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Fantasy Racing: Chase Edition

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2009

2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup thumbI have to give the “experts” some credit, as at least some people are venturing away from the trunk of the tree that they’re living in and picking someone other than Jimmie Johnson to win the Chase.

Of course, you can’t really blame people for picking Johnson, he HAS kinda won the last three Sprint Cup Championships, but since when were the television talking heads in NASCAR paid to be correct?

Bet US has posted their NASCAR odds, and they’re also on the Johnson bandwagon. However, they’re putting Mark Martin and Tony Stewart on the same tier as Johnson.
As a little primer for the Chase, I’ll give you the odds for each Chase driver (for entertainment purposes only, of course) and a little primer about what you can expect from each driver during the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson +250: If history is any indication, Johnson won’t take the lead in the Chase for a few races. That’s not to say he isn’t good at New Hampshire—he does have six straight finishes of ninth or better—but the drivers finishing ahead of him have also been Chase drivers. And Johnson did win that epic duel with Tony Stewart at Dover and won that epic duel with Carl Edwards at Kansas last year. Might it be Johnson’s time to not win some of those epic duels? Who knows. He obviously has the fewest warts of the Chase drivers at any of the Chase tracks, but pit miscues can strike anywhere, and it seems that Johnson has had more than his share of those this season. Will one of them cost him the Championship? To Watch: Dover, Lowe’s, Texas. To Watch Out: Are there any?

Mark Martin +300: If Martin is leading the points standings coming out of Talladega, then the Championship is going to be his to lose. Plain and simple. The 5 car has been every bit as good as the 48 this season—early season mechanical woes excepted. But given the way that Talladega has treated Martin, he’s going to have to be perfect in the six races before then. He can be, but if one of those mechanical failures comes back to bite him before we get to Halloween, Martin may be in the bottom half of the Chase standings with three to go. To Watch: Kansas, Phoenix. To Watch Out: Martinsville, Talladega.

Tony Stewart +300: Stewart’s performance in the Chase last year is a bit of an aberration given that he’s with a completely new team. He’s solid at New Hampshire and Dover and will once again be a threat to win at Talladega, but the 14 team has been a tick behind the three main Hendrick cars in the Chase at the intermediate tracks. The whole momentum aspect is a bit overrated, as Stewart could very well be leading the points going into Kansas. However, the consistent top 10s at the five 1.5 and 2 mile tracks in the Chase need to become consistent top fives. To Watch: Martinsville, Talladega. To Watch Out: Lowe’s.

Jeff Gordon +400: I think that Gordon has been the third best Hendrick car over the course of the season, but that’s not saying much. I don’t like Gordon’s title chances very much because it seems that he’s had to fight for a fair amount of good finishes this season. Very rarely has he had the day that he’s stayed in the top 10. I like Gordon to finish in the top half of the Chase—heck, he may have a mathematical shot going into Homestead—but his lack of single race consistency will hamper his title chances. To Watch: Texas, Talladega. To Watch Out: Dover, Phoenix.

Denny Hamlin +800: The best bet to break the Hendrick brigade at the front is Hamlin, and I think his odds are an accurate reflection of his title chances. He’s been brutal at Dover the past two Chases, finishing 38th and 39th, so do NOT pick Hamlin there. Hamlin has had fast cars at Talladega, but he’s an absolute weapon in the draft. That’s good and bad. To Watch: New Hampshire, Martinsville, Phoenix. To Watch Out: Dover.

Carl Edwards +1000: Edwards is probably living off of last year with these odds. His performance this season hasn’t come close to meriting him “favorite” status, and I don’t think that he and Bob Osborne can kick it up a notch just because it’s the Chase. If—and that’s a giant if—the 99 can recapture the magic on the intermediate tracks, he’s going to be a contender. But there’s no indication that will happen. To Watch: Homestead. To Watch Out: Martinsville.

Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brian Vickers +2000: I don’t think any of these four have a realistic shot at the championship. Kurt Busch has been way too up and down lately, and the downs have been so down that they’ve canceled out the ups. Kasey Kahne looks like he could recapture the intermediate track magic, but I don’t trust RPM for some reason. I also may be the only person that thinks Juantoya is best suited to “points race” during the Chase instead of going for it like he and Chip Ganassi have hinted. Brian Vickers is a year away, but he could surprise and be a contender in the final three races.
Greg Biffle +2500, Ryan Newman +3000: Well, I guess you can say that Biffle and Newman are the 2003 Matt Kenseth’s of the group. They haven’t performed particularly spectacularly, but they weren’t on the edge of the bubble when the Richmond race was winding down. They’re in the Chase, and that’s really all you can say.

To Watch at New Hampshire: Clint Bowyer, Sam Hornish, Marcos Ambrose

To Watch Out at New Hampshire: Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger

Stone Cold Non-Chase Lock of the Week at New Hampshire: Martin Truex, Jr.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 17 2009
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