The rules for this year’s 10-race Chase to the Sprint Cup title have been tweaked a bit this season to expand the qualifying field from 12 drivers to 16. Another change bases qualifying for the Chase on victories first followed by total points second so it almost becomes a win and you are in scenario as far as getting into NASCAR’s playoffs.
Heading into this break, eight of 36 point races are already in the books and there have been seven different winners so far. Kevin Harvick is the lone driver to claim two checkered flags with victories at Phoenix in early March and last Saturday night at Darlington. His current odds to end up in the top spot in the Sprint Cup standings to win this year’s title are +700. Some of the value in these odds is lost due to the fact that the No. 4 race team has been inconsistent this season with four other finishes outside the top 30. However, keep in mind that Harvick has also led a total of 515 laps after leading just 269 laps all last season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the hottest driver through the first eight races with a win at Daytona followed by four additional finishes in the top three. The No. 88 car came close to posting its second victory of the season last Saturday night with a second-place finish at Darlington. Juniors’ odds to maintain this pace all season long and win his first career Sprint Cup title are currently +1000, which offers quite a bit of value for a veteran driver and race team that appears to be hitting their stride almost every single week. They are sitting in fourth place in the standings with a total of 271 points, but ranked third because of the one win.
Under the old rules Jeff Gordon would be the leader in the standings at the eight-race mark with 297 points, but without a win under his belt, he is ranked eighth as far as qualifying for the Chase. He is another veteran driver that has shown some solid consistency in the early going by placing in the top 10 in six of the eight races. The No. 24 team came close on a couple of occasions with a fourth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a second-place finish at Texas just two weeks ago. Gordon’s odds to win a Sprint Cup title for the first time since 2001 are set at +1200. Given his past experience and current form, there is quite a bit of value in those odds as well.
The current favorite to win this year’s title is still Jimmie Johnson at +250. At this point of the season he is ranked fifth in total points with 270 after posting three top-five finishes and two additional runs in the top 10, but the No. 48 car is still searching for its first point race victory of the year. There is always value in Johnson’s odds no matter how low they go given the fact that he is still the defending Sprint Cup Champion, which just so happened to be his sixth career title in the last eight seasons. You get the feeling that once he nails down his first checkered flag of the season for our NASCAR picks and there are going to be quite a few more to follow.
The odds for a few of the other top contenders for this season’s Sprint Cup title include Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth at +800, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin at +1000 and Tony Stewart at +1500.