Can-Am 500 Preview
November 8, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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You're going to look at Kevin Harvick's odds offered at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook this week and think there is an error somewhere, so let's get that notion out of the way right off the bat: Kevin Harvick is the 6-to-5 favorite (Bet $100 to win $120) to win Sunday's Cam-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Yes, as in +120, and that's not a match-up price. Those odds are to win the race against 39 other drivers.
The reason for such short odds this week is because he's owned the flat 1-mile layout of Phoenix over his career and he's going to have to win Sunday's Round of 8 finale if he wants a chance to move on to next weeks Championship Round at Homestead and the opportunity to win his second Sprint Cup title. Total desperation, and a great storyline to watch unfold throughout the race.
It's a tall task for any driver to 'have to win' when the chips are down, but Carl Edwards did it last week at Texas and Harvick himself did it at Phoenix in 2014 when he 'had to win' and then he went on to win his only championship a week later. This was on the Westgate crew minds when creating the odds on Monday. They've seen this movie before at Phoenix and it almost always ends the same way. This guy just doesn't get rattled, which is part of the odds equation.
But the main reason for the insanely low odds is that all he does at Phoenix is win.
Harvick has eight wins in 27 Phoenix starts, six of those coming in his past eight starts, including the March race when he led a race high 139 laps and beat Edwards by just 0.01 of a second. The Bakersfield, CA native has been crushing this track in all series since he first got into auto racing.
Jimmie Johnson and Edwards have already advanced to the Championship Round by virtue winning each of the past two races. If any of the other six drivers eligible to advance win Sunday, they'll advance. As it sits now, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are tied in points and would advance. Matt Kenseth is 1-point behind and Denny Hamlin is 2-points behind. Harvick is down 18 points behind followed by Kurt Busch who is 34-points behind. Yes, Harvick could advance without winning if everyone else has some issues, but realistically, he has to win, as does Kurt Busch, to advance.
All of the eligible drivers have past wins at Phoenix.
The two Chase drivers that can coast without any worries have been the next best at Phoenix behind Harvick. Johnson has four wins and his 7.85 average finish and 15 top-fives are both better than Harvick, who has one more career start than Johnson. Edwards has two Phoenix wins, the last coming in 2013. Expect both of them to go out have some fun and try to win and keep Harvick and some of the other strong contenders out. If I'm either one of those guys, I don't want Kyle Busch, Kenseth or Harvick eligible to win the title at Homestead. By winning they would steal an automatic birth.
A great handicapping tool for Phoenix is to look at the five previous races on a similar flat tracks between New Hampshire, Richmond and of course March's Phoenix race. I would go as far to say that the results from September races at New Hampshire and Richmond are more relevant than the March Phoenix race just because it's more current.
Hamlin won at Richmond and Harvick won at New Hampshire which gives them a bit of an edge this week. Martin Truex Jr. actually led the most laps between both those races and since he's out of championship contention his goal will be to get his first Phoenix win and pad his stats by leading more laps and breaking a five-way tie for most wins (four) in the series this season.
However you look at it, the real question is whether or not you want to bet against Harvick. I certainly don't, but if you refuse to roll with the chalk, one of the four Gibbs drivers would be a nice choice.
Top-5 Finish Prediction
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/5)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
3) #19 Carl Edwards (12/1)
4) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)