Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Could Dale Earnhardt Jr be a major player in NASCAR 2015? Shootout odds

 Dale Earnhardt Jr. tasted success in 2014. Title on horizon?
When I look at all the odds being offered around town to win the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Daytona 500 and Sprint Unlimited, I really have no idea what to expect or how to project a winner. I’ve been doing this NASCAR odds stuff for a few decades and I’m always quick to give a take on who should fare well for the races, but not in 2015.

This season is a little different. We’re looking at five dozen changes to the 2015 NASCAR rules package which includes horsepower being dropped from 850 down to 725 and the rear spoiler being dropped from 8 inches to 6 inches. We’ve got 15 different crew chief changes and all kinds of other considerations that always occur with a new year.

We also don’t have test sessions like we used to see. You knew immediately from the preseason testing at Daytona what teams were going to be fast in the season. Then you had Las Vegas testing where you could get a gauge on who would be fast on 1.5-mile tracks. Now, there’s nothing except Goodyear tire testing, and Goodyear doesn‘t let anyone into the track until the testing is over. Four cars will be testing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Monday, but media isn’t allowed at the track until the session is complete.

As of right now, I’m absolutely stumped. My probability model I run every preseason is completely out of whack. I have no idea who to key on for anything. Last season’s Chase taught me that anyone can win the title like we’ve never seen before. Instead of keying of 12 to 15 drivers to win it all, it’s now expanded up to 25 drivers. If Ryan Newman can be two laps away from winning a championship without winning a race in the first 35 races, then that gives Sam Hornish, Brian Vickers and Martin Truex an opportunity like never before to being champ. 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick agreed with the idea that there's a broader pool of drivers contending for a legitimate shot at the title following his Las Vegas Champion tour in early December.

"Absolutely. You know, I think as you -- if you can get to the Daytona 500 or Talladega or whatever that
particular driver's good track is or the team's good track and capitalize on those situations, you look at Aric Almirola and AJ Allmendinger and those guys being able to get themselves into victory lane, if you can get that one win and really prepare yourself for the Chase and have a good first few weeks and you have some guys have some problems and you kind of.

" I guess, you guys have all kind of dubbed the 31 team (Newman) as the Cinderella story, but there's a lot of cars in the garage that have that capability of being that Cinderella team, especially when you start talking about momentum.

"When you get the momentum in the sports world, momentum is a huge thing, and you can carry that a long ways. I think it definitely opens the possibility of things -- of cars and teams coming from being that dark horse I guess you could say to being in contention just for the fact of that momentum building and the teams getting better as they go through the year.

"It definitely opens things up to a lot of people being able to be in the Chase."

I saw Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon dominate in 2014, but none of them won the title. Kevin Harvick won his first championship, but he was swinging for the fences all season in a win or nothing approach and then put 10 good races together. One poor finish in the 10-race Chase and your season is done. Now, this year, we have all the changes to the car which makes it even a bigger crap shoot. So where do we start?

While there are better opportunities for the smaller teams to compete because of less testing where Michael Waltrip says his team will save up to $1.5 million this year with the ban, one thing I can say is that the power teams should be fast right out of the gate. Anytime there’s a major change to the cars, Hendrick Motorsports has been way ahead of the curve, such as the ‘Car of Tomorrow’ when they initially dominated.

Hendrick’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. told Fox Sports that he thinks the changes will benefit him.

"I think the (rules) package will favor me," Earnhardt said. "I think it will favor the majority of the guys in the field. We did run a little bit of that package at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) the other day (at a Goodyear tire test).

"To be honest with you, it feels very, very similar to what we ran last year, aside from the engine. But once you run with that engine package for about a day, you almost forget you have it.

"Right away, the difference is noticeable, but after a while, you sort of get used to it and forget you're even down on power compared to last year."

So maybe Junior, who won last years Daytona 500, is a driver to take a shot with. You have to at least like his confidence.

Here's a look at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook's odds to win the Sprint Unlimited which is a 75-lap non-points shootout:

Sprint Unlimited Odds to Win

Video: Roberts talks about perplexing 2015

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