Gordon capturing points title is 4-gone conclusion

October 30, 2001 7:06 AM
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With only four races remaining on the 2001 Winston Cup schedule, Jeff Gordon has himself poised to win his fourth career championship.

In those four remaining races, all Gordon has to do is have an average finish of 24th to capture the crown. It seems an easy task for the “Rainbow Warrior” considering he only has six finishes in 32 races this season worse than 24th. He could even do worse and win the championship.

The formula that figures out Gordon’s average finish of 24th is based entirely on his closest competitor, Ricky Rudd, winning all four races. Rudd will be a strong contender to win in two of the four, but winning them all is a tall task. An even taller task would ask Gordon to finish 24th or worse in four straight races, something he has never done in his career.

Odds to win the championship will be paid out at all Sports Books following the final race of the season, which this year will be an extremely cold affair in New Hampshire due to the tragic events on September 11th. When looking back on the opening odds at most Sports Books around Las Vegas to win the championship, Gordon can be seen as high as 7-1 and no lower than 5-1. Station Casinos closed Gordon as a $3.00 favorite prior to the July race at Daytona, while the Sahara had him at even money.

The favorites coming into the season were Jeff Burton at 4-1 and Bobby Labonte at 5-1, both of whom have struggled on the season. Burton closed at 100-1 in July while Labonte finished at 20-1.

Needless to say, the season hasn’t unfolded as many experts had predicted it might. The parity has been remarkable. There have been four first-time winners on the season and 16 different winners altogether, both Winston Cup records. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the season has been the demise of Roush Racing and its best prospect for the team’s first championship, Jeff Burton.

Last week at Phoenix, Burton won his second race of what has been a very disappointing season and the 17th overall during his career. Burton’s natural progression during his career led most to believe 2001 would be the year he broke through. In the previous four seasons, he won 15 races finishing fourth, fifth (twice) and third in the final standings.

He was definitely on an upward swing coming into the season based on the fact that he competed on a high level on every type of track on the series. He was the driver to beat on all cookie cutter tracks, he made his mark on the restrictor plate races and was always strong on the short tracks.

For whatever reason that only Jack Roush can explain, Burton has struggled throughout 2001. That was however, before the month of October started.

If there was a monthly championship awarded, Burton would have won. On four different and diverse tracks, he was able to finish in the top five in every race, giving signs of the old Jeff Burton returning.

Coming into this weekend’s race at Rockingham, Burton is listed at 8-1, his lowest opening odds in three months. The odds are based in part because of his sudden return to the upper echelon of drivers, but mostly because of his great past success at Rockingham. In 15 career races there, he has seven top five finishes. There is no driver in track history with a better success rate.

Jeff’s brother, Ward Burton (12-1), has won three races in his career. All three of those wins came on tracks that he continually does well at, Darlington twice, and Rockingham two seasons ago. The Burtons finished 1-2 at Rockingham.

The first go-around for Ward this season at Rockingham was the second race of the season and essentially the first race for Dodge on a non-restrictor plate race. Ward finished 16th, but ran very well.

Jeff Gordon (4-1) hasn’t won at “the Rock” since sweeping the ’98 season giving him four career wins there. During his mini-slump of ’99 and 2000, he only managed one top five. In the spring, Gordon finished race. This is a new season for Gordon and in the midst of it all, we’re seeing the old Gordon dominate with tremendous consistency.

Last week at Phoenix, despite having the fastest happy hour times, it appeared Gordon wanted no part of any dog fight for position. He has been moving over very easily in an attempt to avoid any rubbing and ease closer to his goal of winning the Championship.

Rusty Wallace (10-1) is a five-time winner, the last coming in ”˜94. Rudd’s plight is simple. He must win to stay in the hunt for the title. Rudd (5-1) has one win on the track, but more importantly for bettors is that he has a solid motivational factor involved. NHRA hits in Vegas

For the third consecutive time, handle on the NHRA Vegas races increased. Station Casinos has posted the odds each of the last three events and according to Sunset Station’s Fred Crespi, the teams and fans know where to go to get action.

“I’m shocked that something like drag racing has created so much action for us, Crespi says. “We doubled our ticket write from April’s races, and almost doubled our handle. I think a lot of it has to do with the fans knowing and being comfortable that we have the odds.”

Top 5 finish prediction:
1) #99 Jeff Burton (8-1)
2) #22 Ward Burton (12-1)
3) #28 Ricky Rudd (5-1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (4-1)
5) #2 Rusty Wallace (10-1)