Michigan more like Vegas than Pocono

Jun 13, 2006 6:10 AM

Congrats go out to Denny Hamlin for winning last week’s race at Pocono.

Hamlin has been inching closer each week, especially the last five races where he has started in the top 10 and finished no worse than 15.

Maybe the best aspect about Hamlin winning is that it allowed the betting public a chance to cash on a driver paying out higher than 12-1. Hamlin could have been bet at 25 or 30-1. After winning the pole, Hamlin could still have been wagered for around 20-1.

This is the second year in a row a rookie has won Pocono, which is maybe more telling than originally thought. The first impression was that rookies who have won were with great organizations. Hamlin had a car that I swore had Tony Stewart’s orange seaping through FedEx logo. That car was tight.

The rookies also probably come into Pocono with a whole new outlook on the race, having never driven the track. The older drivers, or basically anyone that has downshifted, may come in with the wrong outlook. Whatever the case, be sure to file this race away into your data bank. The drivers return to Pocono in a few weeks.

The chase for the Nextel Cup heads this week to Michigan for the first of two races there. For the benefit of those looking for some edge when handicapping the race, you need to review the Las Vegas and California races from earlier this year. California and Michigan are almost identical 2 mile flat tracks built by Roger Penske. Las Vegas fits the mode because of the banking and width of the track, despite being a half a mile shorter in distance.

Examine the top four finishers at each track. First and second were flip-flopped at each site. In reality, Matt Kenseth should have won both races since he had a huge lead at Vegas. Kenseth dominated both races late. Jimmie Johnson managed to steal a win away in Vegas because of a late caution, allowing him to catch Kenseth.

Sitting in fourth place is Kasey Kahne, master of the mile and a half high banked tracks. Kahne has three wins this year, each on virtually identical tracks. At California and Las Vegas, Kahne he was fourth.

As for the rest of the top 10 at both Cal and Vegas, it’s not just Kenseth, Johnson, and Kahne faring well. Jeff Burton started his resurgence in those races with a fifth and seventh. Kyle Busch was tenth and fourth. Mark Martin finished ninth and sixth.

As much as I would like another large payout this week, there is just too much information that says it’s unlikely. Matt Kenseth enters as the 6-1 favorite at Mihigan race. The above mentioned drivers all have a good chance at doing well, but only Burton may be found at 20-1 or more.

Tony Stewart may present some value. Stewart had two top five finishes last year at Michigan and his odds may a bit too high because of his shoulder injury. He should be found in the 12-1 range.

The rare possibility that the best drivers and teams in the series do not win this week could be supported in last year’s second Michigan race when Jeremy Mayfield outsmarted everyone on fuel. He paid off at over 40-1. I can’t say I would be disappointed if that happened again, just to loosen the odds more up front. True odds value can’t happen if Kahne and the same group of Roush and Hendrick drivers win every week.

Ryan Newman could surprises with a good run. He has always raced well at Michigan and has a streak of five straight top 15s, including two wins. In all, Newman has four career top 5 finishes.

Though Johnson has a great record this year at Cal and Vegas, I always look to go against him at Michigan. In eight career races, Jimmie only has one top 5 mixed in with a few mediocre runs and a couple really bad finishes. He will be a great driver to go against in matchups at some major plus money.

Quick note, the last three Michigan races have been won from starting outside the top ten.