|Can Jimmie Johnson get better quick at one of his best tracks?|
However, this will be anything but a relaxing weekend for a few drivers as the intensity of the Chase heats up in this second of three races in the Contender Round, where two drivers that have combined to win seven of the last eight Sprint Cups are sitting 10th or worse in points.
After a miserable showing at Kansas Speedway last week, six-time champ Jimmie Johnson sits 12th in points while 2012 champ Brad Keselowski is 10th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is currently 11th and four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon is barely in at the moment in eighth-place. Kansas was the ultimate bracket-buster that the NCAA would be envious of as the standings look like they have been turned upside down.
Only two races remain until four more drivers are eliminated, and you can bet that some of those high profile names currently outside looking in will be going all out for the win. The big question is whether or not their team has the ability to go with the desire.
Here's a look at our top candidates to win this week with odds offered by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:
Brad Keselowski, 9-2: You have to start with the blue deuce, not only because they are the co-favorites to win, or because they won this race last season, or because they're desperate. No, you have to start with the blue deuce because of what the team has done on 1.5-mile tracks this season. So far we've had eight races on the cookie-cutters and Penske Racing has won five of them, with Keselowski leading the way with three victories.
Kasey Kahne, 15-1: This looks like the ideal spot for Kahne to sneak up on everyone and steal a win, which would be his fifth at Charlotte over his career. His odds probably make him the most attractive on the board because he has the Hendrick horsepower under the hood, and he's one of three non-Penske drivers to win on a 1.5-mile track. His late August win at Atlanta is his only win of the season, but because Atlanta runs the most similar to Charlotte of all the 1.5-mile tracks, and because the race was so recent, all the winning notes should still be fresh and applicable this week. He's currently ninth in points and in a desperate situation just like he was at Atlanta when he won.
Joey Logano, 8-1: His Kansas win last week gave him five wins on the season, tying him with teammate Keselowski for the most. He also won on the 1.5-mile high-banked track at Texas, which is the second most similar track to Charlotte. His 10.5 average finish is the best among all active drivers. He'll be looking for his first career win at Charlotte.
Kevin Harvick, 9-2: Each and every week he leads a ton of laps and something goes wrong that strips him from tasting his first victory since last winning at Darlington in April. But because he's super-fast during practices -- as in a full notch above everyone weekly -- coupled with front-running in most of the 1.5-mile races, he's going to be considered a favorite despite no wins on those tracks. This week he'll be using his Atlanta chassis that led a race-high 192 laps before a late wreck ruined his stellar performance. This chassis also tested at Charlotte last week and should be expected to lead a bunch of laps just as he did in May's Coca-Cola 600 when he finished second. He's a two-time winner at Charlotte.
Ryan Newman, 40-1: He had the look of a winner last week at Kansas and was leading with 28 laps to go before settling for sixth. It was his sixth straight race on a 1.5-mile track of finishing 15th or better, which includes third-place at Kentucky and seventh-place at Atlanta. All three Richard Childress Racing divers finished ninth or better last week and they appear to be closing the gap Penske and Hendrick have had over them all season on this type of track. He's comfortably sitting fourth in points and his first career Charlotte win would make him a great long-shot Chase contender among the final eight to advance.
Jamie McMurray, 20-1: He and teammate Kyle Larson have been fast running the Hendrick engine for Chip Ganassi Racing all season, especially on 1.5-mile tracks. McMurray finished fifth in May's Coca-Cola 600, and also won the non-points paying All-Star race at Charlotte a week prior. He won his first career race there in 2002 as a sub for an injured Sterling Marlin and then won again in 2010. Just for the joy of seeing a new wrinkle thrown into the Chase mix with a non-Chase driver winning, and making next week's Talladega race an all-or-nothing scenario for several big names, McMurray is our sentimental choice to win.
Jimmie Johnson, 6-1: For a driver that hasn't won since June, he sure is getting a ton of respect from the SuperBook with 6-to-1 odds. However, his seven wins at Charlotte are the most among all active drivers and he did win the last race there in May. He's also in desperation mode to the point where he almost has to win one of these next two races to advance as he sits 27 points behind Gordon in eighth. Somehow, despite what we've seen lately, the duo of crew-chief Chad Knaus and Johnson is not the type to bet against when their back is against the wall. They'll find a way to be fast this week.
Jeff Gordon, 5-1: This is the track where Gordon grabbed his first career Cup win in 1994. He has five career wins at Charlotte, his last coming in the fall of 2007. His win on the 1.5-mile track of Kansas in May and second-place finishes on other 1.5s at Texas and Chicago say he's a strong contender to grab his fifth win of the season.
Joe Gibbs Racing: Kyle Busch (12-1) and Denny Hamlin (25-1) have never won at Charlotte while Matt Kenseth (12-1) is a two-time winner, including his first career Cup win in the 2000 Coca-Cola 600. We're seeing signs out of them over the past five races on this type of track that they're getting better and closing the gap on Penske and Hendrick in the same way RCR is. Busch has finished ninth or better in 12 of his last 14 Charlotte races and is coming off a strong third-place finish at Kansas. Busch was also second at Kentucky and third at Texas, and his only win of the season came in March at California's 2-mile layout. Hamlin's only win this season came at Talladega, and Kenseth is still searching for his first win of 2014 after grabbing a series-high seven wins last season. JGR won seven of the 11 races on these tracks in 2013, but have been shut out this season.
Read More Here.......Charlotte odds to win