Before the Chase started last week at Chicago, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were posted as 7-to-2 co-second choices by the LVH Super Book to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup behind Jimmie Johnson at 3-2.
After Kenseth and Busch finished 1-2 at Chicago, he and Johnson are now the co-favorites at 2-1 with Kyle Busch at 3-1. After them, the next highest are Kevin Harvick at 12-1 and Kasey Kahne (15-1), which tells you that this is a three-horse race.
It’s only one race in the Chase, with nine more to go, but Chicago is very telling. It’s a 1.5-mile track and we’ll see four more along the way at Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead.
Kenseth has now won four of the seven races on 1.5-mile tracks this season and Bush has won twice. The only other driver to get in on the party on the type of tracks needing to be successful at to win the Chase was Kevin Harvick at Charlotte in late May.
The scary thing about both Kenseth and Busch is that they didn’t even look that great in practices prior to Chicago. Several other drivers had better looks in single and average lap speeds, but the cream still rose to the top when it counted. Kenseth led four times for 89 laps and Busch led three times for 67.
We can still call this a three-horse race because Jimmie Johnson showed up with a fifth-place finish at Chicago. He hasn’t been impressive on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, which is a major surprise because he won five championships by being the best on them.
By getting only his second top-5 finish on these type of tracks this season, it at least shows that they have shook of the rust that saw the No. 48 team finish 28th or worse in their previous four races before Chicago.
This week at New Hampshire, we have a completely new wave of candidates to win from what we saw last week. Kenseth, Busch and Johnson should all compete well, but the layout of New Hampshire’s 1-mile flat track gives us a different group of drivers to consider based on the four races run on similar tracks this season.
Crew chiefs routinely use the same chassis for races run at Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire, which is as good a reason as any to lump the three tracks together when handicapping the race.
Each of the three is configured different, but all have relatively no banking and we’ve seen drivers over the years excel on all three in the same season.
This season, the dominator has been Carl Edwards. He has two wins in 27 races, but both came on the flat shorter tracks were discussing here. He won at Phoenix in March and two weeks ago at Richmond. In between the wins, he was sixth at Richmond in April and eighth at the first New Hampshire race in July. He is the only driver to finish in the top-10 of all four races.
In 18 New Hampshire starts, Edwards has never won. He’s got a 14.1 average finish with a best of second-place in 2006, but in position to get that first career victory there.
Johnson has three career wins at New Hampshire. He swept the 2003 season and grabbed his other one in 2010. He was runner-up in this race last season and finished sixth there in July.
The driver who has really taken a liking to New Hampshire is Brad Keselowski. He’s finished sixth or better in his last four starts there, including fourth-place in July, and finished fourth at Phoenix. He’s still looking for his first win of the season and it could come on Sunday.
Kevin Harvick has finished 13th or better in the four races at the three similar tracks, including a win at Richmond in April.
In 2006, he won on all three tracks, compiling four wins between the six races. Look for another strong outing out of him this week.
The driver who has made a name for himself on these type of tracks is Clint Bowyer. He’s won twice at New Hampshire, the last coming in 2010. He is still seeking his first win on the season, and Sunday may present his best opportunity.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].