Time to regroup for final push

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We get a week off from the NASCAR Cup Series to catch our breath after the thrilling Saturday night race at Bristol Motor Speedway that saw Denny Hamlin cash at 12-1 odds after taking over the final lead with 11 laps to go passing 300-1 long shot Matt DiBenedetto who led the most laps and was going for his first Cup win. 

For Hamlin, he joins Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for the series lead with four wins each which gives the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates 12 wins combined in the 24 races run so far. Hamlin is still listed by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook at 8-1 odds to win his first Cup title after opening the season 25-1. Kyle Busch remains the favorite to win his second title at 7-2 while Truex and Kevin Harvick are the co-second choices at 5-1 to win their second titles.

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Hamlin is one a career run with a ninth-place average finish on the season which includes a series leading 13 top-fives finishes, six of which have come in his last six starts. The package he went with Saturday featuring engines with 750 horsepower has seen him finish in the top-five in eight of nine races using it. 

Meanwhile, Busch’s fourth and last win came June 2 at Pocono. The tables appear to have turned with Hamlin and Harvick now being as dominant as Busch and Truex were early in the season. Those two have the momentum going with only two races remaining until the Playoffs start in Las Vegas. 

The next race will be a Darlington Raceway, a place where Hamlin is the best active driver with a 6.1 average finish which is also his best average for any track. After that, it will be the 2.5-mile flat layout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We know the favorites in each of those races will be the same cast of characters that are favored each week. But with a week off, the area to focus on is whether or not any value can be found to win the title among drivers on the fence of being one the 16 drivers to qualify. 

The 14th-place driver, Erik Jones, is 57 points ahead of the 17th-place driver Clint Bowyer. The 16th-place driver, Daniel Suarez, is only two points ahead of Bowyer. The 19th-place driver, Paul Menard, is 71 points behind Suarez for the last transfer spot.

To give an idea of how scoring works in the Cup series, let’s take a look at Saturday’s race where Hamlin got 40 points for the win but he didn’t win any stages. So a driver like Chase Elliott who finished fifth, but finished second in the first stage and sixth in the second stage, would gain 46 points. 

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The drivers who finished 35th, 36th and 37th would gain only one point each. And if the drivers on the fence have a bad day, they can fall fast in the standings, which makes it the underlying theme of the next two races.

Now when I say value, I say it knowing that one of the elite drivers is going to win the title. Paul Menard needs lots of help to get in which is why he’s 1,000-1 to win the title, but his only career win did come at Indy in 2011 and if he were to win he would automatically make the Playoffs regardless of his points. But still, if you think that’s a possibility, it’s better to just bet him to win the race at 100-1 odds or higher.

Ryan Newman sits in 15th-place and Darlington and Indy have been good tracks for him. The South Bend, Indiana native won at the Brickyard in 2013 and he has averaged a 12th-place finish at Darlington. He’s currently 300-1 to win his first Cup title. 

Newman proved in the 2014 Playoffs that he could advance without winning. He didn’t win a race the entire season and ended up racing for the title win with a few laps to go in the final. He’d finish second that season. Chances are he qualifies for the Playoffs so if you think 300-1 is worth a shot among only 16 drivers, he might be a driver to go with. 

I’m not betting him, but I’m just suggesting he won’t be 300-1 when the Playoffs start.

The same goes for Bowyer, who is currently 80-1 but is outside looking in for the Playoffs. If he makes it, his odds will be slashed because of being with Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the power teams in the series that is getting things figured out as evidenced by Harvick’s recent two wins. Maybe Bowyer goes a run. 

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