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‘What can go wrong … ’ hits NASCAR star

Jimmie Johnson is a five time winner at Dover over his short career and right now he could use some of the magic he created at the monster-mile last season while sweeping both races, because he’s in a slump right now. No one has any sympathy for the defending four-time NASCAR Cup series champion, either, and why should they?

Johnson’s been a driver that appears to be driving with the most lucky charms of anyone in history. All the normal mishaps that seem to happen with every other team in NASCAR seem to deflect from this Johnson. He never seems to get caught up in wrecks, never has a freak blown tire and doesn’t have poor pit stops in the late stages of races.

After winning three of the first five races to the 2010 season everyone thought we were seeing a re-run of seasons past. How come everyone else has to struggle with the optimum set-up of car troubles during practice and the race, while Johnson’s team has the car perfect as it’s unloaded off the hauler with no tinkering needed. Well, in the last three weeks, Johnson has struggled in un-Johnson-like fashion to the point that he’s gone from having a substantial lead in the standings to being down by 110 points.

Some speculation has it that the new spoiler is the culprit of Johnson’s demise. Since winning in week five, Johnson has gone the six races using the new spoiler without a win. Seeing how teammate Jeff Gordon has been so good doesn’t hold much water that the spoiler has anything to do with it.

Of the six races, Johnson still has two top-5 and two other top-10 finishes. It’s the two races that have seen Johnson finish outside the top-30 that tell the story. The luck is cycling around, finally. At Talladega he was involved in an accident late and last week at Darlington, the No. 48 car was beat up like never seen before.

The 36th place finish at Darlington was probably the best example of Johnson’s luck running out, beginning from the time his car was loaded off the hauler. They never got into their normal rhythm during practice and didn’t qualify well. They were never able to get out of the middle of the pack during the race which left them vulnerable like never before riding with the lower class, which caused the car serious damage until the final blow came like we never saw happen to Johnson. A.J. Allmendinger lost his brakes and control of the car, hit the inside wall and rocketed up the track and T-boned Johnson, ending his day for good. Johnson never even saw it coming, but the law of averages made him pay.

Does that mean that it will continue? It’s likely not, considering how well this team runs on the 1½ and 2-mile tracks which are littered throughout the remainder of the year, however, we have seen signs that the luck is running out.

For Las Vegas bettors, there are good opportunities out there to capitalize on Johnson’s luck catching up with him. The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book’s current odds to win the 2010 Championship have the points leader, Kevin Harvick, at 12 to 1. Harvick has proven thus far that he can run well on just about every track with great horse-power and handling. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Gordon are all at 9 to 2 odds while Johnson is still the favorite at 3 to 1.

Despite Johnson’s recent troubles, he still is the 6 to 1 favorite to win at Dover. Johnson’s toughest challengers used to be the Roush drivers, but now it looks as though the Busch brothers and Tony Stewart are the ones to key on.

Dover’s 1-mile high-banked concrete oval makes it unique from all the other tracks. Because of the way Bristol runs now after altering the half-mile track into one that allows for multi-grooves, that is one track that can be looked at as a reference. It just so happens that Johnson won that race, and it was the first time he had ever won at Bristol.

Kurt Busch finished third at Bristol this year and also finished fifth in both Dover races last season. In all, Busch has only four top-5 finishes at Dover, but he has the look of adding to that number this week.

Kyle Busch won this race in 2008, but in his last three he hasn’t finished better than 23rd and also finished dead last in the fall of 2008. He has five top-5 finishes in 10 Dover starts.

Tony Stewart swept the 2000 season at Dover, but hasn’t won there since. At this stage last season, Stewart was impressing everyone with his new team. This season, everyone is wondering what happened to Stewart’s new team. His best finish of the season came at Bristol with second-place and he just so happened to finish second in this race last year.

A couple of decent long shots to look at this week are Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Each has had past success on the track and is currently running well. Newman is a three time winner at Dover.

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