Friday, October 7, 2016

Final Charlotte Driver Ratings: 2016 Bank of America 500

Kevin Harvick has some great Charlotte history.
We've got a heavyweight battle Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway between Martin Truex Jr and Kevin Harvick, and even though there are 38 other drivers participating, the race figures to come down to the two favorites the Westgate SuperBook has posted to win. Let's run down the tale of the tape as though it was a classic Las Vegas boxing match.

In one corner we've got the 4-to-1 favorite Martin Truex Jr., hailing from the Stafford Township of New Jersey, who has won three of the past five Sprint Cup races which includes a win last week at his Dover Downs home track. His four wins on the season are tied for the most in the series with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski and his 1,594 laps led this season stand alone as the most.

There are only 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season and Truex has captured the checkered flag in two of the last three. One of those was the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May where he led 392 of 400 laps in the most dominant performance in track history. NASCAR's longest race of the season saw him do what no one had twice a season at Charlotte since the track's first Cup race in 1960.

And to top it off, this 36-year old kid has the pedigree of getting some of the best equipment in the business from Joe Gibbs Racing which has won 15 of the 29 races this season. No one is hotter in NASCAR right now than Truex.

In the other corner we've got 2014 Cup Champion Kevin Harvick (5/1), hailing from the tough streets of Bakersfield, Calif. and looking to cement his Hall of Fame resume by winning another title. The 40-year old known as 'Happy' has transformed himself from being a weekly brawler to being calculated and reserved since fatherhood found him 2012. But make no mistake about it, he's still as tenacious as ever.

Since leaving Richard Childress Racing following the 2013 season, no one has dominated the Cup series on tracks ranging from 1.3 to-1.5-miles like Harvick has. He's led a series best 2,074 laps (Keselowski next with 1,418 laps led) and had 18 top-fives in 32 starts which includes four wins. If looking at just Charlotte specific, no one has been better than Harvick since 2011, which includes three wins and finishes of ninth or better in nine of his last 10 starts. He's been runner-up the past two races there.

The Westgate has a driver match-up with these two heavyweights and Truex is listed as a -135 favorite simply because of his current form, and also obliterating every Charlotte track record the last time visited. But Harvick was fastest in the only practice session and qualified on the pole Thursday before Hurricane Matthew washed away Friday's two scheduled practices. Truex was third fastest in practice and will start seventh (He started from the pole at Charlotte in May).

My money will take +115 on Harvick to finish better than Truex in the match-up with the one variable being that I don't trust the only Denver based pit crew in NASCAR to keep up their strong performances. Truex probably should have eight wins already this season, but the crew has failed him in critical moments.

Let's take a look at Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kasey Kahne (50/1) and Alex Bowman (100/1), who is driving Dale Earnhardt Jr's No. 88 this week. Kahne had the fastest 10-consecutive lap average in the lone practice session Thursday while Bowman had the second fastest single lap in practice and qualifying. Kahne has four wins all-time at Charlotte and among active drivers only Jimmie Johnson has led more laps (1,740) than Kahne's 1,106. In August the Cup Series did a test session at Chicago and Johnson's team found some speed and all of a sudden the entire Hendrick team looked good at Chicago on race day after playing second-fiddle to Joe Gibbs racing drivers on 1.5-mile tracks since March. What would be a real head turner is if Bowman won because Earnhardt Jr has never won at Charlotte, his home track, in 33 starts.

- Las Vegas Review-Journal 

Micah Roberts' Sprint Cup Driver Ratings
Bank of America 500
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 4:10 pm PT

RATING  DRIVER    ODDS                  PRACTICE 1              QUALIFIED              CHARLOTTE*           CHICAGO*
 1. Kevin Harvick 5/1                   1st                 1st                  2nd                20th
Three-time winner, all in past six years; ninth or better in 11 of past 12 starts, runner-up last two.  
 2. Martin Truex Jr. 4/1                3rd                 7th                  1st                 1st  
Led 392 of 400 laps in Coca-Cola 600, the most dominant Charlotte performance ever (opened 1960). 
 3. Kyle Busch 7/1                      4th                 4th                 33rd                8th
No wins in 25 starts, but does have 10 top-fives. Victories on two 1.5-mile tracks this season.
 4. Jimmie Johnson 6/1              12th               11th                  3rd               12th
Active track leader with seven wins (the last time in 2014), 14 top-fives and 1,740 laps led. 
 5. Brad Keselowski 8/1             15th               20th                  5th                 5th
2013 winner; top-five finishes on past three 1.5-mile tracks. Won on 1.5s at Vegas and Kentucky. 
 6. Joey Logano 12/1                 11th               10th                   9th                2nd  
Won this race last season; his 9.5 average finish is best among active drivers. Won All-Star Race.
 7. Carl Edwards 10/1                  9th                8th                  18th               15th
2015 Coca-Cola 600 winner; second-best among active with 10.8 average finish in 23 starts.
 8. Denny Hamlin 8/1                   5th                9th                   4th                 6th
Top-10 finishes in 11 of his past 12 starts, but still no wins in 22 starts. Fourth past two starts.
 9. Matt Kenseth 10/1                14th               17th                   7th                9th
Two-time winner, including his first career Cup win in 2000 Coca-Cola 600; 14th-place average.
10 Chase Elliott 12/1                 17th                 3rd                   8th                3rd
All Hendrick cars have been solid on 1.5s since Chase started at Chicago; they know something.

Note: Final two practices washed out Friday due to Hurricane Matthew spillover inland.

* Results from the May 29, 2016 Coca-Cola 600, the last race run at Charlotte, and Sept. 18 race at Chicagoland Speedway, the last race on a 1.5-mile track. This will be the eighth race ona 1.5-mile track this season and second of five during the Chase.

Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1994. Follow on Twitter @MicahRoberts7

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