And we thought Talladega was supposed to be the wild card in the Sprint Cup Chase.
Last week at Martinsville Speedway, Matt Kenseth shocked the NASCAR world by finishing better than Jimmie Johnson with the result being they’re all tied up in points with four races to go.
Martinsville was a place Johnson had won eight times in 23 starts compared to Kenseth never winning and having only three top-5 finishes in 27. This was supposed to be a place where Johnson expanded upon his 4-point lead in the Chase standings and would gain a huge enough lead that would make his -300 odds last week to win the Championship look cheap.
But not only did Kenseth come up with a career best second-place finish, he also led the most laps to gain a bonus point. With Johnson finishing fifth, there’s the 4-point difference from the race and now we’re all square with three to go.
The LVH Super Book now has Johnson as the -140 favorite to win it all, while Kenseth can be bought at +110. The problem with a wager on Johnson at such a high price, considering they’re both tied right now, is two of the next three races are on 1.5-mile tracks, beginning with Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Like Kenseth last week heading into Martinsville, Johnson is kind of the outsider looking in to others being dominant on a type of track. Kenseth has four wins on the nine 1.5-mile tracks this season, Johnson doesn’t have any. Johnson does have two top-5 finishes in his last three attempts on them, but only three overall in nine starts.
Can the momentum of the Chase keep Johnson rolling, or does Kenseth’s excellence on the entire season on these types continue?
The new Gen-6 car has more to do with Johnson and Kenseth’s results this year on the 1.5-mile tracks, and it’s apparent Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team have the edge. If we look at past Texas history, history, the two drivers have been the best. Over the last 20 Texas races, Kenseth has a 6.8 average finish and Johnson has a 9.1 average, and each have two wins apiece.
Johnson won this race last season and also won during the 2007 Chase. Kenseth has top-5 finishes in seven of his last nine starts there, including a 2011 win. But the overall edge goes to Kenseth on the basis of winning at other 1.5-mile tracks this season like Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky and Chicago.
If we look beyond Texas to Phoenix and the season finale at Homestead, Johnson has an advantage at Phoenix, while Kenseth should have the edge at Homestead.
The one thing Johnson does have going for him is consistency. His worst finish in the seven Chase races has been 12th and he’s finished sixth or better in the other six races. Kenseth’s only slip up in the Chase was a 20th-place finish at Talladega.
While Kenseth and Johnson battle each other for position, there will a couple of other drivers to consider for the win. Kenseth’s teammate Kyle Busch is the first one that comes to mind because he won in the first Texas race in April, as well its sister track at Atlanta in September. Busch has been a close second to Kenseth as the best on these types of tracks all season.
Kevin Harvick won at a similar track at Charlotte in May and also at Kansas earlier in the month, both tracks that should serve him well for setting up his car this week at Texas. Harvick is currently fourth in the Chase, 28-points behind the leaders, and while his chances remain slim to beat Kenseth or Johnson for the title, one wreck by either of those drivers in the next three weeks could change everything.
Kurt Busch has been stellar all season on the 1.5-mile tracks and should be competing for a win this week as well, which would be the second Texas win of his career.
And then we have 2009 Texas winner Jeff Gordon fresh off his Martinsville win and almost in the same boat as Harvick waiting for something to happen to the others. He’s only 27-points behind in an attempt to win his fifth NASCAR Championship. Both Gordon and Harvick are 12-to-1 to win the Sprint Cup.
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. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].