Chase is on!

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NASCAR’s 10-race Chase for the Championship begins this week at Loudon, New Hampshire’s one-mile flat track with Jimmie Johnson listed as the 5 to 2 favorite to win it all according to the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.

Johnson’s going for an unprecedented fifth straight title and although he has struggled coming in, this type of format is where Johnson and his team have excelled. When the pressure is on, how can you bet against someone like Johnson?

Well, if the price is right, you can make a case for just about anyone in the Chase. Here’s a look at the each of the drivers in the Chase with their listed odds. The odds are based somewhat on action accumulated over the year, but are more shaded towards what each of these drivers should do during the 10 combined races. Who is hot coming in? Who will do the best on the five 1½-mile tracks that are in the chase and who will be able to avoid trouble?

Jimmie Johnson 5-2: His four DNF’s in 2010 raise caution because Johnson has thrived on gaining quality points even when he doesn’t have a great day. All it takes is one poor finish in the Chase and it could spell good night for anyone, ask Carl Edwards in 2008. His team is at its best on the 1½-mile tracks as well as Martinsville, New Hampshire and Phoenix. It’s hard to bet against him, but let’s see if we can make solid cases for anyone else.

Denny Hamlin 9-2: He starts with a 10 point lead over Johnson on the basis of his six wins this season. If it weren’t for ending a slump at Richmond last week, it would appear that he could be written off as a contender, but all appears well now. He’s run well on all the tracks this season, but now it’s a matter if he can pick up the pace like he had in the middle of the season.

Kyle Busch 5-1: It seems they have been really good and then very mediocre. He’s gone through stretches where he looks to be the best, but is too inconsistent. He also has the weight of being like the Colts used to be in the playoffs, lots of wins, but no success in the playoffs. I can see a few wins, but maintaining 10 straight races of excellence looks too tough for Busch.

Kevin Harvick 6-1: If the Chase is all about consistency, than Harvick is who you want. He leads the series with 11 top-5’s and 17 top-10’s and has been good on every track. His best overall performances this year have been on the 1½-mile tracks and restrictor-plate racing. Talladega looms large for several drivers as a possible danger spot on the schedule, but for Harvick, he welcomes that race which could be a great spot for separation from the others. Best value on the board!

Tony Stewart 10-1: He’s coming on strong and has looked his best since the beginning of June. If he can improve just a little more on the 1½-mile tracks, he’ll be a contender because he’s got everything else wrapped up. But I’m not sure he can making a bet on Stewart a tough sell.

Jeff Gordon 12-1: Lots of value from him just because of how good he’s been everywhere. Over the last two seasons, not many have been better than Gordon on the 1½-mile tracks. Who cares that he hasn’t won this year. This format is about piling up points and through last week only Harvick had done a better job than Gordon for 26 races. I would be very happy with a Harvick and Gordon ticket in the Chase.

Carl Edwards 12-1: He’s been the most consistent driver since the Daytona firecracker in July. Like Gordon, he has no wins, but hoisting a trophy in the end is all that matters. He’s definitely worth taking a shot with.

Kurt Busch 15-1: He’s won in Atlanta and Texas suggesting that he’ll be good on the five 1½-mile tracks during the chase, but there seems to be a drop off from this team race to race. I like Busch to win at least one race during the Chase, but 15-1 won’t draw me in, maybe 25-1 though.

Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer 18-1: Each driver is in the same boat and nearly as good as their teammate Kevin Harvick, but over 10 races I see them both being middle of the pack and not making too big a threat.

Greg Biffle (20-1) and Matt Kenseth (40-1): If I could make my bet on who would finish last in the Chase, these would be my guys. Although they have raced much better in the last seven weeks, I can’t see it happening.

I chose Denny Hamlin to win at the beginning of the year, but I’d be much more happy at this juncture with a Kevin Harvick ticket. For long shot purposes, I’ll take Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards at 12-1 each also at lesser units.

As for the New Hampshire race this weekend, look for Johnson, Stewart and Gordon to battle for the win. Use the three tracks of Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire races as a guide to handicap this week. You’ve got four races of information to sift through. Johnson’s finished in the top-3 in four of those races winning in Loudon in June.

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