Easter offers time
to Chase down
top contenders

Apr 11, 2006 6:21 AM

There is a week off in the stock car world for Easter and we wish you the best.

As intended, the NASCAR Nation always attempts to keep the family aspect huge. While they don’t take off many weekends, they do make special considerations for such important dates to families all across America.

With the bye week in NASCAR race wagering, you can spend some time searching for value in futures. Chances are whatever driver you prefer, you’ll get an extremely fair price. Las Vegas Bookmakers have changed their philosophy regarding the Cup chase for the Championship, where so many drivers are now eligible to win. In years past, the season title was virtually settled at the halfway point, if not sooner. Odds to win could only be found at a few books after the first six races since the winner was such a given.

"After witnessing the way the season went the last two years with the chase, our vantage point is to just sit back and let the bettors dictate where we move the numbers," says Las Vegas Hilton car racing expert Ed Salmons.

"In years past, we used to have to shade several drivers early on to compensate for the inevitable, which was that only two or three drivers had a chance of winning," Salmons continued, "We also had a tough time selling a driver that was 300 points behind. Now, we can get action on drivers that are far out at the moment, but can get back in with a couple good runs. Anyone who makes the chase has a chance."

A perfect example of what Salmons is talking about happened last season with Matt Kenseth. At this time after seven races, Kenseth ranked 22. He was having bad luck and running poorly — a terrible combination. However, the team was able to right itself at about the halfway point and became one of the top teams in NASCAR with a legitimate shot at the points title. Station Casinos sports books had odds on Kenseth as high as 100-1 prior to Kenseth’s awesome run. Needless to say, they had a tremendous risk on him and may have even sweated a bit in the chase for the championship.

"Let’s just say we weren’t rooting for him to win, but in retrospect it all worked out," said Green Valley Ranch’s Kelly Downey. "We had our highest handle ever because of adjusting our odds weekly and making them competitive. Then the favorite eventually won, which is generally good for the books in NASCAR."

At this juncture last season, Tony Stewart was eleventh. He went on to a dominating last half of the season and was the favorite to win going into the Chase. After seven races, three other Chase participants weren’t in the top 10. Carl Edwards eventually finished third, Jeremy Mayfield ninth, and Kenseth seventh.

So where is the value this season and who are some of the drivers to search and to stay away from? Chris Chavez from Wynn Resorts, who has been doing the NASCAR odds in Vegas for over a decade, gave his us his thoughts.

"Just because they are so good, you have to look at the Roush organization," he said. "Four of their five teams have the ability to win it all with two of them, Kenseth and Martin, sitting pretty good right now. When you factor in all the tracks remaining on the schedule and look at some of the past winners in the last 4 or 5 years, Roush has a bunch of them."

Roush is clearly the King of the Cookie Cutter tracks, of which Chavez is referring. Of the 29 races remaining, only four are on short tracks, two on road courses, and three with restrictor plates. Those nine have given Roush drivers consistent troubles over the years. For the remaining 20 races, essentially the bulk of the season, Roush is tops. That’s why he has two Cup titles in the last three years.

BEST OF ROUSH

Kenseth (10-1): The best choice to win, not only for value of the odds, but by having the best team. Because Kenseth is not a huge fan favorite and stays under the radar, the public hasn’t driven up his price in odds to win like Jimmie Johnson.

Mark Martin (15-1): He just gets the job done each week. The man has never won the title, finishing second a bunch of times. This is expected to be his final year. Last year was supposedly the end but, much like the Rolling Stones, it’s just too hard to quit. Why should he when having one of the best chances to win it all?

Greg Biffle (12-1) and Carl Edwards (10-1): They are really struggling right now, despite having what looks like the best car. Last week, both led a bunch of laps and then wrecked. There is a definite pattern developing. They appear to get worse each week in the luck department. There is no reason one of these drivers couldn’t go on a run, dominate a seven-week stretch and pull themselves into the top 10.

Jamie McMurray (75-1): Forget it! This is the biggest disappointment, quite possibly the top flop of all time in all things that have ever been hyped —including movies. "Ishtar" comes to mind as a comparative. How that team could fall so fast is a mystery to all. Kurt Busch isn’t too upset about that team’s lack of success.

OTHER CONTENDERS

Tony Stewart (5-1): He may just do it again. Stewart is so good on all types of tracks and his team gives him car to maximize his ability.

Jimmie Johnson (4-1): If there was no Chase and the title chosen solely by points through 36 races, this guy might have two already. Smooth and consistent, we’ll see how he does under the pressure.

Kasey Kahne (10-1): This seems to be the driver everyone is rooting for to win the title, especially the bettors who have him at 75-1. After the awful 2005 campaign, many forgot just how good he was on cookie cutters during his rookie year. He will do well on all the tracks Roush does and should make the top 10 after 26 races.

BEST OF REST

We’ve seen flashes from Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch. All should make the Chase. As with all the drivers, it’s about who gets hot at the right time. With my money and the pressure on, I like the nerve of Stewart and the professionalism of Kenseth.