|Can a strong case be made for Keselowski to win Sprint Cup?|
Six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson is still listed as the favorite at 3-to-1 odds, because, well, he’s the defending champ and is also tied with Brad Keselowski for the series lead with three wins. Johnson won three races in a four-race stretch, beginning in Charlotte on May 25 and ending in Michigan on June 15, but has been followed by Keselowski taking two of the last three for Penske Racing and Ford.
Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint cup winner, is listed as the third-choice on the LVH’s futures board, at 6-to-1 odds, to have the best finish among the final four drivers in the Chase at Homestead Speedway on November 16. He is tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the most top-five finishes this season with nine and also has two wins on the five 1.5-mile tracks run on already.
It’s important to note who has been the best on 1.5s, simply because five of the 10 Chase races are on those types of ovals – all with varying degrees of banking. Keselowski, along with teammate Joey Logano (Texas winner), have had the most consistent car balance and set-ups among the five 1.5s so far. They found a way to roll through the corners faster than most, and they're not sharing that knowledge with anyone.
Johnson’s Charlotte win was huge for team morale, as it showed everyone involved that they were headed in the right direction on the 1.5s. Johnson also won on the big horsepower, 2-mile track at Michigan for the first time ever.
The big obstacle to a title, besides trying to advance through each round of the Chase, is performing well at Homestead in the finale, something Johnson never really had to do. He’s never won there, but has been runner-up twice. Chances are he’ll be one of the four drivers in the finale. But can he go out and finish better than his opponents, especially if one or two of them is a Penske car? Maybe, but I personally need better than 3-to-1 to entice me to back him at the bet window.
I always try to make a case for someone other than Johnson to win the title. I may overthink this process, as I look beyond Johnson's steady qualities – he has the most complete team in the series, an all-business attitude, and he stays cool under pressure. I was on Johnson in 2006 for his first title, and caught on late last season, but there have been four other failed cases when I’ve gone against the No. 48 team.
Is it too early to say the Penske cars will have an edge in many of the Chase races? Or does the value of Keselowski at 6-to-1 and Logano at 12-to-1 make a case for a wager on them?
This is a new format, and who knows what to expect. While dissecting future 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase and looking for who might be the best suited for them, let’s remember that Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t win a single Chase race last season and he would have still won the title based on the new rules.
Junior has garnered plenty of respect from the sports books this year and comes in as a quality contender at 8-to-1, which is a pretty large number considering the risk most books have with him. His success this season has translated into more bets than usual for NASCAR’s most popular driver. Last season he had a career best third-place finish at Homestead, better than the three drivers who would have been competing against him under this year’s rules.
If using the 1.5-mile method of finding a Chase winner outside of Johnson, his teammate Jeff Gordon is a nice choice at 7-to-1. He’s finished ninth or better on those types of tracks so far, including his only win of the season at Kansas in early May. The last of his four Sprint Cup titles came in 2001.
With back pains that continue to plague him, who knows how long Gordon will keep driving full-time. If it comes down to a final-four driver pool that includes Gordon and Junior, we might be surprised how many people actually pull for Gordon, now one of the older guys who has paid his dues after years of razzing by the fans.
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