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Geico 400 at Chicagoland 

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Sunday, 2pm, ESPN

What a wild week in the NASCAR world. We saw not one but two Chase shake ups and a $300,000 fine. Now that the dust has settled, for the first time we have 13 drivers with a chance at winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The first stop is Chicagoland; a 1.5 mile tri-oval located in Joliet, Illinois. Joey Logano overcome some controversy to earn the pole position to get The Chase underway. Who has the best chance at starting their quest for a championship with a win?

First, I just wanted to cover what kind of race you should be in for tomorrow, or Monday since there is some rain in the forecast. I just realized how incredibly devastating a washout tomorrow would be for NASCAR. Last week's race at Richmond has drawn a lot of national news. Without weather being an issue there would be a lot of eyeballs on the race. If it does rain and it gets pushed to Monday, it would mean most people, myself included, would miss the race. For fans like me that means I will be having some stomach issues that result in me sitting on the toilet watching the race for an extended period of time. But for the casual fan, or new eyes on NASCAR, that means it will be forgotten about until sometime long after the race ends, it dawns on them to see what happened. Without experiencing the race, they will forget about next week’s race at NHMS and ultimately NASCAR in general. NASCAR should pull a page out of China’s book and shoot something up into the sky to break up the clouds.

Whenever we actually get to racing, we will be in for some good racing. There will be some long green flag runs during which we will see drivers try both the high and low lanes, provided there is enough grip after the rain. Some guys should be able to make passes on the high side and the low side. You can bet your bank account that you will see #88 right up against the wall.

There will also be plenty of strategy. This is going to sound obvious but at this track the only time a gamble like not taking tires, is worth it is if it puts you on the front row. The clean air up the front makes you tough to catch. But if you are anywhere but P1, you can be passed by quite a few guys. That’s not to say we won’t see a race for the lead late in the race, but it’s going to take a really strong car.

Alright let’s get to making some money...

Stay Away From:

Kasey Kahne 6-1

I like Kasey Kahne in this race, but I do not like him at 6-1. Yes he has raced well in this particular race each of it’s two years of existence. However, Kahne has an average finish at Chicagoland of 19th. In nine races, he has just three top 10’s and three races outside the top 30. While he may have the best car tomorrow, there is absolutely no value here at 6-1.

Joey Logano 9-1

9-1? Ya, he’s on the pole but he has actually raced here four times before and has only one top 10 finish. I understand he is getting better and gaining experience, but 9-1 is crazy to me. Joey Logs is officially a stay away for the remainder of the season, or until Denny Hamlin wrecks him.

Clint Bowyer 14-1

I’m not sure who is betting this line. Yes he is traditionally good at this track, but after last week that #15 team has nothing going for them. Hey scientists, is it possible to have negative momentum? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what Bowyer has right now. The 2013 Chase is already O-V-A for this team.

Best Bets:

Kevin Harvick 9-1

Harvick is a bit of weird guy to figure out here. Just when you want to call him inconsistent he will come out of nowhere and steal a win. It would be much easier to like him if he would run up front for an extended period of time, at least once during the 36 race season. I realize that was a bit of a knock but he is so good at just that. Flying under the radar while he works on his car with his crew chief before they get it right for the end of the race. His magic seems to work best at these 1.5 mile tracks. He has two wins here previously as well as six top 5’s in 12 races. The stage is set for him to leave the #29 team with some dignity and as I wrote in Handicapping the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, earlier the RCR team is undergoing a massive overhaul. This may be their last chance for a few years to compete for a title. A win here would get things started off in the right direction.

Jeff Gordon 12-1

Ryan Newman 30-1

These two guys are like fringe value bets. Both of these guys are past winners at Chicagoland. Both probably got screwed during the Richmond race before NASCAR stepped in and put these guys into The Chase. So they will have an opportunity to use that as momentum. The emotional rollercoaster of missing The Chase, realizing you got screwed, and then having it be rectified by NASCAR by putting you back in, should net some incredible morale for you and your team. Going from low to lower to extreme high typically results in a great mood that is contagious to the rest of your team. Maybe more so for Jeff, since he was told virtually right before qualifying and then he went out and qualified 6th. Also because he is historically the better racer, especially at this track. Also because he qualified better and finally because he’s not a lame duck driver with his current team. But that’s also why his odds are so much lower. Both of these guys good ride some momentum to victory lane.

Best Value Bets:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 20-1

I honestly can’t believe this line is so high. Junior has won here in the past and currently holds a 10th place average finish here among the active guys. He has raced pretty well the last three weeks to ensure he would have a spot in the postseason and now it’s time to turn it on a bit. He starts in the middle of the pack and there is nothing NASCAR would like to see more than Jr. driving his way up to the front to win this race. Either all the eyeballs will be on the face of their sport, or he if he wins on Monday, people won’t forget to tune in to the next race. They will search for it because of Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. 22-1

NASCAR’s worst nightmare. While you can argue NASCAR could have just put him in as well, I think they did the right thing. It isn’t Marty’s fault it’s his teams fault but someone had to pay the price and unfortunately for Truex it was him. But he now has a chance to forever put an asterisk next to the eventual champions name by earning the most points over the next ten races. That’s the last thing NASCAR wants to see, but that is the only thing that will be on the #56 teams mind.

My Pick:

Jimmie Johnson 4-1

Maybe two years isn’t long enough to call it a trend but in the two races at Chicagoland, since it became the first race of The Chase, the winner has gone on to win the championship. Last year it was Brad Keselowski and the year before Smoke. Speaking of Smoke, it’s always a shame to come to a track that he owns. A. Because I’m a fan of his and B. Because it takes away from the quality of the race. Smoke has the best average finish here with an 8.5 in 12 races.

The nod for best average finish among active guys now goes to Jimmie Johnson with a 9.27 average finish. Despite the great finishes, Chicago happens to be one of four tracks he has never won at. That may not exactly bode well for Johnson, who is looking to break out of a four race skid that has seen him finish 40th, 28th, 36th, and 40th. He also just had a new baby, lost the points lead and lost the wins lead, which sits him currently behind Matt Kenseth. Believe it or not there is actually a lot of pressure on this team to have to “flip the switch”. What better way to regather all the momentum than by winning at one of four tracks he never has…

My Pick to win the Chase:

Jimmie Johnson 2-1


Saturday, September 14, 2013

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