|Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth are both 7/1 to win at Bristol Saturday.|
Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick come into the Irwin Tools Night race as the LVH SuperBook's 6-to-1 co-favorites. Those odds are extremely high for favorites in comparison to how things used to be at Bristol before 2007 when Speedway Motorsports Inc. changed the layout of the track, giving it multiple grooves.
There used to be only three to four drivers that had a legitimate chance of winning and the odds reflected it.
Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch combined to win races in bunches over a three-decade stretch prior to the change, but since then it's been wide open. There have been five different winners over the past five Bristol races, a streak that has been matched only four times over 107 Bristol races since its first Cup race in 1961.
Keselowski won back-to-back races in the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011, while Harvick's only win came in 2005 under the old layout. Harvick appeared to have the best car at least five other Bristol races but hasn't had a top-5 there in his last 11 starts.
Three drivers come in at 7-to-1 odds, led by five-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch, who is searching for his first win since Fontana in late March.
Busch took the baton from his five-time winning brother and won the final race on the old Bristol layout. The bottom line was the only way around the old track, and drivers fought hard to take positions away to the point where there were many fisticuffs after races -- part of the reason fans flocked like no other.
From 2009 through 2011, Busch won four of five Bristol races on the new layout, but hasn't won there in his last six starts. Even though the trio of Joe Gibbs cars hasn't been given engines that can compete with Chevrolet on the big horsepower tracks, Bristol will kind of neutralize that edge with the short straight-aways, which again makes the Gibbs cars major players this week.
Matt Kenseth is also at 7-to-1 odds as he searches for his first win this season after having a series-best seven wins in 2013. He's a three-time winner at Bristol -- two prior to the track changes and one in last season's Irwin Tools Night Race. He finished 13th in the first Bristol race on March 16, but he led a race-high four times for 165 laps and was leading with 104 laps to go.
Jeff Gordon (7-to-1) is a five-time winner, but the last win came in 2002, his only win in the fall race. He had won four straight spring races in his glory years from 1995-98 with the mentality of getting out front and staying out front as no one could catch or bump him out of the way. Since the changes to the track, he's had four top-5 finishes and has been seventh in his last two starts.
After those five drivers, no one else is lower than 12-to-1 odds including 2010 winner Jimmie Johnson and three-time winner Carl Edwards (25-to-1). Edwards won the Bristol race in March, and because this is a track where a horsepower advantage is lessened, he and every other team not in a Chevy or a Penske Ford can make a serious run at winning.
Expect all the Joe Gibbs cars to run very well this weekend, including 2012 winner Denny Hamlin
(12-to-1). Also, pay close attention to qualifying this week because 70 of the 107 races have been won from a top-6 start position. The bulk of those numbers are enhanced from the early days, but it's still relevant today as well.
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