NASCAR odds - Gordon leads Chase, but not favored ahead of Texas

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LAS VEGAS -- For the second time this season, NASCAR glides through the Texas two-step, and the winner has a gateway to a Sprint Cup title opportunity. If one of the eight eligible drivers wins Sunday's AAA Texas 500, they're in. If one of the eight eligible drivers has a bad run, he's likely out unless he wins at Phoenix next week. 

The top candidate to win at Texas Motor Speedway according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook's odds is Kevin Harvick at 9-to-2. In 23 starts at Texas, Harvick has never won, but his prowess on the nine 1.5-mile tracks already run at this season -- where he's led hundreds of laps -- makes him an easy favorite. 

On the last race at a 1.5-mile track (Charlotte), Harvick led 162 laps and took the checkers for the first time in 2014 -- it was the first time a non-Penske Racing or Hendrick Motorsports driver won on a 1.5-mile track. Harvick uses a Hendrick Chevy engine for his Stewart-Haas team. He's the driver to beat coming in before any qualifying or practice sessions.

If we look back on the previous nine races held on 1.5-mile tracks this season, you'll see that Penske has five wins and the Hendrick engine has four wins. Don't look for that to change this week. Because of a poor run at Martinsville, Harvick and Brad Keselowski are almost in a situation where they have to win to advance, and we saw what Keselowski could do in the crunch at Talladega.

Here's a look at where the Chasers stand and what they've done at Texas (deficit in parenthesis):

1). Jeff Gordon: With Earnhardt Jr. winning last week, it opens up this round for drivers that can points race as only two immediate tickets to Homestead can be punched. Gordon has the points lead and a 2009 Texas win under his belt. He's been strong on 1.5-mile tracks all season, so no reason to doubt he'll be top-5 again.

2). Ryan Newman (-3): He's the feel-good story of the Chase and comes in having finished 15th or better in his last seven races on 1.5-mile tracks. His 2003 win here is long gone, but his championship chances are better than ever. He's also won at Phoenix. 

3). Joey Logano (-4): He took the checkers in the April race and also won at Kansas. The Penske power is a tough animal as they've won five races on the season.

4). Matt Kenseth (-5): He's a two-time winner here and has a career legacy at stake. He doesn't have the horsepower to compete with the heavyweights, but he may be able to point himself into the points Chase with another top-5 run.

5). Denny Hamlin (-8): This guy swept the season in 2010 and his team/crew is getting better. The No. 11 team comes off a disappointing eighth-place finish at Martinsville, but the Gibbs cars have been getting stronger. Look for another finish of eighth or better.  

6). Carl Edwards (-20): He has three Texas wins, but none since a 2008 sweep. Roush-Fenway Racing has been awful on this type of track over the past season. Edwards doesn't look so hot on the competitive balance landscape so far.

7). Brad Keselowski (-31): We saw him do it at Talladega and we might see him win at either Texas or Phoenix to advance -- two places where he's never won. He has three wins at 1.5-mile tracks and two others on flat tracks similar to Phoenix such as Richmond and New Hampshire. He was runner-up in 2012 for his best Texas finish, which also was a prelude to 'The guy is insane and comes up big in money situations.'

8). Kevin Harvick (-33): All this guy does is lead laps, and he's been the most impressive on 1.5-mile tracks despite only one win on such a track to show for it (he has three wins overall this season). He is the top candidate to win this week and it's quite understandable.

AAA 500 TEXAS ODDS

KEVIN HARVICK 9-2
JEFF GORDON 5-1
BRAD KESELOWSKI 5-1
JOEY LOGANO 6-1
JIMMIE JOHNSON 7-1
MATT KENSETH 10-1
KYLE BUSCH 12-1
KYLE LARSON 12-1
DENNY HAMLIN 20-1
DALE EARNHARDT JR 20-1
JAMIE McMURRAY 25-1
KASEY KAHNE 25-1
CARL EDWARDS 30-1
RYAN NEWMAN 30-1
TONY STEWART 30-1
KURT BUSCH 30-1
CLINT BOWYER 40-1
GREG BIFFLE 50-1
BRIAN VICKERS 60-1
PAUL MENARD 75-1
MARTIN TRUEX JR 100-1
AUSTIN DILLON 100-1
RICKY STENHOUSE JR 200-1
ARIC ALMIROLA 300-1
TREVOR BAYNE 300-1
MARCOS AMBROSE 300-1
AJ ALLMENDINGER 500-1
DANICA PATRICK 500-1
CASEY MEARS 500-1
FIELD 300-1

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