Brickyard begins chase to points top 10

Jul 26, 2005 3:07 AM

The NASCAR Nextel Cup Racing Series has the weekend off as they prepare for the Aug. 7 running of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Busch Series is at Gateway International Raceway on Saturday. The race can somewhat satisfy the growing popularity of wagering on stock cars, but this may be a perfect opportunity to shop around for Nextel Cup Championship odds.

Only six races remain until the field is set for this year’s Nextel Cup Championship chase, which is NASCAR’s version of a playoff format. To be eligible for the 10-race chase, drivers must either be in the top 10 in the standings or within 400 points of the leader. Currently, only seven drivers are within 400 of the leader. Eight more are with 136 of each other.

Only 36 drivers are mathematically eligible at this point, but it’s a safe assumption that the participants will be among the current top 15 in points. If you can correctly predict which of those looking in from the outside right now can excel over the next six races, you’ll have some pretty good value. There isn’t much of edge for the top drivers over the last 10 races. It’s anyone’s trophy once the field is set.

With or without the chase, the object is to accumulate the most points. Being consistent has always been the key with the way the point system is structured. The difference between finishing first and eleventh is a whopping 50 points, while between 1 and 29 is only 100. Some of the drivers outside the top 10 need a few top 5 finishes.

We’ll take a look at the contenders who are battling for each of the next six races and hopefully shed some light on possible value. This does not include the top seven in points. They are considered in — even though anything can happen.

6) Indianapolis: The drivers we saw do well in the last two Pocono races will be the ones to watch. Though Jeff Gordon is a four-time winner, you have to begin at Inday with Carl Edwards. In the last two Pocono races, Edwards finished first and fourth. Then comes Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jeremy Mayfield and the Yates tandem of Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett. Expect the points leader to do well here so don’t expect a dramatic change in the 400 line.

5) Watkins Glen: The road course will offer plenty of opportunities for a few drivers to really capitalize. Last season in this same situation, Jimmie Johnson led in points and finished 40th. The driver that has to show here is Gordon. He failed to do anything in Sonoma, the other road course, despite having the best car in all practice sessions. Kevin Harvick is another driver who could really make a move.

4) Michigan: The second race here this season favors Edwards, Gordon, and McMurray. The Yates duo will also be in good position for a quality finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr needs a Chicago-like performance to keep him in striking distance.

3) Bristol: Ouch! This place is going to be rough on quite a few drivers and, like Watkins Glen, will shape the face of the chase. Harvick, Gordon, and Junior have an edge. Harvick finally won a Cup race at Bristol earlier this season after years of being close. A repeat would be no shock. At this juncture, Harvick should crack the top 10.

2) California: Similar to Michigan. We can expect the same drivers to do well. Last season Sadler took control of his own destiny by winning here. Look for something similar. By this time, fewer drivers will be competing. Junior and Gordon could be well out of contention if they don’t have great runs.

1) Richmond: The deciding race. There will be all types of scenarios with only a few drivers eligible. Most are hoping the points leader runs into the wall early. Johnson finished well back (36) last season, which had plenty of cusp driver excited. However, the second place driver in points assumed the lead with a third place finish that took away the hopes of a few. Mayfield played himself in with a win. Expect a good run from Gordon, Harvick, and Edwards.

After all is said and done, I don’t expect the 400-point rule to come into play. So, look for only 10 drivers in the chase. I see Harvick, Sadler, and Gordon making the field, joining those currently in the top seven. McMurray and Mayfield will barely miss their play in at Richmond, while Gordon does the near impossible and qualifies.

Gordon (20-1) is the furthest back in points among the current contenders. His odds are still somewhat cheap because of the long haul he has to go through. However, he is a four-time champion and does have one of the best teams and equipment in NASCAR. They are capable of winning any race.

Gordon’s performance over the last two months has been just a notch above the likes of Ken Schrader in actual points accumulated, but the tracks over the next six races do favor him.

I agree with many that Tony Stewart (7-2) has a good chance to win the title. Stewart, like Gordon, is so diversified on all tracks. Stewart is a co-favorite to win it all along with Biffle and Johnson.