Last Updated: 2017-11-08
There really isn’t a whole lot of drama to go around this week during the Can-Am 500. Three of the “Championship Four” spots have already been claimed as we look ahead to next week’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That means that one remains this week at Phoenix International Raceway, but the best driver at that track punched his ticket last week with a win at Texas. Maybe it will create more intrigue than we think. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.
This is the 35th race of 36 scheduled for the 2017 NASCAR regular season. With scoring changes, equipment changes, and a slew of new rules designed to incentivize the early parts of races and enhance the excitement for the fans, some things have worked and some things haven’t as officials ponder the future of the sport. The stands are emptier than they had been in years past and interest seems to come and go. While those discussions will be on hold for about 11 days because there are two races left to go, it’s fair to wonder how the future of NASCAR will change this offseason.
Martin Truex Jr. has three wins in the playoffs, but just clinched his spot in the final round based on his 50-point edge over Kyle Busch. Busch’s win at Martinsville means that he is in. Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas means that he is in. Brad Keselowski is only out if he finishes really poorly or if one of the other four drivers still in the running can secure a win. Those others are Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski is up by 19 points over Hamlin and 22 points over Blaney. Elliott and Johnson can only advance with a win.
Kyle Busch is this week’s race favorite per the odds at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Busch checks in at +275 to grab his fourth win of the nine playoff races before the championship. He has been on an absolute tear with five wins over his last 14 races after not winning any races until he ended the drought at Pocono. Busch was third with the most laps led in this race in the spring. His only win at Phoenix, however, came all the way back in 2005, so this has not been the best track for him. In fact, this is about the only track where Joe Gibbs Racing seems to struggle. Kasey Kahne has the only Toyota win at Phoenix in this race and it came back in 2011 with the Red Bull Racing Team. Denny Hamlin has the only one in the spring race and that came in 2012. This event has been dominated by Chevrolet.
Why? Because Kevin Harvick drives a Chevy. Harvick has eight career wins at Phoenix. The only other multiple winners in the spring race, which was added to the calendar in 2005, are Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both Chevy drivers, are three-time winners of the fall race. Joey Logano’s win for Team Penske was the first non-Chevy win since 2011 in this event. Harvick has three of those four. He is +400 this week and is now a great bet. Had the pressure been on to win, things could have been more difficult for Harvick. With last week’s win and a freeroll this week, he’s an outstanding bet because he can be as aggressive as he wants and he owns this course.
Denny Hamlin is +550. He’ll have to take some chances to try and make up the gap over Brad Keselowski. Hamlin would need a top-five finish and for Keselowski to finish outside the top 25, if we eliminate the stage points. So, the odds are a little long for Hamlin, since Keselowski will mostly just stay out of trouble. But, Hamlin does have a win here in the past and has four top-five finishes in the postseason. It isn’t impossible, but he’ll have to be more aggressive and take some chances. The price point really isn’t good enough here, but he’s worth playing in some matchups.
Isn’t it weird to see Martin Truex Jr. on a 1.5-mile track not one of the top two choices on the board? It feels like he’s almost worth a token bet at +650 given what he tends to do on tracks of this length, even though he has not had as much success at Phoenix.
This might not be a bad time to take a shot on Kyle Larson. Larson has finished 39th, 37th, and 37th in the last three races after being one of the top drivers from the start of the year through the Round of 16. He’s been really good on bigger tracks and this is a track where speed generally rules. Larson drives a Chevy and will want to get the bad taste out of his mouth from the last three finishes. He’s at +725 this weekend.
Chase Elliott at +1200 isn’t a bad grab either. Elliott was second in three of the first four playoff races and then fourth at Kansas to advance to the Round of 8. He’s had a good car on some of the bigger tracks and has been quite solid on the 1.5-mile tracks.
It would be pretty cool to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. turn back the clock and get a win here at a +8000 price tag. Earnhardt is retiring after the season and has three career wins in this fall race at PIR. He last won in 2015 in a race that was shortened due to rain, so it has a big, bold asterisk because his other two wins came way back in 2003 and 2004. With an 80/1 return, though, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to throw $10 on a nostalgia bet.
Coverage of the Can-Am 500 will be on NBC on Sunday afternoon with a 2:30 p.m. ET start time.
Odds as of November 8, 10:30 a.m. ET
Kyle Busch +275
Kevin Harvick +400
Denny Hamlin +550
Martin Truex Jr +650
Kyle Larson +725
Chase Elliott +1200
Brad Keselowski +1650
Jimmie Johnson +2250
Erik Jones +2250
Matt Kenseth +2750
Joey Logano +2750
Ryan Blaney +2750
Kurt Busch +3500
Clint Bowyer +4400
Jamie McMurray +5500
Ryan Newman +6600
Dale Earnhardt Jr +8000
Daniel Suarez +8000
Kasey Kahne +8000
Austin Dillon +17500
Ricky Stenhouse Jr +17500
Paul Menard +22500
Trevor Bayne +33000
AJ Allmendinger +37500
Aric Almirola +44000
Ty Dillon +55000
Danica Patrick +80000
Chris Buescher +100000
David Ragan +150000
Michael McDowell +200000
Joey Gase +250000
Corey LaJoie +250000
Landon Cassill +250000
Cole Whitt +300000
Gray Gaulding +300000
DJ Kennington +300000
Derrike Cope +300000
Matt DiBenedetto +300000
Jeffrey Earnhardt +300000
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
The final chance to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami comes this week out in the desert at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona with the Can-Am 500. From a betting standpoint, this is one of the most unique NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events we’ve ever seen because the favorite is coming in at prices that we only see when Kyle Busch races Xfinity Series events or with Formula One races.
That’s right, we’ll go ahead and spill the beans right away. Kevin Harvick is a +165 favorite at 5Dimes Sportsbook in a must-win situation at a track that he absolutely dominates. This is the last race in the Round of 8 and the last race before next week’s Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead, Florida. This has been one of the more memorable NASCAR seasons thanks to some rule changes and some different storylines and it’s only fitting that it comes down to a finish like this. It all started with a photo finish in the Daytona 500 and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the final two weeks.
Heading into Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have claimed two of the four spots in the championship round by virtue of winning during the Round of 8. Johnson won two weeks ago on the short track at Martinsville and Carl Edwards, in a must-win situation, won at Texas Motor Speedway on a very rainy day to secure his spot. The Can-Am 500 will be very important for the other six drivers in contention. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are tied with Johnson with 4,074 points, but Johnson’s ticket has already been punched. Matt Kenseth is one point behind with 4,073 and Denny Hamlin is one point behind that with 4,072. All eyes are on Kevin Harvick, who has 4,056 points and needs a win to advance. Carl Edwards is seventh in points with 4,049, but he won, so he advances. Kurt Busch also needs a win to advance, as he has only 4,040 points. Six of the eight Chase races have been won by this set of drivers. The only other driver to win a Chase race is Martin Truex Jr. and he won two in the Round of 16.
Rain delayed and shortened this race to 219 laps last year, so it was a dud of an ending to the final race to qualify for the championship. Hopefully there will be better weather and better fortunes for the drivers this year.
Since the cat is out of the bag, you already know that Kevin Harvick is the overwhelming favorite to win this week at Phoenix. He’s an eight-time winner at the 1.022-mile dogleg oval and he hasn’t finished worse than second at this track since the spring of 2013. He’s led the most laps in six consecutive races at Phoenix, so we’re not talking about a guy getting lucky to move to the front of the pack. We’re talking about a guy that outright owns other drivers on this surface. He won the spring race earlier this year and had won three straight fall races before finishing second last year. Add it all up and it feels like 312 (or more) miles stand between Kevin Harvick and a chance at his second career Sprint Cup championship.
Other drivers need this race just as badly and one of them is second favorite Kyle Busch. Busch can get in without a win, but a win would remove all doubt. Busch won this race way back in 2005, but that came when he was behind the wheel of a Chevy. Toyota only has one win in this race and it belongs to the Red Bull Racing Team of Kasey Kahne, so it wasn’t even Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny Hamlin did win for Joe Gibbs in the spring race in 2012, but more on that in a bit. It makes sense to consider Kyle to be Harvick’s biggest threat. He’s finished in the top five in two of the last four fall races at Phoenix and also finished seventh in 2013. He was fourth and had the pole in the spring race after missing the event the previous year. At +700, he certainly seems to be worth a look.
Denny Hamlin is at +800 along with Joey Logano. Hamlin, as mentioned, is the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win at this track behind the wheel of a Camry. Hamlin, like the six others still alive in the Chase is in a “win and get in” frame of mind. Otherwise, it’ll come down to points and he’s at a small disadvantage as things currently stand. Hamlin was eighth in this race last season, fifth the previous year, and second two years before that. He was third here in the spring. Hamlin probably isn’t as good of a value as Kyle Busch, but every driver has a little bit of value with the price on Harvick.
Joey Logano is hoping to become the first Ford driver to win here since Carl Edwards in March 2013 and the first to win the fall race since Carl Edwards in 2010. Logano has three straight top-10 finishes in this race, and five in the last six races at Phoenix, but he’s never finished higher than third. It would seem to be an uphill climb for him and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who is +1200 this week.
Carl Edwards at +1200 is an interesting wild card. An Edwards win would mean that two drivers without a win could advance to Homestead-Miami. Three of the four drivers in contention are Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Edwards is a two-time winner here, so he has shown a propensity to run well at this track. With one Gibbs team member in and three eligible to advance, could we see some gamesmanship from those drivers? Will it be everybody for themselves? Carl Edwards can race without repercussion here since he’s already in, so the idea of another big pay day has to be very attractive.
NBC will have comprehensive coverage of what should be a dramatic and entertaining race on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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