Which NASCAR Chase Contender Has Best Odds at Each Remaining Track?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2013

Which NASCAR Chase Contender Has Best Odds at Each Remaining Track?

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    Four tracks, five drivers.

    That's pretty much what this season's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has come down to.

    While guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sixth place, 52 points back), Greg Biffle (seventh, 53), Clint Bowyer (eighth, 57) and Kurt Busch (ninth, 61) are still mathematically in the running, let's face it:

    The Chase battle is down to two drivers for sure (Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth), with three others (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon) still within striking distanceproviding they make up some significant ground in the next race or two to remain in the hunt.

    The four remaining tracks run the gamut from the shortest track in NASCAR (this Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway) to a pair of 1 ½-mile high-speed venues (Texas Motor Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway) and a one-mile flat track (Phoenix International Raceway).

    So, of the five remaining with the best shot at the Cup crown, who fares the best at each place—and who fares the worst?

    Let's break down each track and see how the fab five has done at each, and then let's wrap up this exercise with—based upon their past history at each locale—who we think is the likely favorite to become the 2013 Sprint Cup champion, and how the final standings will look.

    Will you agree with our conclusion or disagree? Let's get your thoughts after you read through this presentation.


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    How they've fared there over the years:

    Jimmie Johnson: 23 starts, 8 wins, 16 top-five, 20 top-10, 3 poles

    Matt Kenseth: 27 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-five, eight top-10, 0 poles

    Kevin Harvick: 24 starts, 1 win, 3 top-five, 10 top-10, 0 poles

    Kyle Busch: 17 starts, 0 wins, 8 top-five, 9 top-10, 0 poles

    Jeff Gordon: 41 starts, 7 wins, 26 top-five, 33 top-10, 7 poles


    It's hard to pick against Jimmie Johnson in Sunday's race at Martinsville. Not only is he back in first place, where he has been most of this season—although for the first time in the Chase thus far—he also is the most dominant active driver at the nearly half-mile bull ring.

    Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon also owns an outstanding track record at Martinsville, with seven wins to Johnson's eight.

    Unfortunately for Kenseth, this is one of his worst performing tracks—and it couldn't come at a worst time for him as he tries to climb back atop the standings (albeit he's just four points behind Johnson coming into Sunday's race).

    As for Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, forget it. Even if one of them wins Sunday, they still have a hard road ahead of them in the remaining three races, particularly against five-time champ Johnson.


    VERDICT: While anything can happen at the always-unpredictable Martinsville Speedway, Johnson always seems to rise to the occasion there, particularly when a championship is to be had.

    In fact, Johnson has three wins, a runner-up and a fifth-place finish in each of the seasons that he ultimately went on to win the Sprint Cup crown from 2006-2010.

    No doubt about it, Johnson has the edge here. But if by some fluke he has an off-day—which is highly unlikely given his past incredible success here—keep your eyes then on Gordon. He'd like nothing more than to tie Johnson for wins at Martinsville, not to mention potentially close the points gap heading into the last three races.


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    How they've fared there over the years:

    Jimmie Johnson: 20 starts, 2 wins, 9 top-five, 15 top-10, 1 pole

    Matt Kenseth: 22 starts, 2 wins, 12 top-five, 15 top-10, 0 poles

    Kevin Harvick: 21 starts, 2 wins, 3 top-five, 10 top-10, 0 poles

    Kyle Busch: 16 starts, 1 win, 6 top-five, 7 top-10, 1 pole

    Jeff Gordon: 25 starts, 1 win, 8 top-five, 11 top-10, 2 poles


    Texas Motor Speedway is one of the fastest and most difficult tracks to win at, let alone be a multiple repeat winner.

    This place kind of evens the field somewhat, as four of the top five remaining Chase contenders have either one or two wins there (Harvick is the only one who has been shut out of victory lane there).

    So, with wins fairly even across the board, we have to look at consistency to determine who has the best shot there.


    VERDICT: This may be a bit of a surprise, but we're going with Kenseth to have the best day of the five remaining Chase contenders.

    Because Kenseth and Johnson both have two wins there, we base our decision on top-five consistency, where Kenseth has a slight edge over Johnson (12 top-fives to nine), even though they both come into the race with an identical total of 15 top-10 showings in their respective careers there.

    If Kenseth struggles at Martinsville and Johnson excels, Texas could be Kenseth's last gasp.


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    How they've fared there over the years:

    Jimmie Johnson: 20 starts, 4 wins, 13 top-five, 16 top-10, 1 pole

    Matt Kenseth: 22 starts, 1 win, 5 top-five, nine top-10, 1 pole

    Kevin Harvick: 21 starts, 3 wins, 6 top-five, 10 top-10, 0 poles

    Kyle Busch: 17 starts, 1 win, 3 top-five, 10 top-10, 2 poles

    Jeff Gordon: 29 starts, 2 wins, 10 top-five, 20 top-10, 3 poles


    The relative flat one-mile track at Phoenix International Raceway looks simple enough to drive upon, but in reality it's one of the most difficult short tracks in the sport.

    The fabled dogleg on the backstretch has claimed more than its share of victims who think they can get through it with ease, only to wind up a split-second later into the wall or wrecking with another driver or more.

    Harvick has long been successful at PIR in both the Cup and Nationwide Series (20 starts, 1 win but 15 top-five and 16 top-10 showings).

    And with this being Harvick's final season of racing for Richard Childress Racing before moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, what better way to round out his 13-year career at RCR than to win a fourth Cup event at PIR.


    VERDICT: Granted, Johnson leads all drivers with four wins, but if Harvick is to have a last gasp of his own, PIR is the place to do it.

    Plus, if Harvick can pull off a win or a strong finish, it might tighten the points just enough that we won't see Johnson going into Homestead with a runaway, almost insurmountable edge in the standings.


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    How they've fared there over the years:

    Jimmie Johnson: 12 starts, 0 wins, 4 top-five, 7 top-10s, 2 poles

    Matt Kenseth: 13 starts, 1 win, 3 top-five, 5 top-10s, 0 poles

    Kevin Harvick: 12 starts, 0 wins, 5 top-five, 10 top-10s, 0 poles

    Kyle Busch: 8 starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 0 poles

    Jeff Gordon: 14 starts, 1 win, 7 top-five, 11 top-10s, 0 poles


    Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a very strange track for a lot of Sprint Cup drivers in their respective careers of racing at the 1.5-mile venue.

    Sure, Jimmie Johnson clinched all five of his Sprint Cup championships from 2006-2010 at Homestead, but he has one very obvious gaping hole there:

    Johnson always seems to do just well enough at Homestead, but the fact remains it's one of only five tracks that he has yet to win at in his career (Chicago, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Michigan are the others where he's oh-for).

    But good things do indeed come to those who wait: Jeff Gordon had been in the same shoes as Johnson—winless at Homestead in his career—until last year's season finale, beating Clint Bowyer to the finish line.

    What's even more surprising about Homestead is how Kyle Busch has fared there. While he typically does well on 1.5-mile tracks, Busch has struggled there, going winless and with just two top-10 finishes in eight starts.


    VERDICT: We're going out on a limb on this one, but based on past performance and consistency over the years there, we believe Harvick will end his RCR career with a win in the season finale.

    Unfortunately, it will likely be too little, too late for the soon-to-be-former driver of the No. 29 RCR Chevrolet, but what better way to leave one place and head on to another than with a win in the season-ending race?


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    In less than a month, it will soon be time for Fab Five Johnson to add another Sprint Cup trophy to his collection.
    In less than a month, it will soon be time for Fab Five Johnson to add another Sprint Cup trophy to his collection.

    The numbers don't lie: At the four remaining Chase tracks in this year's championship battle, the wins total separating each driver is stark.

    Jimmie Johnson 14 wins

    Jeff Gordon 11 wins

    Matt Kenseth 4 wins

    Kevin Harvick 4 wins

    Kyle Busch 2 wins


    Only teammate Jeff Gordon is close to Johnson, with 11 wins.

    Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch aren't even close.


    VERDICT: So really, is there any way anyone can justify picking against Johnson to win his sixth Cup crown in 2013?

    He's unquestionably the most dominant driver over the years at the remaining four tracks and is our pick to win it all this season.

    But admittedly, it won't be easy. In fact, unless Johnson just absolutely winds up racing in a different world at both Martinsville and Texas, it's likely that he'll still have contenders close enough on his heels at Phoenix and Homestead to at least make him a bit nervous and uncomfortable down the stretch.

    Even though his track record at the last four tracks is significantly less than Johnson, don't forget that Kenseth is still as potent a threat to win his eighth and potentially ninth or more races in the remaining four events.

    However, Johnson has also had the kind of season where he could easily win each of the next three races and make it a veritable runaway heading into Homestead.

    So unless Johnson forgets how to drive or suffers some type of injury that would prevent him from racing, Fab Five Johnson will soon be Six Pack Johnson.

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