After finishing off the first half of the short track season and then racing on NASCAR’s biggest track at Talladega, the Sprint Cup series gets back to the type of racing we see the most of. Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway will be the fourth of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Last week Kevin Harvick was 12-to-1 to win at volatile Talladega, this week he’s back to be being 4-to-1.
On the basis of leading 354 laps and finishing first or second on the three 1.5-mile tracks run already between Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas, Harvick is the easy favorite. However, it’s Jimmie Johnson who has won two of those races with Harvick only taking one. On a broader view, there have been eight different winners in the first 10 races, showing that things appear to be equal. But things really aren’t that equal at all on 1.5s.
The Stewart-Haas Racing team, or at least half of them between Harvick and Kurt Busch, have things dialed in the most on the these type of tracks after several changes to the rules package before the season started. Johnson may have two wins, but he hasn’t dominated like Harvick.
The best formula to use to bet Saturday’s race is look hard at the three previous races on 1.5-mile tracks this season, then mix in a little past Kansas history and sprinkle in a little current form. Any way you look at it, Harvick is the guy, but who wants to bet odds at 4-to-1? The positive if betting against Harvick this week is he’s only won twice this year and only once on these type of tracks.
In Harvick’s final year with Richard Childress racing, he won for the first time at Kansas in the fall. Last year, he was second and 12th. In 18 career starts on the tri-oval with banking up to 20 degrees, he’s averaged an 11.5 finish. Six other active drivers have a better career finish, but only four that have started at least three or more times.
The best all-time at Kansas is Johnson with a 9.5 average finish and two wins, the last coming in 2011 in the first season Kansas was awarded two races. He finished 40th last fall, but in 17 career starts, he finished 10th or better in 14 starts. Chances are he’s going to be very good here again Saturday night, but do you want to get only 6-to-1 odds?
Let’s dig deeper to see if there is anyone who could step up, beginning with Harvick and Johnson’s teammates.
Kurt Busch has only averaged a 19th-place finish in 18 Kansas starts, but had a career-best runner-up in 2013 while driving the No. 78. He led 45 laps at Texas and on the 2-mile layout at Fontana he dominated, leading 65 laps and finishing third. That was the race where he was winning late on three occasions only to see cautions come out and Brad Keselowski stole to overtime win.
Jeff Gordon christened Kansas with a win when opened in 2001 and then he won again the next year. He wouldn’t win again there until doing so in the race last season. His three wins are the most in the track’s short history. The problem with Gordon this week is we just haven’t seen him do much on 1.5s this season, however his best finish on them came in the last one at Texas, April 11, with seventh-place. He could be a quality candidate to win that will pay double-digit odds like 10 or 12-to-1 odds.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been outstanding on 1.5s this season with finishes of fourth or better in all three. He also finished sixth at Fontana. Fresh off his Talladega win, he could be in store for a strong run. He was fifth in this race last season and his best finish was second-place in 2011.
Martin Truex Jr. has nine top-10 finishes in the 10 races this season, including ninth or better on all the 1.5-mile tracks. His best finish was runner-up at Las Vegas, a layout that is more similar to Kansas than Atlanta or Texas. In the 2012 season he was second in both Kansas races and finished fourth last fall. He wouldn’t be a bad choice to win at 20-to-1 odds.
Also, don’t forget about the Penske Fords with Joey Logano and Keselowski. Logano won at Kansas last fall and was fourth in the prior two races there. Keselowski won there in 2011.
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].