NASCAR's highly anticipated, and very likely dramatic, Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship officially begins this Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the running of the Sylvania 300. The Chase will feature 12 drivers,ten races, 3,227 laps and 4,095,980 miles before a 2008 champion is crowned in a special series that is worth literally millions of dollars.
Everyone from the media to the fans and even Las Vegas odds makers has an opinion regarding who NASCAR's next champion is going to be. "Vegas Insider Dot Com" recently went on record as saying that the Chase is going to be a dead heat between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards and set them each at 3 to 1 odds. The big surprise here is the fact that "Vegas Insider" seems to think that Dale Earnhardt Jr has a better shot at claiming his first championship over two, and possibly three, time champion Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt's odds have been set at 5 to l ahead of Johnson's 7 to 1. Other Chase odds include Tony Stewart-8 to 1, Jeff Gordon-10 to 1, Roush Fenway Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are set at 12 to 1 odds while Denny Hamlin is rated at 15 to 1. The odds do not seem to be in favor of a driver from Richard Childress Racing becoming the next NASCAR champion. Odds for Kevin Harvick are rated at 18 to 1 while his team mates, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton, comes in at 22 to 1.
Always remember that NASCAR does not officially condone betting your mortgage money on a stock car race but one has to think that they are, unofficially, enjoying the attention that the Las Vegas odds makers are bringing to the Chase.
THE CHASE IS NOT THE ONLY RACE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE THIS WEEKEND.
The Sylvania 300 is going to be loaded with added drama outside of the 12 drivers competing in the Chase. First off teams are going to be looking at the final ten races of the season as an opportunity to improve on their potential positions in the final points standings. Improvement in the standings means an increase in points money at the end of the year as well as a sponsor pleasing situation.
NASCAR's top 35 in the owner's points standings will take an increasingly important role during the final ten races. The guaranteed starting berths, that comes with the top 35, will also set the tone for the first five races in 2009 and that means a guaranteed start in next year's Daytona 500. Going into Sunday's race A J Allmendinger, #84 Red Bull Racing Toyota, and Michael McDowell, #00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, are in the top 35 bubble positions. Allmendinger is 34th in the standings, but only has a 21 point cushion, while McDowell is ranked 35th and only 11th points away from falling out of the top 35. Two drivers, Robby Gordon at -11 and Sam Hornish Jr -17, are on the outside looking in and these will be two drivers to watch during the Sylvania 300'
SYLVANIA 300 RACE NOTES
The race has 45 entries vying for 43 starting berths. If qualifying gets rained out, and with the weather we've seen from the eastern seaboard lately that's possible, then drivers Tony Raines and Carl Long will not make the race.
The defending race winner, from September 2007, is Clint Bowyer. The previous race winner, from July of this year, is Kurt Busch.
Ryan Newman holds the track qualifying record at 133.357 MPH.
Jeff Burton has the most wins at the track, during the modern day era, with 4. Chevrolet has the most manufacturer wins at 12.
The Sylvania 300 can be seen on ABC Television at 1pm eastern/10 am pacific. The companion race, the Camping World RV 200 from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, can be seen on Saturday, 3 pm eastern'12 noon pacific, on Speed.
Joe Gibbs Racing has withdrawn their fourth car, Home Depot #02, from the race. That means that Joey Lagano will be making his official NASCAR Sprint Cup debut in Hall Of Fame Racing's #96 Toyota. HOF is a satellite team connected to Gibbs Racing.
"Vegas Insider Dot Com" states that Kyle Busch is the favorite to win the New Hampshire race at 4 to 1 odds. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson are set at 6 to 1, Gibbs Racing team mates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin come in at 8 to 1, Greg Biffle is set at 10 to 1 while Dale Earnhardt Jr and Kevin Harvick come in at 12 to 1 odds.
THE FINAL DREGS OF SILLY SEASON
Look for an official announcement very soon that says Italian road racer Max Papis will be running at leas 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2009. Papis will be driving a Toyota, fielded by Germain Motor Sports, with sponsorship from GEICO Insurance.
That means it's now official that GEICO will be terminating a long time relationship with driver Mike Wallace and his NASCAR Nationwide Series team. But it's not because the insurance company was unhappy with that relationship. The problem lies in contract language between NASCAR and Nationwide that says no competing insurance companies will be allowed to participate in the Nationwide Series after this year. For Mike Wallace "Nationwide was not on his side."
Jaye Frye, General Manager of Red Bull Racing, just recently returned from Austria, the home of Red Bull Energy Drink, where he met with team owner Diedtrich Mateschitz to discuss 2009 plans. Those options include two full time Cup teams, for drivers Brian Vickers and A J Allmendinger, three full time teams that would include driver Scott Speed who's really starting to impress a lot of observers, or two and one half teams meaning Speed would run a part time Cup schedule.
The fly in the ointment here lies in the fact that Mateschitz doesn't seem to be receptive to expanding to three teams. It's also been pointed out that Allmendinger's contract is up at the end of this year and there's no clear cut indication that the contract will be renewed.
Also mucking up the Red Bull Racing waters is a persistent rumor that states that Frye, who has done wonders this year for this operation, may be leaving to become the General Manager of the newly formed Stewart Haas Racing.
It's already official that driver Reed Sorenson will be leaving Ganassi Racing to join Gillette Evernham Motor Sports next year. However look for an announcement in the near future that says Sorenson may be joining his new team before the 2008 season is over. It seems that the relationship between Sorenson and Ganassi is actually that bad.