Its All-Star Saturday on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, with a non-points race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway (7:30 PM ET, Fox). This brief break in the chase for the Cup comes as Kevin Harvick is sneaking up the standings, Matt Kenseth has become the de facto leader and Kyle Busch sees danger coming from Kasey Kahne.
HARVICK HAPPIER THESE DAYS
Kevin “Happy” Harvick has been a regular on the Sprint Cup series since 2001, and a very consistent driver over his career. He’s finished in the Top 10 seven times, including back-to-back third-place finishes in 2010-11. When TheSportsNotebook did its season preview back in February, Harvick was the longshot choice recommended by our NASCAR junkie, my brother Bill, at 25-1, to win the championship.
But the season got off to a rocky start, as Harvick ended up 42nd at Daytona, and in the first eight races he cracked the Top 10 only once—and barely at that, a ninth-place showing in Las Vegas. Then on April 27th his season turned, with a win at Richmond. Even though Harvick fell off the radar at Talladega the week after, he immediately turned it back around with a fifth-place finish in Darlington last week.
Now Harvick is suddenly sitting in 10th place overall, good for automatic qualification to the postseason in September. The odds on his winning the championship have dropped to 15-1, indicating that some big-money bettors are clearly taking Bill’s advice and pushing the line downward (I hope sarcasm comes across online). He’ll be racing with the stars on Saturday night at Charlotte, and after a slow start, he’s racing like a star during the season itself.
KENSETH, KYLE & KAHNE
Matt Kenseth won in Darlington last week and now leads the circuit with three victories this year. If you look at the points standings, they tell you Kenseth is in third, behind Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. But if you’re thinking long-term, you keep in mind that all automatic qualifiers to the playoffs will have the points re-set to the same number. And then bonus points will be given for each outright win. Which means that, so long as you’re comfortably in the top 10—as Kenseth clearly is—it’s more important to have the wins then the points. If the playoffs started today, he would be atop the standings.
Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne aren’t quite as comfortable in the standings, though at 8th and 6th respectively, each are in good shape. But they have even less reason to be comfortable on the track. Kahne has wrecked three times this year, all at the hand of Busch. That includes each of the last two weeks, resulting in Kahne’s slipping out of the top five. Busch has stepped up and says he won’t be surprised if Kahne goes for revenge.
This is a sleaze move by Busch. Now, if Busch gets into a wreck and Kahne is anywhere near the scene of the crime, the latter is going to be under the microscope from NASCAR officials. Perhaps he would have been anyway, but Busch should have manned up. Like a hitter in baseball who knows the opposing pitcher has to take some revenge, stand in the box and get plunked. I just started covering NASCAR when TheSportsNotebook was founded in late 2011, and I better understand why Bill tells me that a whole lot of drivers and fans hate Kyle Busch.
BETTING THE ALL-STARS
Speaking of Busch, he’s a co-favorite with Johnson on Saturday night, with both posted at 5-1 odds. Kenseth is right behind at 6-1, Denny Hamlin’s a 15-2 shot and Kahne posts at 8-1. Hamlin is going to be an interesting case as the season wears on. His missed time due to the injured back has him well off the pace in the points standings, but no one’s going to be surprised to see him compete for wins on a week-to-week basis. It might help him slip in through the backdoor of the competition for the two wild-card spots, and if nothing else, it makes him a worthy betting choice as the season wears on.