Updated 2015 NASCAR Title Odds: Week 34
This season's Chase for the Sprint Cup continues to have more twists, turns and plot changes than a Steven King horror movie.
And for those drivers who have been victimized the most, it probably seems like a horror movie to them in the way they’ve been eliminated thus far.
Matt Kenseth, five wins—gone. And then to top it all off, he’s suspended for two of the remaining three races for plowing into Joey Logano at Martinsville, per NASCAR's official release.
Jimmie Johnson, four wins—gone. Failed to make it past the first round, no less.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., two wins—gone. Prevented from advancing further in the Chase due to a green-white-checkered end result at Talladega.
Denny Hamlin, two wins—gone.
And unless two of the three can find a way to win either Sunday at Texas or next week at Phoenix, don’t be surprised if Joey Logano (six wins), Kyle Busch (four wins) and Brad Keselowski (one win) are next on the list to be eliminated from the Chase.
As we head into the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, here’s how we see the odds favoring the eight remaining Chase drivers...or not.
Working in his favor: You probably thought we’d place Logano in this position, right? You’ll see shortly why we didn’t.
As for Brad Keselowski, he is 34 points out of first place in the Chase standings with two races remaining in Round 3. Keselowski has played a worthy foil to teammate Logano up to this point, but now it’s time for Kes to shine in the next two races. His chances are arguably better at the short track in Phoenix, but don’t count him out from potentially reaching Victory Lane at Texas.
Working against him: Keselowski just hasn’t seemed to have the shark-like hunger he’s shown in seasons past. I mean, this is the 2012 Sprint Cup champ we’re talking about. Yet he’s been nothing more than seemingly a guy toting Logano’s luggage for him.
After a bad start at Martinsville, of the three drivers bringing up the rear of the Chase, Keselowski is likely to have the hardest time of all trying to fight back to make the final four heading to Homestead.
Odds: 30-1 (up from 40-1 last week)
Working in his favor: Much like points leader Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards has continued to do just enough this season—and particularly thus far in the Chase—to get to where he is at right now. He’s done well at Texas, which likely gives him his best shot at a win to advance to the final round (Phoenix: not so much). It’s all up to Edwards to show he deserves to reach the final four.
Working against him: The next two races will make or break Edwards. He’s admittedly done well this season—or maybe we should say he’s done well enough this season—but I still feel it’s not in the cards for him to reach Homestead. We’ve seen how abruptly fortunes changed for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. My guess is Edwards is next to fall by the wayside.
Odds: 30-1 (up from 35-1 last week)
Martin Truex Jr.
Working in his favor: Martin Truex Jr.’s never-give-up attitude and hunger for a championship continues to drive him and his team. This has become NASCAR’s equivalent of The Little Engine That Could. And Truex has done so without the benefit of a teammate to help him.
If he can leave Texas still in the top three, there’s a very good chance he’ll not only reach Homestead, but his chances to win the championship will also go up exponentially. Now, if he can just avoid disaster at Phoenix next week that could take him from hero to zero—and potentially result in elimination.
Working against him: This is where a mixed message creeps up. Everything I said positive about Truex in the previous paragraph can also turn around, bite him and work against him in the two remaining races in Round 3. More than anything, and I hate to keep repeating it, but that single-car team could wind up being the Achilles' heel that could prevent Truex from reaching Homestead.
Odds: 25-1 (up from 45-1 last week)
Working in his favor: Kyle Busch has had an outstanding season, even though he missed nearly a third of it due to injury. That he’s sitting tied for second in the standings after the first race in Round 3 is equally impressive. While his past Chase history has been dismal when it comes to being around at the end, Busch has been on a mission since he came back from his accident, and to me the mission continues.
Working against him: As we said last week, Busch’s Chase history is one of great anticipation going in, typically followed by premature elimination.
In the two different formats since the Chase was founded in 2004, this is as far—and as high—as Busch has gone. While that’s a credit to him and his team, I still can’t help but think whether he’ll once again fold in Round 3. It’s for that reason that I’m keeping the odds of advancing high against him.
Odds: 25-1 (up from 50-1 last week)
Working in his favor: For a guy who swept all three races in Round 2 of the Chase, Logano definitely has the potential to win at either Texas or Phoenix.
Plus, given what happened to him at Martinsville—courtesy of Kenseth—Logano is likely coming to Texas with a boatload of motivation to not only avenge Kenseth’s actions, but also to win in the process so he doesn’t have to worry about his advancement hopes coming down to Phoenix next week.
While it would have been easy to rank Logano last in this week’s odds—going from hero to zero after Martinsville—I think there’s still at least one or two more potential wins in the cards for him in 2015. If that were to play out, he’d win one to make the final round and the second to win it all.
Working against him: Could Logano have used up all his bullets, so to speak, in Round 2, when he swept all three races? Does he have enough left to win at Texas or Phoenix to punch his ticket to the championship round?
He’s in a very deep hole right now, having scored last in the standings of the eight remaining Chasers. Only one Chase driver who found himself far back after the first race of either Round 1 or 2 has rallied back to advance to the next round, and that’s been Kevin Harvick.
Odds: 20-1 (down from 5-1 last week)
Working in his favor: Up until the wreck he was involved in at Martinsville, Kurt Busch was having a great race. And while it would have been easy for him to lose his cool and rant and rave afterward—as he has done countless times in his Sprint Cup career—Busch remained patient and in control. That’s not only an impressive trait. It also convinced me that no matter what remaining adversity may stand in his way in the final three races, Busch can meet it head-on and prosper.
I also was very impressed with how he said so confidently after Martinsville that he can win Texas or Phoenix—or both. I’ve been saying throughout the Chase that the elder Busch brother could be the biggest dark-horse surprise of the playoffs, and I’m not changing my mind now.
Working against him: Admittedly, Busch is playing from behind heading to Texas, currently ranked seventh in the standings, 36 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon. Had it not been for Sunday’s wreck at Martinsville, Busch likely would be in the top three right now. He may have even been able to challenge Gordon for the win.
Even though it’s one of the Chase's standard 1.5-mile tracks, Texas can be a very unpredictable track, as well. Busch likes high-speed tracks like Texas, but they don’t always like him back with the same fervor. If he can bounce back with a top five Sunday, he’ll be in a good place. But saying that—and actually doing it—are two entirely different things
Odds: 15-1 (down from 10-1 last week)
Working in his favor: Kevin Harvick has the Chase right where he wants it, you might say. He comes to Texas (one of only four tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit that he’s never reached Victory Lane at) in fourth place in the Chase, just 10 points behind new series leader Jeff Gordon.
Harvick is likely going to do everything he can to win Sunday so that he will not have to worry about needing Phoenix to make the final round of the Chase. But if that were to happen, Harvick is still working from a position of strength: He’s won seven times at Phoenix, including the last four races there. One way or another, we see him making Homestead and the chance to defend last year’s title.
Working against him: As we said in the previous paragraph, Harvick has never won at Texas. Ergo, he cannot have a bad race there Sunday if he wants to advance to Homestead. You can only push your luck so many times at a place like Phoenix, so as to assure advancement to the final round.
That’s not to say Harvick can’t win again at Phoenix, but does he really want to subject himself to that pressure once again? He’s handled the pressure very well already several times, but it just takes one mistake by a fellow driver and Harvick’s hopes of repeating as champ could disappear in a matter of seconds.
Odds: 10-1 (up from 25-1 last week)
Working in his favor: The momentum Jeff Gordon earned in his emotional win at Martinsville is something that he can likely ride all the way to a record fifth championship. (And I’ll even pat myself on the back a bit, having picked him to win last week at the southern Virginia bull ring.)
Gordon’s win has not only reignited his hopes of retiring as a five-time champion, but he can also essentially coast at Texas and Phoenix, knowing he’s made it to the final round—and he finally earned his first—but potentially not the last—win of a season that now has a very good chance of being capped off with the biggest win of all—a championship.
Working against him: Honestly, I don’t see much of anything working against him the rest of the way this season. He finally got that elusive first win of 2015, he punched his ticket to the championship round and he displayed emotion that we haven’t seen from him since the last time he won a championship back in 2001. Honestly, I see him being in the driver’s seat all the way through Homestead.
Odds: 5-1 (up from 15-1 last week)