Matt Kenseth starts the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship as the No. 1 seed with a 3-point lead in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Kenseth, on the basis of his five wins, is just ahead of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson who each have four wins on the season.
Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards will start nine points back and the seven other drivers participating all fall within 12 to 15-points behind when the green flag drops at Chicago Speedway Sunday to kick off the 10-race Chase.
Despite four straight poor finishes heading into the playoffs, Johnson is still posted as the 3-to-2 favorite by the LVH SuperBook to win the title. Kenseth and Kyle Bucsh are next at 7-2 and everyone else has been placed at 12-1 or higher, which is a strong indication of what the LVH is thinking. It’s a three horse race, and I’m inclined to agree. And based on the way Johnson has run lately, as well as how he has fared on 1.5-mile tracks this season, it might be just a two horse race between Kenseth and Busch.
Five of the 10 races in the Chase will be run on 1.5-mile tracks and no one has been better than Kenseth and Busch. In fact, only Harvick has been able to win one of the six races run on these types this season while the Gibbs duo hogged the other five. Meanwhile, Johnson has only one top-5 finish on these types.
If having to choose between Kenseth and Busch, I’d have to go for our local boy, Kyle, and not just because I’m a homer. He actually is the best suited to do well consistently on all 10 tracks in the Chase. The other tracks different from the 1.5-mile variety he’ll have to conquer are New Hampshire, Dover, Talladega, Martinsville and Phoenix, tracks he has won at before during his career.
Chicago’s layout is a little different from Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas and Las Vegas, and probably closer to Kansas and Kentucky, but the same principle applies: horsepower kills and handling is at a premium. It just so happens Kenseth and Busch have been the best under that criterion this season, and in Kenseth’s case, he won at Kentucky and Kansas this season, which should be a great starting point to choose a winner for this week.
Kenseth’s best finish at Chicago was second-place, doing so twice (2005, 2007), while Busch took the checkers there in 2008 and finished fourth last season behind eventual Cup Champion Brad Keselowski. That run kicked off an impressive 10-race performance by Keselowski, but unfortunately, he won’t be participating in this year’s Chase.
A driver I don’t consider a real Chase contender is Martin Truex Jr., placed at 20-to-1 odds to win it all. But he should be respected on all the 1.5-mile tracks because he’s the only driver to finish in the top-10 of all six run on this year. His last outing on one was at Atlanta two weeks ago where he finished third and his best outing was runner-up at Texas, April 13. He tied a career best at Chicago last season with ninth-place. Look for him to better that this week and contend for the win.
Keselowski won’t be in the Chase, but his teammate Joey Logano will. He’s at 20-1 to win the title, and I don’t like his chances either, but he’s got a fighting shot on these type of tracks like Chicago. He’s finished in the top-5 on three of the six 1.5-mile tracks this season and has shown great horsepower of late. He won on Michigan’s two-mile layout in late August and then finished second at Atlanta. Look for him to grab a win at one these tracks, maybe even this week.
Then we have Kasey Kahne from the Hendrick organization. It’s amazing teammate Jimmie Johnson has been so bad on these tracks while Kahne has been so good. He’s been runner-up at Las Vegas, Kansas and Charlotte this season, and a win is sure to be coming soon. Kahne finished third in this race last season. If you think Kahne can put together 10 straight weeks of solid racing, 12-1 odds to win the Championship might be for you.
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].