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This week, the Chase begins, and that's not wonderful news for gamblers. You see, we like winners. And the Chase format rewards consistency, and frankly doesn't require a driver to win to be successful.

If someone in the top 12 in points was able to finish second in each of the next 10 races, he'd win the points title by a mile, and he'd win you and me exactly zero dollars. So it's possible we're going to see the big guns of Nextel Cup racing play it a bit more conservative than usual over the next couple months.

They all love to win individual events, for sure, but they want a championship more. Does this mean we should stay away from betting on the Chase participants altogether? No. These 12 guys have the best equipment and the best momentum with their crews, the best setups and the best feel. Of the season's last 10 events, I'd wager (and will wager) that eight or nine will be won by Chase racers. Still, points racing is something we have to have our eyes on, especially the later in the season we go, and especially for the guys who continue to have legitimate mathematical chances to take the overall championship.

Points racing is the anathema of winning racing bets. Last Week: None of our straight-up selections were ever really close; Denny Hamlin finished sixth, and Kevin Harvick finished seventh. However, our head-to-head wager on Hamlin over Matt Kenseth panned out well, to the tune of a -120 bet. For the week, then, we made 0.33 units on 1.5 units wagered, for a return of 22.2%. On the season, we're at a net positive 8.8 units on 39 units wagered (a 22.6% return). (Note that if you eschewed the conservative betting pattern we outline below, and simply wagered one unit on every recommendation we give, you'd have lost 2.17 units last week on four units wagered, though for the season you'd be up 30.38 units on 104 units wagered (a 29.2% return). Of course, such a betting pattern is riskier on a week-to-week basis.)

Take Jimmie Johnson (+500), 1/6th unit. He was dominant in Richmond last Saturday night, and swept that track's two events this year. Richmond and Loudon, this week's venue, are quite similar: they're both quite flat (only two degrees of banking separates them) and the car setups they require are alike. Also, Johnson has had the best car in Car of Tomorrow flat-track events: he has three wins, a fourth and a fifth. Given that I think Hendrick's CoT program is probably still at least a little bit ahead of everyone else's, J.J. feels like a solid favorite on Sunday.

Take Carl Edwards (+1100), 1/6th unit. King Carl may have had the best car last Saturday in Richmond, but we'll never know, because his engine blew up while he was leading the race. We know that Edwards did have the best car at Loudon this July, when he led 15 laps and appeared to be on his way to a win, but had his crew suffer a pratfall while changing his left-side tires. Edwards is always a real threat to do well on the cookie-cutter tracks that make up so much of the Chase, which gives him a legitimate shot at unsettling favorites like Johnson, Tony Stewart (+700) and Jeff Gordon (+450) and taking his first-ever points crown. It would have to begin this week in New Hampshire.

Take Denny Hamlin (+500), 1/6th unit. I have to admit, I'm a wee bit suspicious about this bet, because Hamlin's win here in July was based on tire strategy. While everyone else was taking four tires during the event's final pit stop, Hamlin took two, got out front, and was able to hold off Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. (+1400) for the victory. Still, Hamlin's been extraordinarily good on the flat tracks this year, having posted a win, three thirds and a sixth. I have no doubt he'll contend for a top 10, and just in case he found some Miracle Mile magic last time the Cuppers were here, I'll hedge my bet with him in this spot.

by Michael Cash - - Email Us

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