Possibility that Gordon subs in for Dale Jr. in the 88 car

July 19, 2016 3:05 AM
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The 20th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes us to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. This will be the 23rd Cup race held on the most storied motorsports facility in the world, a flat 2.5-mile layout with two long straightaways and four tight turns.

Next to the Daytona 500, this race is held with the most reverence each year by all the teams just out of pure respect for the 107 years of auto racing history woven into the bricks.

To get started in the handicapping process this week, you need to take a look at a few things before looking at what drivers are currently running well in the series.

While current form is important, you have to take notice of what type of tracks the series has been running on lately: a flat 1-mile New Hampshire, a 1.5-mile Kentucky with moderate banking, a 2.5-mile high-banked superspeedway at Daytona with restrictor-plates, a road course at Sonoma and a wide, moderately banked 2-miles at Michigan. None of the results from those recent races will be of much use this week. However, the race held prior on June 6 at Pocono Raceway 2.5-mile triangular layout can help get the process started.

The long straights at Pocono and the flat turn three are great measuring tools for the Brickyard. In that race, Chase Elliott led a race-high 51 laps and settled for fourth while Kurt Busch led the final 32 laps for the win. Four of the top-six finishers were Chevrolets, including three from the Hendrick Motorsports stable which surprisingly didn’t include Jimmie Johnson, who finished 35th after being involved in a late accident.

The correlation of that Pocono race fits right in line with what we’ve seen in past Brickyard history with both Chevrolet and Hendrick. Chevrolet has won 16 of the 22 races, including 12 straight until Kyle Busch snapped the streak last year giving Toyota its first win there. Hendrick has won nine times with five coming from Jeff Gordon and four by Johnson.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second at Pocono which is a good sign for the car this week, but his status is still unknown after missing Sunday’s New Hampshire race due to concussion-like symptoms. If he is unable to race this week, Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement to drive the No. 88. Gordon driving again would certainly be a thrill to watch, but it’s hard to believe that Junior would miss another race just because he’s barely within the cut-off point within the top-16 in points to make the Chase.

Whatever scenario plays out, the Las Vegas sports books will have a dilemma on their hands for this weekend on what to do with the ‘Field’ bet. Last week at New Hampshire, the ‘Field’ was 500-to-1 prior to the concussion announcement. Earnhardt was 20-1 to win.

When Alex Bowman was announced as the replacement driver the ‘Field’ bet was dropped to 50-1 at the Westgate SuperBook, and Bowman ran in the top-10 for most of the race until a tire failed him late.

With Gordon’s history and love for the Brickyard, a place he dreamed of racing at as a young kid racing in Indiana, coupled with a strong No. 88 he has to be considered one of the favorites to win despite not racing since November. Keep your eye on that unfolding story before wagering.

The other piece of handicapping data you need to tackle before wagering is look at what happened with the organizational testing at Indy last week during a two day session. One driver from each of the teams participated and shared information gained with all their teammates.

Chevrolet was fastest in each of the day with Kyle Larson fastest on the first day and Johnson was fastest on the second day with Kevin Harvick right behind them on each day. Martin Truex Jr. was the fastest Toyota just ahead of Matt Kenseth.

Of course, it’s just testing, the times were un-official and the drivers were in race conditions, but there’s a lot of supporting reasons coming in to suggest the winning betting move this week is to side with one of the Chevy’s. And it would have to take something substantial to sway you off any of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas because they’ve won nine of the 19 races this season, including last week at New Hampshire after a five-race drought.

A Ford hasn’t won at the Brickyard since Dale Jarrett won for the second time there in 1999, but Brad Keselowski should be given some serious consideration just because he’s won a series-high four races this season. He had his two race win streak snapped last week, but on a similar note of using Pocono as a tool, consider that he finished third there in June.

Johnson has won two races on the season, but the last one came in March at Fontana. His history at Indy has been all or nothing: four wins along with six finishes of 18th or worse. He’s finished 14th and 15th the past two years there. He’s not exactly rolling well now, or lately at the Brickyard, but he does have that fast test session, I know he loves the track and all his teammates excelled at Pocono. Let’s go with JJ and also take a long shot look at Larson who has finished seventh and eighth in his two career Indy starts.

ESPY Agenda

When the ESPY’s sports awards show started in 1993, I loved everything about it, especially since it was on a dead sports day with nothing going on during the All-Star break. But after last season when ABC hi-jacked the show with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner for the courage award so they could squeeze ratings out of, I said I was done with the show.

But I was lying to myself. I watched again last week. Bad move.

I was disappointed again when they made an omission in honoring retiring legends by allowing only Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and Abby Wambach to walk on to the stage. Didn’t Jeff Gordon retire at the end of 2015? Not only was Gordon four-time Sprint Cup champion who won 93 races, he also was the face that brought NASCAR into the mainstream. He grew the sport like it had never seen before, and ESPN was all part of it showing hundreds of races.

ESPN doesn’t broadcast NASCAR anymore and Gordon is an analyst for FOX, so suddenly Gordon’s career isn’t relevant as a retiring legend.