Las Vegas Review-Journal
|Kenseth has a lot going for him coming into Vegas (Getty)|
Here's a look at the top drivers expected to contend, with odds posted by the LVH:
■ Matt Kenseth (12-1): Although Kenseth's two Las Vegas wins came in 2003 and 2004 with a flatter configuration, he proved to be one of the series' toughest drivers on high-banked, 1.5-mile tracks last season, winning at Texas and Charlotte. He'll be using the same chassis from those races this week and should be considered the driver to beat.
■ Carl Edwards (10-1): He finished 17th Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, a track at which he had dominant cars in his previous three starts, but he gets a mulligan because it was a new chassis.
He hasn't won a race since last year in Las Vegas, but the car he'll drive this week suggests he'll be fine. He used it in last year's Sprint Cup Chase to finish second at Homestead and Texas and third at Charlotte, tracks that translate well to LVMS.
■ Jimmie Johnson (7-1): He struggled on the high-banked, 1.5-mile tracks last season -- tracks at which he used to dominate -- and it cost him a sixth straight title. They have the best crew chief, driver and money in the series to make a quick turnaround, but it might be wise to see how Johnson fares in a few races before laying a favorite's price on him.
■ Tony Stewart (7-1): He didn't win in his first 26 races last year, then took five of the 10 Chase races, with three on 1.5-mile tracks. This week he'll be using the winning chassis from Chicago that got his great Chase run started. His practice times aren't always telling, so don't discount him should he run outside the top 15.
■ Kyle Busch (8-1): He didn't fare well on this type of track last season, but he's always a wild card. He has won at Las Vegas (2009), but also has lows of 41st (2004) and 38th (2011) for an average finish of 15th in eight starts. He'll be running a new chassis this week, which could offer some optimism for a new beginning on the 1.5-mile tracks.
■ Kurt Busch (60-1): This will be a major test for the Phoenix Racing program. Busch can use his driving skills to the fullest in plate races or short tracks with an underfunded team, but without great horsepower on these type of tracks, half the field will pass him by. The hope here is that there is more Hendrick Motorsports influence in 2012 than in previous years.
■ Jeff Gordon (8-1): His drive for five championships starts this week in Las Vegas. His last title came in 2001, the same year he won his only Vegas race. At the last two 1.5-mile tracks Gordon raced on in 2011, he finished strong (fifth and sixth), which should carry some momentum this week.
A few drivers that could fare well with longer odds include Greg Biffle (20-1), Martin Truex Jr. (30-1) and, surprisingly, Marcos Ambrose (75-1). Ambrose had one of his five top-5 finishes last season at LVMS and will be using the same chassis this week.
After the race, take what you saw at LVMS and make a wager on a driver or two to win the championship. The betting equation should include a good Saturday practice that translated into a great run Sunday.
In the previous 14 races in Las Vegas, five of the winning drivers -- Johnson (three times), Kenseth and Gordon -- went on to win the Cup championship. So if you bet Sunday's winner, you'll have a 36 percent chance of cashing your ticket at the end of the season.
Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more insights and post-practice analysis on the race, go to VegasInsider.com, TheLinemakers.com or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.