Saturday, May 30, 2015

Dover Practice Notes: All four Joe Gibbs cars are superfast for FedEx 400

Denny Hamlin and JGR cars are dialed in for Dover this week
LAS VEGAS -- It’s a new ball game as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads into the second third of the 2015 season. Jimmie Johnson is still rated as the top driver to win Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway, but the pool of quality candidates to win this week is greater than it’s been on any non-restrictor-plate track this season.

Following Saturday’s final two practice sessions, it was clear that Joe Gibbs Racing has all four of its cars dialed in better collectively than any race this season. We’ve already seen Denny Hamlin win at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth win at Bristol, Hamlin take the All-Star Race and then Carl Edwards win last week’s Coca-Cola 600, but at no point has all four cars been as good together as they are this week. In the final practice session the four JGR drivers, including Kyle Busch, finished within the top-five fastest speeds posted.

So if JGR is so good, why is Jimmie Johnson rated No. 1? If this were the first time ever raced at Dover, Johnson might fall to fourth or fifth behind the Gibbs cars, but you can’t ignore a track best nine wins. This guy has speed comparable to the Gibbs cars, and he’s also got history that shows he’s won six of the past 12 races on the track, including this race last season. He knows this track better than anyone and crew chief Chad Knaus knows what it takes down the stretch to win, which accounts for almost as much as actual speed in the practices and boosts his rating up considerably as the driver to beat.

Kyle Busch, Edwards and Kenseth all have great history on the track while Hamlin has had only three top-fives in 18 starts. However, in Hamlin’s case, being the fastest in both of Saturday’s practices make a strong case to say he has the best car and should be considered a favorite to win right up there with Johnson. Bettors could have had 18-to-1 of Hamlin before Friday, but now you’ll be lucky to get 7-to-1.

But the good news for bettors is that with such a wide ranging pool of drivers to win is that several drivers are going have decent odds. Sports books can’t drop everyone down to 5-to-1 (some #?&@!! books in Vegas actually do), so you’ve got perhaps the best value of the season from a betting stand point.

Kevin Harvick has been the driver rated at the top of the charts for almost every race this season, but falls considerably just because of everyone else stepping up their game. Harvick practiced well Saturday, and did lead 247 laps at Dover last season, but he’s still never won in 28 starts. He’s had only three top-five finishes over that span.

The most surprising drop-off of all came from Brad Keselowski who had only the 15th fastest lap during the final practice, which was his best among the three sessions ran between Friday and Saturday. He won the fall Dover race in 2012 and was runner-up in both races last season. He was expected to be one of the top candidates to beat Johnson this week, but doesn’t appear to have a car good enough to hang with Johnson or any of the JGR drivers. There might be about 15 cars better than Keselowski just based on speed, but his past skill on the track counts for something, so let’s just say he’ll finish about 11th.

NASCAR betting at Dover?
Every time I see the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino sitting on the Speedway’s grounds, where you can watch the race from your room, I think about the millions in lost revenue our friends at William Hill are missing out on the past four years because of the ridiculous sports betting rules bestowed upon Delaware. William Hill operates the sports risk management portion for the Delaware state lottery, but the only type of sports bets allowed are parlays on NFL.

Dover Downs has a captive audience for the weekend and if only half of the people going to the races bet an average of $20 on their drivers to win and the book can expect to hold 40 percent of that wagering pool, well, you do the math. It’s a chunky figure, and you can multiply that by two NASCAR weekends a year.

Around 2001, I had a few talks with Las Vegas Motor Speedway president Chris Powell about bringing wagering inside the concourses of the Speedway, but it never came about because LVMS would have had to go through a lengthy process to get a gaming license in the state. The volume of that captive audience would have been massive, and the NASCAR action would have been greater than any chain of books in the state. But Dover has everything already in place on site, they just don’t have the logical rules on sports betting like Nevada does. That may change soon.

FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks 
Dover International Speedway
Sunday, May 31, 2015 -  10:16 am (PT)

 1. Jimmie Johnson 7/2            1st         14th           4th         6th 
Track best nine-time winner, including six in past 12 starts; using brand new chassis this week. 
 2. Denny Hamlin 18/1              2nd          1st           1st         1st 
Would have been rated No. 1 had Johnson not had such great past history; no wins in 18 starts.
 3. Kurt Busch 8/1                     9th         13th           3rd       10th
2011 winner with 18.2 average finish in 29 starts; fastest 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2.
 4. Kyle Busch 15/1                   5th         10th         12th       18th 
Nine top-five finishes in 20 starts, including two wins; he loves this track and his car is real fast.
 5. Kevin Harvick 7/2                 8th          6th            8th        7th  
No wins and only three top-five finishes in 28 starts, but did lead 247 laps between both ‘14 races.
 6. Carl Edwards 20/1                7th          8th           2nd        2nd 
2007 winner with 10.2 average; they call him ‘concrete Carl’. Gibbs cars got something going on.
 7. Matt Kenseth 12/1               20th         4th           10th        4th 
Two-time winner with 15 top-five finishes in 32 starts; seventh or better in past 11 of 14 starts.
 8.. Joey Logano 10/1               22nd         5th            7th       11th 
Tenth or better in his past six starts, 13.8 average in 12 starts; grew up four hours from track.  
 9. Jeff Gordon 15/1                 17th        22nd         21st         9th 
Five-time winner, including last fall; fourth or better in four of past five starts; using Vegas chassis.
10. Martin Truex Jr. 15/1         10th         2nd         11th        20th  
Scored his first career Cup win on home track in 2007; finished sixth and seventh in ’14 races. 

Note: Dover’s 1-mile high-banked concrete layout in a paperclip shape is unique to itself, but there are some similarities to Bristol, and the April 19 Food City 500 results can be helpful in handicapping process. Kenseth won that race followed by Johnson and Gordon.

Odds courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Super Book

Micah Roberts, a former race and sports book director in Las Vegas, has been setting NASCAR odds since 1995. For more post-practice analysis, visit the Linemakers on or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.

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