Jimmie Johnson checks in halfway to NASCAR Chase

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This Sunday’s race at Dover Downs International Speedway marks the halfway point of the regular season before the 10-race Chase for the Championship starts.

Ten drivers have already punched their ticket for NASCAR’s version of the playoffs by virtue of winning a race with six other spots still available. Jimmie Johnson joined the club last week with his first win of the season and has great shot this week of joining Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano as two-time race winners.

For the first 11 races of the season, Johnson didn’t look like the six-time champion we have all respected because he didn’t have speed on the down force tracks, but during practices at Charlotte, you could tell crew chief Chad Knaus found some speed for the No. 48 car.

They led a race-high 164 laps in NASCAR’s longest race of the season, and the hopes of every other competitor in the series that Johnson might not be as good this year were quickly put to rest He’s back!

Dover’s 1-mile, high-banked, concrete layout is unique to itself, with maybe some comparison to be made with Bristol’s half-mile track. Over the years, no one has been better at Dover than Johnson.

The last time the series rolled through Dover, Johnson took the checkers there for the sixth time. He has won at least one of the two races in four of the past five seasons, and in 2009, he swept the season.

Based on how he looked last week, don’t expect to get any number higher than 5-to-1 on him. And if you do find 5-1, grab it because it’s great value based on his Dover resume. You could argue that even 4-1 odds is decent value – that’s how good Johnson is at Dover.

Jeff Gordon is a four-time winner at Dover, but hasn’t won there since 2001. However, he’s currently on a great run on the season and has finished fourth or better in his past three Dover starts, including runner up to Brad Keselowski in 2012.

Last week at Charlotte, despite painful back spasms that forced him to miss final practice, Gordon ran an outstanding race, finishing seventh, and was leading with 17 laps to go.

Gordon is having his best season since winning his last Championship in 2001 and can be found at 8-1 odds to win the title over at the LVH Super Book. He leads the series in points and his nine top-10 finishes are tied for the most with Matt Kenseth.

Of all the drivers that have yet to win, the biggest surprise is Kenseth. He’s currently second in points, but has never really had the look of coming close to winning, or at least that was the case until last week in the Coca-Cola 600 where he finished third and was leading with nine laps to go.

Kenseth led the series with seven wins last season, which makes his record in 2014 all the more shocking.

While Kenseth has dazzled anyone like 2013, his only poor performance of the season was at Talladega (37th). He may not have had the best car in any race but has scratched and clawed his way to quality finishes. Now if his team has found some answers like Johnson’s team has, he may be ready to join the winners club as well.

Kenseth has always been great at Dover. He’s a two-time winner there, the last coming in 2011 when he drove for Jack Roush. He’s finished fifth or better in eight of his past 12 starts. If we want to include a little bit of what happened at Bristol in March where he led a race high 165 laps, there’s definitely some value on Kenseth this week where 12-1 odds should be available.

Carl Edwards ended up winning at Bristol and has come on strong over his last couple of races. He was fourth at Charlotte last week, fifth in the All-Star Race and then sixth at Kansas. He won at Dover in 2007 and has 10th-place average finish over 19 career starts.

Kyle Busch is a two-time Dover winner with a 12.8 average finish in 18 starts. He’s finished seventh or better in seven of his last eight starts there. Kyle started his career off with two second-place finishes during the 2005 season and has been stellar there ever since, almost similar to the way he has taken such a liking to Bristol over his career.

The other top Bristol driver recently has been Keselowski, who also happened to win at Dover in 2012. He finished fifth in this race last season.

The one longshot to take a close look at this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., based purely on his career-best second-place finish at Bristol. The Roush cars always seem to be good here and he drives the No. 17 car that Kenseth used to get all of his quality Dover finishes.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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