Ryan Newman was the biggest mover on the Las Vegas odds board at the Westgate Superbook where they dropped his NASCAR Sprint Cup odds to win from 30-to-1 last week, down to 10-1 heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 for the second of three races in the Eliminator Round.
Newman’s third-place finish at Martinsville on Sunday puts him three points behind leader Jeff Gordon in the round with two races to go until the final four advance to the championship at Homestead. Because Dale Earmhardt Jr. won last week, and he’s not involved in the Chase anymore, that means at least two drivers will have to advance on points.
Meanwhile, as Newman improves his odds of making the Chase, pre-Chase favorites such as Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick put themselves into a position with poor performances at Martinsville that they’re almost forced into a must-win situation over the next two weeks.
Keselowski finished 31st and Harvick 33rd on half-mile track, and both their Chase odds rose from 3-1 up to 6-1. Harvick is now 30 points behind Newman.
The good news for Keselowski and Harvick is that they are at ideal tracks for both of them over the next two weeks. Harvick has never won at Texas, but he did win on its sister track at Charlotte three weeks ago, the most recent 1.5-mile track run on. He’s also won at Phoenix five times, including the last two.
Keselowski doesn’t have a win at either Texas or Phoenix over his career, but it’s only a matter of time because he’s been the best on tracks similar such as three wins on 1.5-mile tracks this season, and the comparatives to Phoenix where’s he’s grabbed wins at the flat layouts of New Hampshire and Richmond.
In the second race of the last round we saw some tempers flare at Charlotte when Kenseth tried to put a headlock on Keselowski. This week we’ve got Harvick mad at Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are ready to ignite soon and everyone seems to have a beef with Keselowski.
This gauntlet the drivers have been put in is much more stressful than they imagined and it’s translating well on the TV screen. What theatrics it would be if Keselowski won another elimination race like he did at Talladega two weeks ago to stay alive.
Let’s not forget about the point leaders. Gordon is up by three points over Newman only seven points better than fifth-place Denny Hamlin.
The great story would be Newman making the final round and trying to win his first Cup title, and he could make Homestead based on what we’ve seen this year. He’s won at both Texas and Phoenix in the past, but more importantly, he’s finished 15th or better on his last seven 1.5-mile tracks.
Newman may not be in the Keselowski, Logano, Gordon or Harvick class on those tracks, but he’s good enough to point well and the third-place at Martinsville gave him the luxury to just finish well the next two and have a chance.
When breaking down Texas, I feel like I’ve gone through this drill all season because I have. This is the 10th race on 1.5-mile track this season and every one of them were rather predictable. The biggest surprise of all might have been Jimmie Johnson’s win at Charlotte.
Five of the nine races so far have been won by Penske Racing’s dynamic dup of Keselowski (Las Vegas, Kentucky, Chicago) and Logano (Texas, Kansas). Gordon (kansas), Johnson (Charlotte) and Kasey Kahne (Atlanta) represent Hendrick Motorsports, and then there is Stewart-Haas driver Kevin Harvick (Charlotte) who uses a Hendrick engine.
Despite only winning once on the 1.5s, Harvick may have been the most impressive of all leading hundreds of laps. It will be the same group battling for the win with Newman hanging close around, but not really capable enough to win (good matchup play). The best longshot is once again Jamie McMurray, who also uses a Hendrick Chevy engine.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].