at Martinsville, six at Texas and four at Phoenix. Look for his best chance at winning to happen at Texas just because the last race on a high-banked 1.5-mile track was Charlotte (Oct. 9) where he led 155 laps and won. I've got him advancing.
Kevin Harvick 5/2: You have to make him the top favorite to advance just because he's won eight times at Phoenix, including six of the last eight there. He's never won at Texas and has a 2011 win at Martinsville. It would be a surprise if he wasn't racing for the title at Homestead.
Matt Kenseth 7/1: Martinsville has never been his strongest track (0 wins), but he was runner-up in 2013, sixth in both 2014 races and fourth last spring. He's got the luxury of having great Gibbs set-ups there now, like Hamlin and Kyle. At Texas, he's one of the elite with two wins and a 9.5 average finish in 27 starts. He's also won at Phoenix, a place where I think he'll be battling teammate Carl Edwards for a chance to advance. My best is guess is that he won't advance.
Carl Edwards 7/1: He's never won at Martinsville in 24 starts, but he does have three Texas wins and two Phoenix wins. In the March Phoenix race he led 65 laps, but was runner-up to Harvick. I believe his ultimate fate will come down to Phoenix and possibly needing a win to advance.
Denny Hamlin 8/1: The Virginian is a five-time winner at Martinsville, he's won twice at Texas and also has a Phoenix win to his credit. He squeaked into this round with a third-place at Talladega, but with Martinsville being his best track (9.5 avg.) he has a great shot to advance right out of the gate with a win. I like that scenario to happen Sunday.
Kurt Busch 18/1: Only two drivers have a better average finish than his 11.7 this season, and its that type of consistency that advanced him to the Round of 8 despite not being in a car not capable of winning any of the last three. The 2004 champ has won at least once on all three of upcoming tracks. Think of Ryan Newman's incredible run to the championship game in 2014 when he didn't win a race all season and pointed his way through the gauntlet.
“If we can go to Martinsville and win that bad boy, that changes the whole Chase complexion," Busch said. "That’s what happened last year when Jeff Gordon won there. That gave him his shot at the championship. We’re doing our job as a team. We’ve had some luck on our side, and we’ve had good speed in our racecars.”
My bet would be that the older Busch brother doesn't make it.
Kyle Busch 6/1: All he did was lead 352 of the 500 laps in April for his first career win at Martinsville. He's had 10 top-five finishes in 22 starts there over his career. Last years champ also won the April 9 race at Texas, his second there, and has 10 top-fives in 21 starts. He's also won at Phoenix. He's a good bet to advance to the next round just because of his real chances of winning at Martinsville and Texas again.
The big wild cards during this round are Jeff Gordon and Truex who could both steal a race and make things difficult for the eligible drivers. Gordon is back in Dale Earnhardt Jr's No. 88 this week and has nine wins at Martinville, including last fall for his final Cup win. Truex has led the most laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season and should be considered the favorite to win at Texas.
I'm going to look for Hamlin to handle business right out of the gate and punch himself into the Championship game/round. This is his turf, his favorite style of racing with a flat track and the dude is ready to become a champion.
Top-5 Martinsville Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #88 Jeff Gordon (15/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
5) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)