Back to old ways at Dover

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The 10th race of the NASCAR Cup Series season last week finally saw Chevrolet break through with a win to go against six wins by Toyota and three wins by Ford.

All nine of the previous wins were split between just two car owners, so Chase Elliott’s Talladega win allows for Hendrick Motorsports to join the 2019 party with Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.

Before we get into this weekend’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway, let’s talk a little bit about the type of racing we saw with the new package at Talladega.

I think I liked it and I know Chevrolet did as well with five of the top-six finishers driving a Camaro. There were 37 lead changes among 15 drivers, showing extreme parity.

The tapered spacer giving the engine more throttle response at 550 horsepower, down from 410 HP with plates, coupled with a taller spoiler and aero ducts, definitely gave a new look to races formerly known as restrictor plates races on superspeedways.

That particular package will be used again in July at Daytona and October at Talladega again, so bookmark what we saw Sunday until then.

What we saw at Talladega will have nothing to do with what we’ll see at Dover this weekend. This week’s package is using an engine with 750 horsepower and no aero ducts, the same one we saw at Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond.

In those races, JGR won three of them and Penske won in dominating fashion at Martinsville with Brad Keselowski leading 446 of the 500 laps. Chevrolet only had two top-five finishes between those races — Elliott was runner-up at Martinsville and Kurt Busch was runner-up at Bristol.

The oddsmaking/handicapping strategy I’ve used forever for the first race at Dover — with any era race package — is to immediately refer back to what happened at a few weeks earlier at Bristol. Dover has a 1-mile layout compared to Bristol’s half-mile, but both surfaces are concrete and high banked so there’s a correlation in the set-up. If a driver does well at Bristol, they’re likely to do well at Dover.

Jimmie Johnson hasn’t done well in this particular package this season, but he has this track mastered with a track record 11 wins which all started as a rookie in 2002 when he swept the season. He has also led a track record 3,105 laps and has averaged a 9.8 finish in 34 starts. He is Superman at Dover, or at least he was.

Johnson was 10th at Bristol April 7 and his teammate Elliott finished 11th while leading 38 laps. But Elliott has shown a deep affection for this track in his brief Cup career with five top-five finishes in six career starts, concluding with a win there last fall to give him a 4.3 average finish.

The Bristol race saw Kyle Busch lead 71 laps and get the win, but it was the Penske duo of Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney that controlled most of the race. Logano finished third after leading 146 laps and Blaney was fourth after leading a race-high 158 laps.

Logano, who hails from the Northeast in Middletown, CT, has never won at Dover. But did tie a career-best with third place last fall. Blaney was 11th and eighth in his first season with Penske in 2018.

Busch grabbed his third win at Dover in the fall of 2017, but it’s Bristol win among other things that make him the favorite this week. The Las Vegan has finished in the top-10 of all 10 races this season, the incomparable level of elite status on the season which is obviously why he’s the point leader.

Runner-up at Bristol was Kyle’s elder brother Kurt Busch who was fifth in both Dover races last season. His only win on the track referred to as the Monster Mile was in 2011 when he drove for Penske.

The fifth-place driver at Bristol was Denny Hamlin who slowly eased himself into the position despite many setbacks. He’s never won at Dover but did have a career-best runner-up last fall there. The reason to support him this week is that he’s finished fifth in all four races using this package this season, plus he’s Kyle’s JGR teammate so he’s got the goods.

Kevin Harvick won this race last season for the second win of his career at Dover, all coming within his last seven starts there. He won the first and second stage of both 2018 races.

No wins yet this year for Harvick, but he’s been 13th or better with this package this season. A win is coming soon, but I have no data that confirms that. It’s just the name brand over the past few years that suggests it’s going happen. But that was with the old equipment his team had mastered the set-up with. It’s a new era now.

Martin Truex Jr is another one of the few drivers from the Northeast and has two Dover wins in his career. The Mayetta, NJ native has been fourth or better in four of his last five starts there, including a 2016 win in the fall. So far in 2019 with this package, he has a runner-up at Phoneix and a win at Richmond, the last race using the 750 HP package.

The best part for the Dover fans this weekend is that they’ll be able to bet the race at the adjacent casino located at the track thanks to the PASPA repeal last year.

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