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Brad Keselowski is among the favorites chosen by two leading oddsmakers to win the Daytona 500. Photo: Getty Images.

Oddsmakers favor Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano to win Daytona 500

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The early line for how drivers will fare in the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 are similar between two of the top sports oddsmakers: the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book and BetOnline.

In fact, nine of the top-10 picks by both oddsmakers are the same, with only slight differences in driver rankings.

The Westgate Las Vegas has Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and 2018 Cup champion Joey Logano all at 8/1 odds as favorites to win the Great American Race.

BetOnline, meanwhile, gives Keselowski the nod to win at 8/1, but Harvick and Logano are next at 9/1.

The only difference between the top-10 picks of both oddsmakers are Westgate has Martin Truex Jr. (14/1) in its top 10, while BetOnline picks Kurt Busch (14/1) in its own top 10.

Westgate only gave odds for its top 10 picks plus two notables (two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson at 25/1 and defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon at 40/1), while BetOnline selected 29 drivers (making Johnson a 22/1 favorite and Dillon holding 28/1 odds).

Here’s the odds Westgate gave NASCARonNBC:

 

 

And here’s BetOnline’s odds:

Brad Keselowski 8/1

Kevin Harvick 9/1

Joey Logano 9/1

Aric Almirola 12/1

Clint Bowyer 12/1

Chase Elliott 12/1

Denny Hamlin 12/1

Ryan Blaney 14/1

Kurt Busch 14/1

Kyle Busch 14/1

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 14/1

Martin Truex Jr. 14/1

Daniel Suarez 20/1

Jimmie Johnson 22/1

Erik Jones 22/1

Alex Bowman 25/1

Austin Dillon 28/1

Kyle Larson 28/1

William Byron 40/1

Paul Menard 40/1

Daniel Hemric 50/1

Ryan Newman 50/1

Bubba Wallace 50/1

Michael McDowell 66/1

Ryan Preece 66/1

Chris Buescher 100/1

Ty Dillon 100/1

David Ragan 100/1

Matt DiBenedetto 200/1

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Chad Knaus admits he’ll likely think he’s still with Jimmie Johnson’s team when season begins

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For perhaps the first few races of the 2019 Cup season, Chad Knaus may need a road map of both the garage area and pit road as a reminder he’s no longer with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, but rather in his new role as crew chief of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver William Byron.

“Look, I had 18 years of working on that 48 car, so I guarantee I’m going to walk into the wrong transporter,” Knaus said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “At some point, I’m probably going to key up the radio and start to say ‘Jimmie,’ by accident.”

He then added with a laugh: “I may look at the 48 as it rolls down the front straightaway periodically and get confused, but hell, I’m getting old, so I get confused anyhow. So, that’s just going to be part of life.”

After 17 seasons with Jimmie Johnson, Knaus will be on the pit box of the No. 24 and with driver William Byron in 2019.

Knaus admits regularly referring to Johnson, with whom he won a NASCAR record-tying seven championships and 83 races in 612 starts together, is a hard habit to break..

“As we’re going through and setting rosters and doing our car lineups and what not, I’ve caught myself no less than at least 1,500 times, saying ‘On the 48, we want this,’” Knaus said. “It’s definitely a reality.

“But quite frankly, it’s a good thing. I’ve always been a 24 guy at heart, always. All the really productive years of my career began when I came to Hendrick Motorsports and began working with Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham back in 1993.

“To be able to wear that badge again is really exciting to me. It’s really kind of a homecoming for me. I’ve always had that passion for the 24 and always been a fan of that. So I’m excited to be back and be a part of it.”

As for working with Byron, Knaus admits it will be an interesting change, with Knaus being more of an old-school crew chief, while Byron is more of a new-age race car driver.

“The ability is there (but) it’s definitely different,” he said. “When you get yourselves into positions of a guy like myself or Ray (Evernham) … in the contemporary term of mechanical engineer, being very good at algebra, algorithms, material properties and things of that nature, you have to dig in deeper.

“The days that have come in by old school racer knowledge to really make things happen have kind of passed us to a degree. But, and the big but is, that isn’t necessarily what makes a good crew chief nowadays. What does make a good crew chief nowadays is to be able to come up with is good practical racer knowledge and convey that to the people that can make things happen.

“That’s kind of how I’ve started to approach things over the last couple years and it’s starting to show fruit from my perspective. So yeah, there are things you can do. The one thing that has remained consistent is we’re trying to get from the start/finish line back to the start/finish line as fast as you possibly can. That is a fundamental problem in our sport. And if you can do that, faster than anybody else, you’re going to be successful.”

While Knaus admits he’ll miss working with Johnson, the challenge of working with Byron has reinvigorated him.

“It’s definitely lit a fire back in me that I wouldn’t say died, but maybe helps transforms me into a more aggressive approach, which is definitely what we need,” Knaus said.

As for Daytona, Knaus can see Johnson win his third 500 — and a lot more with new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

Knaus says it would be “awesome” if Johnson can win a third Daytona 500, but also has high goals for Byron, as well.

“Jimmie Johnson’s going to go out there and win races with Kevin Meendering, period, 100 percent,” Knaus said. “Is he going to win the Daytona 500? I sure as heck hope so. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

“I love Jimmie like a brother. I hadn’t seen him since the end of last season. We saw each other at the shop two days ago and we gave each other a big old hug. My goal and our goal at Hendrick Motorsports is to have four teams that are capable of going out there and battling for wins and are in a position to battle for championships every single race and every single year. I feel that William has the ability to do that.”

While he’s not putting any pressure on Byron, Knaus definitely has Johnson-like goals for his young driver.

“The goal is to win the Daytona 500 and sit on the pole and win the 150 and we’re the fastest in practice and led every lap,” Knaus said. “That’s the goal. But the reality is it’s going to take a little time.”

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Kyle Larson ready to learn from Kurt Busch — and maybe teach him a bit, too

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Kyle Larson is looking forward to learning from new Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch. And Larson may even be able to teach Busch a few lessons.

Calling in from Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of this week’s Chili Bowl, Larson appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Thursday.

“Being a teammate with a champion is really cool,” Larson said of being paired with the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion. “I think I’ll be able to learn a lot off him. I think he’s going to push me to be a better race car driver, really. I’m looking forward to working with him.

Kurt Busch. Photo: Getty Images.

“I’m excited to learn from him and how he gets around Martinsville and the road courses and during the races and stuff like that. Those are my biggest weak points and I feel like those are some of his strongest race tracks.

“Kurt has always been very into knowing about his race cars. I think he’ll be able to have some input on changes to our chassis or anything on our race cars to try and help us out at places where he thinks we might struggle.”

Due to offseason schedule conflicts, Larson and Busch haven’t been able to spend much time together yet. But the new teammates are slated to get together once Larson returns to the Charlotte area after the Chili Bowl concludes Saturday night.

And while Larson is looking forward to Busch’s mentorship, he also feels he can maybe teach Busch a few things, as well.

“I think the style of racing has changed some from, say, a decade ago,” Larson said. “There’s a lot of younger, it seems like, really aggressive drivers out there.

“Just with (Busch) being able to see me and my aggression even more so up-close and being on the same team and looking at the driver data, yeah, maybe there’s some things he can learn.”

Larson admits because he’s been focused during the offseason on racing both in the U.S. and overseas, including the Chili Bowl, he hasn’t spent much time thinking about the 2019 NASCAR Cup season.

But that’s about to change.

“I don’t really think about NASCAR season until the checkered flag waves here on Saturday,” he said. “I think it’ll be a good year for us. The rules package is going to be way different, so I’m not really sure what to expect there and how we’ll be, but I’m looking forward to get going.”

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William Byron checks off painful box on offseason to-do list

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Like many of his fellow NASCAR Cup peers, William Byron has used the off-season to get things done before heading to Daytona in a few weeks.

But while it had to be done, we have a hunch Byron wasn’t exactly looking forward to what he had to do Thursday morning: having his wisdom teeth pulled.

The 21-year-old Byron, who enters his sophomore season in NASCAR Cup with Hendrick Motorsports this season, took to Twitter on his way home after undergoing the painful procedure.

Check out Byron’s tweet, as well as some of the replies from several very empathetic followers:

 

Mike Wallace ready to make another run at NASCAR Cup racing

Mike Wallace before his last Cup start, the 2015 Daytona 500. Photo: Getty Images
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When Mike Wallace developed a heart issue that resulted in triple bypass surgery in April 2015, it left the veteran NASCAR driver with unfinished business in his racing career.

Now, nearly four years later and fully healthy, the 59-year-old brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and Kenny Wallace hopes to finish some of that business in the 2019 season with Rick Ware Racing.

“I still have that passion,” Mike Wallace told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop racing in 2015 on my own terms. And I’m very comfortable with life. It’s not like I have to do this to complete it, but I just like racing, I like it a lot, I like to be behind the wheel.”

Rick Ware Racing has two NASCAR Cup charters for 2019, which means both the No. 51 and No. 52 must run every race. Ware has offered one of those rides to Wallace, but the latter has to attract more sponsorship.

“Rick reached out, asked me to drive for him, but we have to find some money,” Wallace said. “Rick’s not in a position to hire a driver straight out. So we have a little bit of associate sponsorship put together. But we need sponsorship dollars to complete the package.

“It could be a great deal for him and his team, a great deal for me and it’s an incredibly reasonable, great opportunity for a marketing partner or partners to get involved, because you probably couldn’t get yourself into this sport and the NASCAR business any more reasonable than you can right now.”

Wallace posted on both LinkedIn and Facebook in the last couple of days seeking sponsors for the No. 52 car that he hopes to drive all season, with the exception of the Daytona 500 (although if a primary sponsor steps forward in the next week, Wallace could potentially still compete in that race).

“I know because of my age, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs, people like that aren’t going to be calling for me to drive their cars, so why not do it if you can do it,” said Wallace, who turns 60 in March. “I still think I’m alert, healthy, have done every test you can do, have great endurance, eyesight, everybody says I’m good to go.

“Passion drives my desire. I’ve always had a passion for being a race car driver and motorsports and the NASCAR world. NASCAR racing is the coolest thing in the country.”

For now, Wallace said he and Ware have enough sponsor dollars to field the No. 52 for Atlanta, California and Las Vegas for starters.

“We worked together years ago, Rick actually fielded my daughter Chrissy in 2007-2008 era, I’ve raced against him or cars he’s owned forever,” Wallace said. “As he told me, he’d like to have a nice season with a driver like myself who can win races and run competitively and take care of equipment. We just have to make it work (financially).”

Wallace and son Matt competed in Super Late Model competition last year and it whetted the elder Wallace’s appetite to give NASCAR another go.

Wallace has made 197 Cup starts, the last race coming in 2015 (Daytona 500) just before his heart issue. He also has a combined 609 starts across both the Xfinity and Truck series, with a combined nine wins and 55 top-5 finishes.

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