All on-track activity has now ended after this Saturday morning’s NASCAR Spring Cup Series qualifying session in preparation for this Sunday’s Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR. Due to the brand new resurfaced Pocono Raceway, the teams basically had five practice sessions (three test sessions where teams could use their backup or primary chassis, and two race practices both held on Friday), giving us NASCAR junkies all kinds of data and information to chew over.
Like last week, let’s look over the LVH’s (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton)adjusted odds to win prices following all this track activity. The LVH is hands down, and has been for quite a while now, the definitive sports book leader in all automotive offerings in Las Vegas. We’ll stick with the same format of breaking it down by Contenders, Pretenders and potential Sleepers all from an Odds to Win perspective.
Odds to Win - Contenders:
|Kasey Kahne had the fastest average speeds in final practice Friday (Getty)|
Denny Hamlin at 9-to-2 (4.5-to-1): There is no disputing Hamlin’s incredible record at Pocono since his rookie year of 2006. He and his Joe Gibbs Racing team got a grip on the intricacies of this “tricky triangle” early on and have never let up. Even though this FedEx team recorded two finishes of 19th and 15th last season, they did not struggle at all with driver ratings of 112.3 and 118.6 respectively. Again, it comes down to your appetite and belief as to whether Hamlin is truly the “clear” favorite this Sunday. Sure would have been nice to get a piece of the 14-to-1 opening number another Las Vegas sports book operation came out with last Tuesday. Yeah, that’s right, I said 14-to-1 on Denny Hamlin at Pocono Raceway was available; impressive work there.
Kyle Busch at 7-to-1: Kurt’s more mature younger brother (never thought I would be saying that) opened at 8-to-1 earlier in the week due in large part to finishes of 2nd, 3rd and 2nd in three out of his last four visits to the Pocono. This venue was never that kind to Kyle previously, but having Hamlin as a teammate has obviously helped him very much recently. He has surely not disappointed so far this week either, posting the best average time of the combined practice sessions and qualifying in the 4th position, one spot ahead of his Pocono “mentor”. I think it’s time for this Joe Gibbs Racing team to finally visit victory lane at Pocono come Sunday, and Kyle Busch will be my “contender” selection.
Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth at 18-to-1: Given both of these drivers’ performances so far this year, we have to take a look at them with odds this juicy. Sure, Pocono Raceway is not their cup of tea so to speak with very pedestrian finishes and overall performances (driving ratings rank outside of the top15 at Pocono since 2008), but the top two point leaders have to be given a chance, especially since they are both starting 13th and 14th respectively. I will have a small play on each and increase it slightly if the odds creep any higher.
Odds to Win - Pretenders:
|Carl Edwards wasn't too happy with Pocono testing (Getty)|
Jeff Gordon at 7-to-1: Gordon also saw a very negligible drop from his 8-to-1 opening number even though he only could manage a 12th place qualifying effort. This team arguably had the best car on the track at Dover last Sunday and was my immediate post race selection for his weekend. However, with this team’s hard luck so far this year, I was looking for a minimum of 12-to-1 with Pocono with the Pocono darlings of Johnson and Hamlin being the clear favorites. Will he be good on Sunday? Sure, but with one top 10 finish in the last five races (again excluding Talladega), 7-to-1 is practically impossible to play in my opinion.
Jimmie Johnson at 6-to-1: There is no disputing that Johnson is easily the hottest driver in the series right now with what could easily have been three straight victories heading into this week. They have been very steady so far as well, but really missed their qualifying setup resulting in a starting position of 24th. Given the fact that only two drivers have won at Pocono starting 20th or worse since 2000 (24 races), 6-to-1 odds makes Jimmie also a no play. Now, with the fact that the speeds are so much greater due to the new pavement, this will result in many more pit stops giving crew chief Chad Knaus and his pit crew ample opportunities for strategy, but again, it’s all about the number, and 6-to-1 is simply not enough.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at 12-to-1: Junior did not disappoint last week at Dover with his weekly impressive run to 4th at Dover with odds attached at 25-to-1, but this week is a whole different story with his odds basically chopped in half. The LVH did the right thing this week opening this No. 88 team at 15-to-1 and odds any higher (even though Dale Jr. hasn’t won in 144 races) will simply lead to more risk than necessary. This team once again looks solid this week, but Pocono hasn’t been very kind to Junior outside of last year’s two top-10 finishes. They seem destined for that same type of fate this Sunday solidifying their impressive run for the championship.
Mark Martin at 12-to-1: This “young” 53 year old driver has really looked good so far this season for Michael Waltrip Racing, and this week has been no exception. He holds the distinction for the second largest odds drop from his opening number of 40-to-1 and could easily contend on Sunday. However, at 12-to-1 and with so many other great cars to battle with, he has to be slated as a “pretender”. This team simply has not translated great practices and starting positions into any top-5's, or even top-10 finishes, recently enough to warrant a play at this price.
Odds to Win - Sleepers:
Kevin Harvick at 25-to-1: It’s not difficult to see why Harvick has odds this high after looking over this team’s on-track activity so far this week. However, if any driver and team can sneak an unexpected win it is this one. Much like Jimmie Johnson’s team, this crew will have to get creative starting from 21st, but you have like a number this high on a driver that has performed very well recently at Pocono. He opened up at 12-to-1 and this is simply too much of an over adjustment in my opinion. Harvick is more likely of at top 7 car, but with all these expected pit stops and what will most likely turn into a fuel and tire strategy race, I will take my chances with 25-to-1.
|Paul Menard has a great shot to cash in at large odds Sunday (Getty)|
Joey Logano at 18-to-1: Can a driver with odds this low really be considered a sleeper? I say yes, as this driver is sitting P1 and came into this week with an opening number of 75-to-1. He was a very interesting look prior to all on-track action based on this two solid finishes at very technical and driver specific tracks such as Darlington and Dover (10th and 8th). Everyone has heard the rumors surrounding Logano and his future with Joe Gibbs Racing, and I believe that will result in this team stepping it up in every aspect this weekend and the rest of this year. I'm pretty sure Home Depot and Dollar General would prefer Joey as their driver and spokesperson instead of the ticking bomb that seems to be Kurt Busch. Time to "Go Fast" on Sunday Joey and prove you belong.
Let's have a great and hopefully profitable Pocono Sunday everyone! Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions at email@example.com or post any comments or follow me on twitter @FredCnote.
Frederic Crespi has been in the Las Vegas sports book industry since 1994 and has been making numbers on NASCAR since 2002.