Jimmie Johnson hadn’t even completed his victory lap around the television talk show circuit. No matter, the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup champ opened a 3-1 favorite at William Hill sports books to win again in 2014.
The 2013 Sprint Cup runner-up Matt Kenseth is the second choice at 11-2. When the LVH opened their odds on Monday morning, they had a little different opinion. Johnson was 2-1, Kenseth 7-1.
The big difference between last season’s Sprint Cup odds and 2014 is that there aren’t a lot of uncertainties coming into the season. The big story coming into the 2013 was the arrival of the Gen-6 car. The initial belief was that Hendrick Motorsports would be ahead of the curve like they were in 2007. That year was the last time there was a car change with the introduction of the car of tomorrow on a limited race schedule, and they lived up to the projections.
Last season also saw the defending Sprint Cup winner, Brad Keselowski and his Penske Racing team, switch manufacturers from Dodge to Ford, which proved to be a rough transition. Keselowski failed to make the Chase and didn’t win race until race No. 31 at Charlotte, his only win of the season. With a year under their belt in the new car and with Ford, Keselowski is 15-1 to win in 2014.
The only major change coming into the 2014 season is Kevin Harvick switching over from Richard Childress Racing, where he’s been at since 2001 when he took over the legendary No. 3 car for Dale Earnhardt, to Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick’s car will look similar because he’ll still be in a Chevy and also brought Budweiser over as a sponsor, but his new can number will be No. 4.
Despite the change, Harvick’s odds still resemble what they were last season when his first number posted was 16-1 at the Wynn sports book. William Hill has tabbed him at 15-1 odds to win in 2014.
Stewart-Haas will also welcome Kurt Busch to the team as driver of the No. 41 with odds on him posted at 30-1. The boss, Tony Stewart, comes in at 15-1 while the fourth Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick, in her second full Cup season, opens at 250-1.
Everything begins and ends with Johnson who just won his sixth Sprint Cup trophy in eight seasons. One more title and he’ll tie NASCAR royalty, Richard Petty and Earnhardt, for the most in history with seven.
What was so impressive about Johnson’s title in 2013 was that he didn’t dominate on the 1.5-mile tracks like he had in his previous five championship seasons. Usually the key to winning a title is by faring well on the type of tracks that there are the most off, yet Johnson only won once in the 11 races held of 1.5-mile tracks.
Kenseth was the best on 1.5-mile tracks in 2013 with four wins, and it was obvious that Joe Gibbs Racing was ahead of everyone else on the big horsepower tracks. Along with Kenseth’s four wins, teammate Kyle Busch won twice on those type of tracks along with a win at Fontana’s 2-mile layout.
Busch had his best Chase finish ever with fourth-place and is listed as the third favorite to win in 2014 at 13-2 odds.
The big wild card in 2014 will be Denny Hamlin who came into 2013 as one of the favorites to win it all 7-1, just behind Johnson‘s 7-2 odds. Hamlin missed four races with a back injury and then got stuck in the middle of Toyota using his car as a Guinea Pig towards the latter half of the season.
For 2014, William Hill has posted him at 15-1, which may be the best value on the board just because of his affiliation with JGR, as well as closing the 2013 season with a win at Homestead to keep his streak alive of winning at least one race in each of his first eight full seasons. The LVH has Hamlin at 8-1.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. failed to win a race in 2013, but he still managed to run well enough to compete for wins and finished the season fifth in points. Because of such a successful season and being affiliated with HMS, Earnhardt is listed as the 7-1 fourth choice to win the 2014 title at William Hill and 15-1 at LVH.
The low odds at William Hill have to do more with supply and demand. Even though Earnhardt Jr. has never won a title, and has won only two races in seven seasons –both at Michigan, the sports books have to anticipate the Junior Nation coming strong as usual and have saddled his odds lower than they probably should be.
Jeff Gordon has been looking for his fifth Sprint Cup title since 2002, which not so coincidentally is the same season he brought Johnson full time into the HMS stable. Gordon finished sixth in 2013 with only one win and has lots of promise for 2014, but his 10-1 odds won’t get people running to the bet windows.
Carl Edwards is 18-1 followed by Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano at 20-1 each. Martin Truex Jr. leaves Michael Waltrip Racing and will drive the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy in 2014, the car that Kurt Busch ran like one of the best on 1.5-mile tracks in 2013.
Truex Jr. is one of the best on 1.5-mile tracks himself and brought his entire pit crew from MWR over to the new team, an area the No. 78 team struggled with throughout 2013. Truex Jr. is 30-1 to win it all next season.
The driver everyone is waiting to see what number will be posted is Austin Dillon, the grandchild of Richard Childress. No one cares about his 75-1 odds to win the 2014 Sprint Cup as a rookie, but what we all want to see is if Childress believes enough time has passed and brings out of retirement the famous No. 3. Cheerios – set to be the primary sponsor. Dillon will inherit the stable of cars from the No. 29 garage that Harvick drove to finish third in points.
William Hill books also opened up odds to win the 2014 Daytona 500 with no driver listed at single digits. Earnhardt Jr. comes out on top as the 10-1 favorite followed by Kenseth, Johnson – who swept Daytona in 2013, Busch and Harvick at 12-1 odds each.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].