Last season there were six drivers that accumulated 28 of the 36 wins, and yet in the final stage of the Chase at Homestead it was Ryan Newman, who didn’t win a single race in 2014, that was two laps away from winning the Sprint Cup Championship.
Denny Hamlin with only one win on the year was leading with seven laps to go. So as we look at odds to win the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup, there’s a lot more to think about than ever before.
In addition to the pitfalls of the Chase where 16 drivers are eliminated in each three-race stage before the final-four duel it out in Homestead, you’ve also got to wonder how the five dozen changes to the 2015 rules package is going to affect the speed of each team.
Racing will surely be different from last season just because the horsepower has been reduced significantly from 850 down to 725. Don’t expect to see any track records broken during qualifying this season.
Whenever there has been any change to cars, the safest bet has been to assume Hendrick Motorsports will have the immediate edge, which is part of the reason Jimmie Johnson (9/2) is favored at most Las Vegas sports books to win the 2015 title.
The six-time champ will be looking to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most Cup Championships all-time and his stellar crew always finds an advantage before others catch on.
But while that strategy has worked in the past where the car was good over the long haul has changed now because of the Chase format. It pays better to fast on the short term because if you win, you advance. Kevin Harvick (6/1) had the best car on the track in at least half the races last season, but had plenty of poor finishes and errors as well. They only won three times in the first 34, but advanced by winning race No. 35 at Phoenix and then won at Homestead.
Brad Keselowski (7/1) won a series leading six races in 2014, but didn’t make it to the final stage. Nor did Jeff Gordon (6/1) or Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15/1) who won four races each. Joey Logano (8/1) had five wins last year and made the Championship round, but finished 16th at Homestead.
So with the small sample size of the Chase and the unknown of how the cars are going to run – no pre-season testing, there aren’t many drivers you can discount like we used to in the past. Paul Menard at 200-1 to win the title used to sound ridiculous, but after seeing his teammate Newman restart with two laps to go at Homestead, you start to believe the wild possibilities that could occur.
It is my belief, and a few others within the garages, that Hendrick Motorsports will be the team quickest out of the gate. That means Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne could present value in individual races, but what about the title?
Gordon will be making his final full season run in NASCAR this year and what a story it would be if he could win his fifth championship, and if you’ve been reading my NASCAR stuff here for the past 20 years, you know I’m a sucker for the dramatic. Judging by bets being taken in at the books so far, they are feeling Gordon 2015 as well.
“We’ve got twice as many bets on Jeff Gordon to win the Championship than any other driver,” said MGM Resorts sports book hub manager Jeff Stoneback. “That’s twice as many as Johnson and then much more over our next three, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Junior.”
The MGM Resorts are offering 10-1 odds on Gordon, which is the highest in the city, and their 31 percent theoretic hold on their Championship odds is close to being one of the best in the city.
I have to give Gordon a lot of credit for his role in making NASCAR what it is today in American society and for also what he did here in Las Vegas by spurring the betting movement. Before Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, you didn’t see odds posted on every race during a NASCAR season.
His popularity fueled a west coast NASCAR frenzy that demanded every Cup race have odds posted and the books obliged. The fans also got race tracks in Fontana, Calif., and Las Vegas, and several more have sprouted up across the country.
I can’t just say Gordon’s amazing rise to stardom was accomplished all by himself, but during that short period from 1995-98, where Gordon combined to win 40 races, the NASCAR brand sure benefited from the Vallejo, Calif., kid.
Here’s a look at who I have in my top-10 to win the title with expected season wins in parentheses:
1. Jeff Gordon (3 wins)
2. Jimmie Johnson (4 wins)
3. Brad Keselowski (4 wins)
4. Denny Hamlin (3 wins)
5. Matt Kenseth (1 win)
6. Joey Logano (2 wins)
7. Carl Edwards (2 wins)
8. Kevin Harvick (3 wins)
9. Kyle Busch (2 wins)
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win)
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].