Hendrick worth a wager

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None of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars won Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 in Las Vegas, but they were the talk of the day from most folks in the NASCAR betting and bookmaking community because at different junctures, at least three of them looked to have the best cars on the track.

It’s one of the main storylines heading into Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Fontana because the race package used at Las Vegas will be used this week as well.

Do the Hendrick cars get a rating upgrade from the oddsmakers?

“No doubt,“ said Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook director Ed Salmons. “It was obvious today (Sunday at Las Vegas) that the best long-run speeds were from Chase Elliott and William Byron. And then late in the race, I thought (Alex) Bowman looked great. He closed strong and had a car good enough to win.”

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If simply looking at the Las Vegas results, you wouldn’t see much of an indication that it’s time to adjust rating on all four Hendrick Camaros because Joey Logano won and two other Camaros driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3rd) and Austin Dillon (4th) finished ahead of Hendrick’s best finisher of Jimmie Johnson (5th). The three other Hendrick cars didn’t even finish in the top-10 due to mishaps in the final stage, but they were elite.

Hendrick cars only won one race last season with this race package (Bowman at Chicago), and the rules for the package are the same except for some tweaks to the front end and body of the Camaro. It’s obvious those changes had a huge impact and I can guarantee after seeing it just once that Chevrolet will win more than it did in 2019 when winning just twice in 18 races using this race package.

Elliott had the best car on Sunday, winning the first two stages and leading five times for 70 laps until he got a flat tire to start the final stage which put him a lap down and he settled for a 26th-place finish. The odd part about Elliott’s amazing performance, who was 14-1 to win, is that it wasn’t detected in either of Friday’s practice sessions. He was very ordinary and it was Bowman and Johnson that shined in single lap and average speeds.

When he went down, it was Byron, and then Bowman, who was chopping two-tenths of a second off the leader’s lead in the final 20 laps. And then it was Johnson who just keeping grooving like it was 2008. He can still win his fifth Vegas race this fall in what is expected to be his final playoffs.

But after a competitive race in Las Vegas, why would Johnson want to retire? The junk he’s been given the last two years probably made him feel as if he lost a step, or his reactionary time was slower. But Sunday’s race showed a vintage J.J. who has won 83 Cup races and seven Cup titles.

It has been 97 races now since Johnson won a race, but how about making a case for him on his home track? The El Cajon native owns almost every track record at Fontana including wins (6), top-fives (13), top-10s (17) and laps led (980).

His first career Cup win came at Fontana and it was my first race at the 2-mile speedway and I happened to be holding a 30-1 ticket to win on him. I also had Las Vegan Kurt Busch at 20-1 and the two battled back-and-forth during the last fuel cycle for the lead with Johnson getting the win.

Wouldn’t it be a cool story if his final Cup win came at his home track where he got his first win? Last week he was 40-1 at Vegas, but this week he’s 25-1 based on appearing to be back as a player.

No one knows the Fontana layout better than Johnson and now he’s got the goods to crush the layout again. It’s a good bet to spend a few dollars on J.J. in the “4-8” once again.

As for the others, I’m puzzled by the Joe Gibbs Racing performance at Vegas, although Kyle Busch won at Fontana last season for his fourth Cup win there. Denny Hamlin’s team looked awful last week as did Erik Jones. I don’t remember seeing his car all race.

And how about this week’s race favorite Kevin Harvick (4-1). Last week at Vegas he was blowing the doors off of everyone for 15 laps and then multiple cars passed him at the end of a fuel run. Harvick also calls Fontana his home track. The Bakersfield native won his only Cup race there in 2011.

Lots to think about this week, all the best. But there’s no reason to believe Team Penske won’t be just as good as they were in Vegas.

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