Time to take Burton seriously in Chase

Oct 17, 2006 6:36 AM

With five races left in the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup season, Jeff Burton extended his points lead over second place to 45 last week at Charlotte.

This week they’re off to Martinsville, a fun half-mile flat track that allows for plenty of bumping and rubbing. With Burton ahead, it’s time to start thinking about the real possibilities of him winning this whole thing. Early on in the Chase most were saying nice things about Burton followed with a "but."

Statements like, "I’d love to see Burton do it finally after all these years, but Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, or Kevin Harvick will be the battle down the stretch."

There still may be a battle down the stretch, but I think we can include Burton into that equation. He has been so good, not only down the stretch, but all season long on all types of tracks. Burton is the only Chase driver to score four top-10 finishes in the five races. He also is the only Chase driver to lead in four of the five races. Burton is peaking at the right time and hopefully he’ll be rewarded for it.

From a betting angle, if Burton wins the title there won’t be many sports books in Nevada making money. Whether it was figured a forgone conclusion that the likes of Kenseth and Johnson would battle for the title and drivers like Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, and Burton would battle for 15th or 16th middle division, I don’t know. What I do know is that several Las Vegas books had Burton in the 50-1 range at the time of the March Las Vegas Cup race.

Coming into Vegas, Burton had finished 32nd at Daytona and fifthh at California. Kenseth had just won at California while Johnson had won Daytona and finished second at California. How is anyone going to stop those two? That’s at least what the books must have been thinking. One book in particular in downtown Vegas went way too far by listing Burton at 300-1. They were obviously attempting to attract incremental money on a driver that supposedly had no shot, and they got it.

I would still make Kenseth the favorite to win the title despite being behind 45 points. Because of the risk incurred over the season, most books will have Burton listed as the solid favorite. In an attempt to lure more money on a side they stand to win much more on if he wins, some books may be attempting to sell Kenseth at great prices to reduce their risk on Burton. Anything over 7-2 on Kenseth is pretty good.

Let’s get to this week’s race.

To begin with, you should look no further than the team with the bow-ties. It’s all Chevrolet at Martinsville. A Chevy has won six of the last seven races at Martinsville. All but one race was taken by Hendrick drivers — Jeff Gordon (four times) and Jimmie Johnson (once). The other Chevrolet victory was by Tony Stewart in spring 2006.

The non-Chevy victory came from Rusty Wallace in a Dodge in April 2004. That was the first Dodge Martinsville victory since Dave Marcis in the fall of 1975. Ford’s last victory at Martinsville was by Kurt Busch in the fall of 2002. Because of all the recent dominance by Chevy’s top drivers, they have been installed as a -240 favorite against the combined efforts of Ford and Dodge at Martinsville this week.

Jeff Gordon has dominated Martinsville over his career like no other over the same span. He leads all active drivers in every track category. In his 27 races at Martinsville, Gordon has scored five Bud Poles, seven victories, 15 top five and 21 top 10 finishes. He has also led 2,041 laps at Martinsville and never posted a DNF.

The funny thing about Gordon is that DNF is just about all Gordon can muster. He’s dropped from second to tenth in the point standings in the last three Chase races, due to three straight DNFs. On the season, Gordon has posted seven DNF’s, the most of any driver ranked in among the top 22.

That’s not how you win Championships,

However, this week, Gordon will be in his element. Because of that, he is the favorite at 5-1. Gordon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson is the next in line with 6-1 odds followed by the spring Martinsville race winner, Tony Stewart.

Johnson started his career with a 35TH place finish in his first Martinsville run. Since then, it’s been lights out with nothing worse than ninth. If you’re thinking about a Stewart sweep on the season, it’s been done ten times in ttack history with last ones coming in 2005 and 2003 by Gordon. Richard Petty did it 3 times

A driver to keep an eye on is Virginia born Denny Hamlin, who hails from Chesterfield which is right near Martinsville. He has proven to be a solid flat track driver this year. In his first Cup start last year at Martinsville, Hamlin began fifth and finished eighth. Not bad for kid starting only his third Cup race. After seeing what he’s done this year, last year performance definitely was no joke.