One final twinbill on the schedule

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Sadly, for the last time in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, this weekend’s doubleheader at Dover International Speedway will be the last of the year.

Born before the coronavirus pandemic on the regular schedule at Pocono Raceway, the revised post-COVID-19 schedule has also done the doubleheader out of necessity to complete a full 36-race schedule at Kansas Speedway last month and Dover this weekend.

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My immediate observations for Saturday’s and Sunday’s race which are both called the Drydene 311, each 89 miles shorter than a normal Dover race, is that only three races remain until the playoffs are set with 16 drivers to compete for the championship in the final 10 races. Drivers like Matt DiBenedetto (596 points) and William Byron (577) sit as the hunted in the No. 15 and No. 16 slots, respectively, in the standings while Jimmie Johnson (552), Erik Jones (542), and Tyler Reddick (520) must use this weekend to make some upward progression in points and ready themselves for a final race showdown next week at Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile layout where anything can happen.

Next up is the race package that will be used on Dover’s 1-mile concrete layout that features 24 degrees of banking in the turns. I liken it to a bigger Bristol Motor Speedway (half-mile) and so do many of the crew chiefs who use similar setups for each. Which is why results from both Bristol races run so far should be reviewed.

The race package being used is the one they used last week featuring engines that produce 750 horsepower. The most interesting thing about this package is that neither Kevin Harvick (six wins in 2020) or Denny Hamlin (five wins) have won with it in the six races used. Those two have dominated everything in the two other race packages, but this week’s package they’ve been only slightly better than average, although Hamlin has been runner-up in the last two races using it.

It’s important to note that some teams have an edge with each package which can set you on the right path to finding a winner this week at decent odds. Harvick and Hamlin have been the top two favorites almost every week so if we have the nerve to throw them out of the equation solely because of the race package, we can start our betting portfolio this week with many drivers at double-digit odds.

My first candidate to discuss is the seven-time Cup champion Johnson, who holds the Dover record with 11 wins. Yes, 11 wins in 36 starts, 17 top-fives, and 3,110 laps led. No one has been collectively better than Johnson at Dover. Beyond his history, what’s most important this week is that Johnson has looked his best using the 750 HP package, grabbing two of his top-fives this season, including a fourth last week at Daytona.

And think of the drama. Wow, a win at Dover in his last career start there. A Ted Williams goodbye. I’m a sucker for NASCAR nostalgia.

It seems like a decade since Johnson last won a race, but it was only 2017, 118 races have passed since he won his 83rd career Cup race, which happened to be at Dover. His history at Dover should scare every oddsmaker in Las ­Vegas.

I had a conversation with the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook’s Ed Salmons Sunday night on the topic of Johnson’s odds this week after he’s posted Johnson in the 40-1 range for most of the past three months. He initially told me 20-1, but then said maybe 25-1 was probably the better number. The SuperBook odds are released every Monday evening. What it shows is that Johnson has value this week. Salmons even noted that Johnson had a runner-up at Martinsville using the same package. The announcers rarely talk about the different packages, but the bookie who protects house money gets it. And you, as the bettor, should also take notice of the packages.

The short story is that of the six races run using the 750 package, including the All-Star Race at Bristol, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski each have two wins. Joey Logano had a Phoenix win before the shutdown and Martin Truex Jr. won his only race of 2020 at Martinsville.

And the short story on past Dover performances after Johnson is Elliott having an 8.6 average finish which is best among active drivers. He’s had six top-fives in eight starts led by a 2018 win. Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and Truex each have three wins and Harvick has two. Hamlin doesn’t have any, but he may be bringing his best car ever there.

Bristol results are important as well and Keselowski and Elliott won both of those. Clint Bowyer was very good as well with a runner-up on May 31. I think all three of those guys are where you start this week. Review the Saturday results and bet almost everyone in the top five on Sunday unless something stupid happens late with pit sequences.

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