2018 Monster Energy Cup Series Championship Odds and Predictions
By Jay, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
The Monster Energy Cup Series is now well past the halfway point in the regular season. In the next few weeks, drivers and teams will have their opportunity to seal their bid into the Chase for the Monster Energy Series Cup Title. The main goal for any race driver or team is to simply make it into the 16 driver Chase field because anything can happen once NASCAR’s version of the playoffs begin in this round by round knockout formula.
So far this season, it has been a story of the “favorites'” or the “Big 3” as I like to call it. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr have emerged as the week over week favorites. In all reality, they have dominated the Cup Series this season combining for 11 of the 15 wins this year. However, the beauty about the Chase is that nothing is guaranteed and although it is likely those drivers will be strong this fall; we still cannot count out another driver from emerging to possibly contend for a championship.
I get asked quite often “what is the best way to bet on Championship odds?'” What time of the year should I start betting on the championship? I am personally not a fan of betting on anything too early in the season because I like to get an idea of how drivers perform on all surfaces. Therefore as the summer approaches, I think we have reached the correct time to kick off the conversation. From a strategy standpoint, I like the idea of contributing small amounts towards the championship each week. If you are a normal $100 bettor, throw out 2-3 $10 bets each week on guys that have shown promising potential. This type of strategy does two things.
For starters, it does not hurt your bankroll at any single point in the season and allows you to have a pretty solid risk total by the time Homestead comes around. Lastly, it allows you to change your views each week on drivers to target. So it’s not like you have thrown out a huge risk on a single driver who has suddenly started fading during the 2nd half of the season. Then by the time the Championship is decided, it can seem like extra money if you have done things right. Of course there are several different strategies that can be used, that is just my personal favorite. As we dive into the actual odds below, I wanted to take this time to provide the best 15 options to start stockpiling some weekly bets into for the championship!
No. 15 Jamie McMurray +26000
Jamie McMurray currently sits 19th in the standings meaning he would not even make the Chase if the season ended today. However, the #1 team is starting to find some steam. McMurray posted a strong 6th place showing in the Coca Cola 600 and posted another top 10 finish at Michigan last weekend. I am not here to say McMurray is a championship caliber driver but I do believe this team is delivering the speed to keep McMurray in the playoff hunt.
No. 14 Erik Jones +5100
I am a little surprised Erik Jones has not been more impressive this season since joining the #20 team with Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s not like Jones has disappointed. He has posted 5 top 10 finishes and a single top 5. I just simply thought he would make a bigger impact in his debut season at JGR. There is still time left for the team to turn things around. We know Jones is extremely talented. It is just a matter of getting the team and driver on the same page each week.
No. 13 Aric Almirola +4900
Aric Almirola has been a pleasant surprise this season as he attempts to resurrect his career with the #10 team at Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola took over the seat left by Danica Patrick and has already accumulated 6 top 10 finishes. For comparisons, that is 1 shy of what Patrick accomplished over her entire NASCAR career. As Almirola continues to impress, he has set the #10 team in position to probably make the Chase on points alone. He is definitely not a championship contender in the sense of competing for wins each week. However, he does have the level of consistency to keep advancing in each round. If you can get to Homestead, anything can happen.
No. 12 Jimmie Johnson +3100
Can you believe Jimmie Johnson does not even crack the Top 10 in terms of championship ranking and outlook? It seems downright blasphemous to even list the driver of the #48 at this spot in the countdown. However, this team is having a horrible year. The discouraging fact is that it is not like the team has run well and just simply have not produced the finishes. No, they have just not had the speed which is very surprising for a 7-time champion at a time when NASCAR’s lower downforce package should favor the talent behind the wheel. Unfortunately for Johnson, the Chevrolet teams have struggled to find speed and Hendrick Motorsports has been the biggest disappointment of the year as an organization. Johnson is currently in the biggest winless streak of his career and it does not look like it will end any time soon. The best news that I can give is that the Chevrolet teams have made slight gains mainly with their new engine package but they still have a lot more speed to find before they become contenders.
No. 11 Chase Elliott +1600
Chase Elliott’s season has a strong resemblance to Jimmie Johnson’s highlighted by the struggles from Hendrick Motorsports. For a championship contender to emerge from the #9 camp, they will have to improve greatly. The most encouraging news is that Elliott has been the fastest car from the Hendrick camp for the majority of the season. Elliott’s pure talent gives this team hope.
No. 10 Kurt Busch +2900
Kurt Busch is a driver that everyone should keep an eye on as the season continues mainly because he is a intermediate dark horse. The former 2004 champion has the experience, the
talent, and a fast car with Stewart-Haas Racing. In the last few weeks, Busch has posted finishes of 8th or better in 5 of his last 6 starts. He is one of those drivers that is slightly outside of the top 5 cars each week but has the potential to keep making gains to become a bigger threat. Keep an eye on the #41 team.
No. 9 Joey Logano +2000
Joey Logano has already locked up a spot in the Chase thanks to his victory at Talladega. We have seen the #22 team get hot around championship time in the past and I am somewhat surprised Logano has yet to win a championship from a talent perspective. Unfortunately, the team has not been performing as strong as they need to be to hunt down a title. They have been a 5th-10th place car on most weekends. The good news is that there is plenty of time to find the speed to get them to that next level but they certainly have to improve to be a legit title contender.
No. 8 Ryan Blaney +1900
If I had to throw out my favorite long shot, it would be YRB. For those that do not recognize the moniker, that is Young Ryan Blaney. The driver of the #12 car has been one of the bigger surprises this year since joining Team Penske. Surprisingly, he has been arguably the fastest car from the Penske stable for the majority of the season. The downside is that the finishes often have not reflected the performance. Blaney was dominant at Bristol before he was innocently caught in accident, he led a lot of laps at Kansas before wrecking, and have had several other instances where the result did not reflect the performance. If they start getting the finishes to match their speed and Blaney’s talent, then things will get very interesting.
No. 7 Clint Bowyer +1900
Clint Bowyer scored his 2nd win of the season this past weekend with some help from Mother Nature at Michigan. The victory was a statement to the competition that the #14 team has arrived. The Stewart-Haas Racing organization has been fantastic this season and Bowyer appears to be emerging as the best driver from the group not named Kevin Harvick. I am still a bit skeptic that Bowyer has the consistency to win a Championship. However, there is no denying the success at this point in the season.
No. 6 Denny Hamlin +2000
Denny Hamlin is another winless driver that is not far off from championship form. The #11 team has posted 6 top 5 finishes in the first 15 races and honestly has performed even better than that. Hamlin and the #11 team have been plagued by misfortune and costly self-inflicted penalties. From a pure speed standpoint, this team is very close and Hamlin has the talent to win a championship. They just have to keep progressing and most importantly find a way to avoid the mistakes.
No. 5 Brad Keselowski +1200
The 2012 Cup Series Champion is having a solid season despite the fact he is still searching for his first victory of the season. However, Keselowski and the #2 team have come alive in recent weeks with finishes of 6th or better in 4 of the last 5 races. All of the Fords have been strong this year and the Team Penske brigade is closing the gap on the Stewart-Haas drivers that have been fastest for the majority of the year. If that continues to happen, Keselowski’s stock will continue to rise.
No. 4 Martin Truex Jr +525
The defending Cup Series champion deserves all the respect in the world. He has performed well this season with two victories and consistently been one of the only drivers that could match the speed of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. However, I still need to see more from the #78 team in terms of versatility. Their main strength remains on the 1.5 mile tracks. Truex and team have not been good on the short tracks nor the superspeedways. In each round of the Chase, it does not take but 1 bad finish to put a driver’s chances in a hole. Therefore, they still have a little ground to make up because they are no longer the weekly favorite like they were in 2017.
No. 3 Kyle Larson +625
This is not going to be a popular pick because Larson has not accomplished much this season. In fact, the driver of the #42 has just 5 top 5 finishes and currently sits 10th in the standings. At this point, Larson is not even guaranteed to make the Chase. However, here is where handicapping comes into play. The tracks that are in the Chase set up perfectly for Larson to make a championship run. What if I told you the most raw talented driver in all of NASCAR drives the #42 car? Would you believe me? Also, don’t let a few bad finishes deter you from targeting Larson this summer. The team has had speed and I expect that will continue to improve. The Chevrolets have had a real slow start to the year but they are starting to gain each week. Remember this is not a pick for now, this is a pick for how teams will be performing in the fall. Don’t overlook Kyle Larson!
No. 2 Kyle Busch +300
Kevin Harvick’s season has been remarkable to this point but Kyle Busch’s season is surprisingly not that far off from the #4 team. Busch has posted 4 victories and 10 top 10 finishes in the first 15 races of the season. When Busch scored his first victory in the Coca Cola 600 in May, he became the first driver in NASCAR history to win on every track. Needless to say, his versatility is exactly what is needed during the Chase. I personally believe Busch is probably the most talented driver in the sport. Therefore if they can keep pace with Harvick, Busch may be the best wheelman to get the job done.
No. 1 Kevin Harvick +200
There is absolutely no doubt that Kevin Harvick should be everybody’s overall favorite for the Monster Energy Cup Series’ Championship. Harvick has racked up 5 victories this season in just 15 starts which ties a career high for wins in a season. A record he will surely break before the year concludes. He has also posted another 2 runner-up finishes and 11 total top 5 finishes which is simply incredible. On top of the victories, Harvick has been good everywhere and on every surface. When it comes to raw speed, the #4 team has everybody covered and the last time they were this strong was in 2014 when Harvick won his only Cup Series title. This year they are on pace to shatter their 2014 performance.
Overall Top Pick: Kevin Harvick +200
Best Value Play: Brad Keselowski +1200