A bye week for NASCAR leads to Martinsville

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There’s no Sprint Cup racing this week due to NASCAR’s tradition of taking Easter weekend off and action will resume April 3 at Martinsville Speedway’s flat half-mile layout for our first short track race of the season. But let’s review kind of what we’ve seen from the first five races with the main goal of finding a gem or two who could offer some nice value to win the 2016 Sprint Cup at Homestead Speedway in November.

If you look at the updated Sprint cup odds from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, you’ll notice that they haven’t changed too much since posted in December. Kevin Harvick started out as the 5-to-1 favorite and even though he’s the only driver that’s finished in the top-10 of all five races, his odds haven’t changed.

Basically, Harvick is doing exactly what most thought he’d be doing, which is why there really isn’t much of a reason to bet any of these drivers to win the Championship so early, or at least not much reason to bet any of the favorites right now. Those odds aren’t going to change much from now until the 10 race Chase kicks off Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.

There are 16 drivers that are going to make the Chase and we basically know who 12 of them are going to be, and so do the books. The only thing to search out right now is a driver that could possibly shock the world, something we almost saw Ryan Newman do in 2014 when he was a few laps away from winning the championship without winning a race the entire season.

It was in that 2014 Chase that gave all of us some semblance of hope we could see an underdog possibly capture the crown. First you have to make the Chase, then you have to stay out of trouble and run well to advance in each of the three elimination stages – four drivers get eliminated after each stage. Then there’s just four drivers left and the best finisher among the four at Homestead gets the trophy and championship.

After just five races, two drivers stand out as those you could take a shot on with longer odds to win the title – drivers you could actually envision running a smart Chase and those that have good enough equipment. Chase Elliott currently sits 16th in points and is 30-to-1 – low odds simply because of being associated with the mighty Hendrick Motorsports stable. Austin Dillon is 10th and offered at a nice 100-to-1 price. Both Dillon (2013) and Elliott (2014) won Xfinity Series championships.

Dillon would be the driver to really focus on here just because of the odds which gives you lots of room to hedge with if he does make it to the final four. He’s looked great in every race this season with three top-fives and even though he finished 24th last week at Fontana, his solid practices – on top of sitting on the pole – say a little more than the final results.

What we know about Dillon so far is that he’s got good equipment. Richard Childress Racing has the low downforce package figured out and the three cars should all be competing for a win soon with Dillon being the best of the bunch – why not, he’s also the grandson of Childress. We saw RCR’s Newman almost pull off the upset two years ago, so why not Dillon? There’s a lot worse things to do with $20 than making a future play on Dillon.

But still, it’s a long shot. Harvick looks fantastic – he led 142 of the 200 laps Sunday at Fontana and settled for runner-up, again. Jimmie Johnson (7/1) has two wins already and 77 for his career after winning for the sixth time at Fontana, and he’s looking for his eighth championship. Joey Logano (6/1) will be there again competing for a final four birth as should last years champ Kyle Busch (7/1).

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Twitter: @MicahRoberts7 Email: [email protected].

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