After two races into NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, we have a different leader and new Las Vegas odds-on favorite.
After not winning for the first 26 races of the season, Tony Stewart’s championship alarm clock has awoken the former champ and he’s won the first two events of the Chase. Stewart now has a 7-point lead over Kevin Harvick heading into this week’s event at Dover, Delaware.
The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book opened Stewart at 20-1 odds before the Chase started, with not many takers. But following his Chicago win, he was dropped to 9-2. The combination of a poor finish by five-time, reigning champ Jimmie Johnson not doing well at New Hampshire and Stewart winning has dropped him all the way to 5-2.
Jimmie Johnson in the four-eight, or ‘five-time’ as he’s been called, is now 29 points behind the leader, but is still respected with odds of 6-1. That’s only 29 positions to make up with eight races to go, but based on this season where he’s only had one win, it could turn out to be an eternity.
Close behind Stewart is Kevin Harvick (-7 points, 7-2), Brad Keselowski (-11, 7-1) and Carl Edwards (-14, 4-1). My choice to win the Chase, Jeff Gordon, is currently 23 behind with odds of 6-to-1. Jeff has a lot more upside down the stretch than Johnson just because he’s been able to show he can dominate a race.
Denny Hamlin wasn’t thought of as a driver who could win the Chase, but was 15-1 when it started. After two awful performances, he’s 66 points behind the leader and can be had for 200-1 if having any reason to believe things will get better.
If there ever was a track on the schedule that could get Johnson going in the right direction again, it would be Dover. “Five-time” is a six-time winner on the track, including taking this race last season. He finished ninth in the first Dover race held in May, but led 207 of the 400 laps, most of which came in the early portion of the race.
Matt Kenseth eventually won the race by opting to go with two tires in the final pit stop while perhaps the best car at the time, driven by Carl Edwards, took four tires.
Tat decision and same tire compound could prove to be a blessing for Edwards this time around as Kenseth paved the way for success. Edwards has a great history at Dover already with a 2007 win and not finishing worse than 11th in his last 10 starts there. The lesson learned the hard way could prove to be a good one for the No. 99 team this week.
Kenseth’s win was the second of his career at Dover. Since his first win in 2006, Kenseth has finished in the top-five in eight of 11 starts. He had a gritty sixth-place finish last week at New Hampshire in a car that he absolutely hated through practice and the race, which could lead to more success in races to come making him a factor in the Chase. He’s currently 26 points behind Stewart and has several of his best tracks coming up, beginning with Dover.
If we account for what happened in late August at Bristol, we have to look at Keselowski who finished strong with a win in that race. Gordon led the most laps with Martin Truex Jr., Johnson and Kenseth all running well enough to win.
So how about Stewart’s chances of winning three straight races?
It looked as though Dover would be a track that he would dominate on over his career as he swept the 2000 season, but he hasn’t won there since, a span of 21 races.
It would seem a longshot for him to complete the trifecta this week, but he’s already beaten the odds by winning the first two.