|Great value with Carl Edwards at 20/1 this week|
The driver at the top of the oddsboard to win Sunday’s “The Profit on CNBC 500”, Jimmie Johnson, is the perfect example of the major differences between setting odds for Daytona and Phoenix. He was going into Daytona having swept the season there in 2013, yet he was as high as 12-to-1. This week, he’s 5-to-1 on the basis of his past performances with four wins and an insane average finish of 6.9 in 21 career starts. He didn’t win there last season, but he did finish second and third in the two races.
With no serious changes to the Gen-6 car this year, it is expected most of the drivers who ran well in 2013 should follow through will similar performances this season. To get the most relevant data to help come up with a number for Phoenix, results from the flat tracks of New Hampshire and Richmond can be lumped into the mix. The three tracks aren’t similar in configuration, but the set-up requirements for six races on those three tracks are.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch come in with the second shortest odds to win, each at 7-to-1. Busch won at Phoenix during his 2005 rookie season while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Despite not winning there since, Busch has posted a very respectable 13.5 average finish. If we lump in the other similar tracks, he was runner-up twice at New Hampshire last season.
Outside of Johnson, no driver has been more consistent at Phoenix than Denny Hamlin, and no driver comes into the race on more of a high. After closing out a miserable 2013 season with a win at Homestead, he rolled to wins in the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel during Daytona speed weeks, and then finished a career best second-place in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Needless to say, the guy is on a roll, and while success at Homestead and Daytona don’t necessarily translate to success at Phoenix, it’s his mindset that makes him such a strong candidate to win this week. It also doesn't hurt that in 17 career starts at Phoenix, Hamlin has a 10.9 average finish and took home the checkers in the spring of 2012.
Coming in at 8-to-1 odds is the trio of Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Keselowski has finished 11th or better in his past four starts there. Kenseth won at Phoenix way back in 2002, and hasn’t had a top-5 finish there since 2007, but his association with JGR at least gives the notion that he should have a car capable of winning.
The interesting driver to keep tabs on this week is Kevin Harvick in his new Stewart-Haas No.4 Chevrolet. He won at Phoenix last year for the fourth time in his career and he also won at Richmond, but all that equipment he had success with is now property of Austin Dillon (60-to-1) sitting in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing garage. The good news for Harvick is that SHR has been very good on these types of tracks over the past three seasons. But until seeing him practice Saturday, and knowing for sure that he’s fast, he’s a tough sell at 8-to-1.
Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12-to-1) has finally won a race after only winning two in the past six years with HMS, will the victories come more frequently? Why not? He’s got 35 more cracks at it and should have one of the cars capable of winning on every track where they only turn left. At Phoenix, he‘s a two-time winner and had top-5 finishes in both 2013 races. Winning can be contagious.
The best value on the board might be Carl Edwards at 20-to-1. He’s a two-time winner at Phoenix, including last spring. His only two wins last season came on similar type of tracks, also winning at Richmond in the fall. He was ninth or better in five of the six races at Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire last season. He should be battling for a win, but we’ll know a lot more on Saturday when the drivers make their final practice in race trim, and we’ll have a report on who the looked the best in those sessions shortly after completion.
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