Only two races remain during the NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season until the 10-race Chase starts, which is NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Kevin Harvick remains the Westgate SuperBook’s 4-to-1 favorite to win the championship for the second straight year, but the Toyota express is coming strong with Kyle Busch at 9-to-2. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano are listed at 6-1 with six-time champ Jimmie Johnson at 8-1.
If I had to pick one driver to win it all right now, it would probably be Harvick again just because he’s been so consistent. I mean, really, 17 top-fives through 24 races! That is insane, and it’s all about finishing well in the Chase to advance through each of the three stages.
Winning is important too, but consistency and staying out of trouble is what it’s all about and no one has been better than Harvick at that during the first 24 races.
Last season we had two improbables make the championship round at Homestand with Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Hamlin had one win on the season – none in the Chase – while Newman didn’t win any race. Here these two guys were battling with Harvick for the championship, but Harvick came away with the win.
Harvick needed a win at Phoenix the week before to advance, and he did. He’s been in that same form all season. He only has two wins on the season, but you can think of about six other races this season he could have won.
While believing Harvick will win again, I think I’ll find myself getting caught up in the Kyle Busch run, just because I like rooting for Vegas things happening in the national spotlight.
I quietly root for Kyle to win, as well as his brother Kurt Busch, but there are usually other drivers I pull for more and genuinely like more than my fellow Las Vegans. But I’ve seen this cool transition with Kyle, not only in his driving, but his off the field persona, which to put it mildly was kind of stained in the past.
When watching Kyle in interviews and seeing him interact, I can see that he’s no longer that bratty 16-year racing at the Las Vegas Bullring, but rather a grown man who is now a father for the first time, who really gets it. He’s learned who he is, what he wants to be and where he’s at in his career. During his Chase career, he’s been a failure. You could kind of equate his Chase past to the likes of Tony Romo in football – great regular season, fail playoffs.
But again, this year just appears different from his past years. He missed the first 11 races on 2015, which had to really give him some quiet time to reflect on his career.
Watching everyone else race while he sat on a lazy-boy had to drive him nuts. He came back strong and defied the odds by not only winning four races, but also getting within the top-30 in points to make him one of 16 eligible drivers for the Chase. I’m hoping I can wave the Vegas banner around a little during the Chase with Kyle this year.
Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will be intensified just because there are five drivers within 56 points of each other battling for the final three Chase positions. Eleven drivers already qualified based on winning a race and the final five positions get in by points.
Jamie McMurray (696 pts) and Ryan Newman (683) appear safe to make it while Paul Menard (674) and Jeff Gordon (672) aren’t feeling too comfortable. Clint Bowyer (655) currently sits in the 16th and final Chase position.
Aric Almirola (620) and Kasey Kahne (618) are outside looking in and will give it all they can to win at Darlington and next week at Richmond. I don’t see either of them making it.
You can read my Darlington column here.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sportsbook director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7. Email: [email protected]