|Jeff Gordon looked to have the best car at Texas' 1.5-mile track|
It must be noted that Harvick finished 41st at Las Vegas and 42nd at Texas, but the results don’t take away from the speeds he was capable of gaining. With the new Chase format, we’re seeing the dawn of a new era. Throughout Harvick’s entire career, he has raced for points. They were important to win a championship, which forced crews to go with conservative set-ups.
With two wins, and a spot in the Chase already locked up, Harvick and his crew can try some creative things to blow the doors of everyone else. And Harvick seems to be relishing in the moment with the swing for the fences approach. It fits his persona. The No. 4 Stewart Haas team could care less that they’re only 19th in points. Sure they would have liked better finishes in Vegas and Texas, but they were close to hitting something perfect, which is why Harvick is so respected this week at the Las Vegas sports books.
Jimmie Johnson has been favored to win at Kansas more than any other driver, but this week he’s the second choice at 6-to-1. And those odds are paying the ultimate tribute to his career at Kansas, because he hasn’t looked like a driver this season that should be lower than 10-to-1. Johnson finished sixth at Las Vegas and 25th at Texas. Not bad, but not Johnson-good. Crew chief Chad Knaus is probably sleepless at night just trying to figure out how to make Johnson faster on the 1.5-mile tracks.
At Kansas, no one has been better than Johnson. In 15 career starts (there have been 16 Cup races at Kansas), Johnson has a 7.5 average finish. He won in 2008 and ‘11 and finished third and sixth, respectively, last season. This will be a big test for Johnson and Knaus this week. There are five 1.5-mile tracks in the 10-race Chase, and if the No. 48 crew doesn’t figure things out on them fast, getting title No. 7 may have to wait until 2015.
The duo that look to be the most attractive for bettors this week is Penske’s Joey Logano (10-to-1) and Brad Keselowski (8-to-1). For the same reasons we are souring on Johnson’s chances to win the championship, Logano and Keselowski are on the opposite end of the argument. These guys have been amazing, especially on these tracks.
They have been fast everywhere, and unlike Harvick, have stayed on the track for the most part. Keselowski won at Kansas in ‘11 and has a 10.3 average finish which is second-best to Johnson. Keselowski also won at Las Vegas in March, which is banked higher than Kansas’ 15 degrees. Logano has two wins on the season, including the other 1.5-mile track raced on at Texas, which is banked even higher than Vegas.
Kansas runs much differently from Vegas and Texas, but there is some correlation between them just from results. Last season Matt Kenseth won at Vegas and then grabbed Kansas six weeks later. Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs teammates would go on to win seven of the 11 1.5-mile races. If you’re fast on one, you’re likely to be fast on the others. Johnson has been the poster child for these types of tracks and it has carried him to at least five of the six championships he’s won.
Jeff Gordon (8-to-1) won the first two races at Kansas (2001-02) and has a 10.6 average finish. He has yet to win this season, and based on the type of cars he’s had, that may be the season’s biggest shock. Johnson and Kenseth have yet to win also, but Gordon has had the more competitive car this season. At Texas, he probably had the best car, but finished second.
There’s every reason to believe that Gordon will run well again Saturday and possibly get his first win. Logano and Keselowski will be tough competition and Kyle Larson (20-to-1) figures to be in the mix as well. Larson finished fifth at Texas and was second at Fontana, another big horsepower track. If he gets a win on the season, as many in the garages believe will happen, it will likely be on a 1.5-or 2-mile track.
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