Gander Outdoors 400
October 3, 2018
By Micah Roberts
The Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway not only gets the second-round of NASCAR's Playoffs started, but for the first time it also gets wagering on the premises for the trio of NASCAR races held there this weekend.
Sunday's Gander Outdoors 400 will be the second Cup Series visit of the season on the high banked 1-mile concrete layout. Four drivers were eliminated from the postseason race last week at Charlotte's roval and just 12 drivers remain eligible to win the 2018 Cup Championship with seven races to go.
“I felt like I was just kind of playing defense at the roval," said Chase Elliott who made the cut by nine points. "It just wasn’t worth busting our butts and not making it through to the next round when we had a little bit of cushion. So, I am just glad we are moving on and I am looking forward to the next three because there are some good tracks for us.”
There's a huge sigh of relief for a few drivers that advanced, while some major disappointments for those that didn't make it like Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.
“There were some sleepless nights last week,” Clint Bowyer said with a laugh. “I was worried about the first few races because they weren’t at tracks where we’ve been strong, but these next races are at places where we’ve run well and I expect we’ll run well again. I can’t wait to get to that old track at Dover and get going this weekend.”
Bowyer starts the second round of the Playoffs in fifth-place behind leader Kyle Busch, second-place Kevin Harvick, third-place Martin Truex Jr, and fourth-place Brad Keselowski. Those five drivers have combined to win 23 of the 29 races this season, so it's properly stacked and the Playoff point system allows the elite to be rewarded for regular season success.
The first Dover race was held May 6, just prior to the Supreme Court ruling that repealed PASPA which paved the way for legalized sports wagering outside of Nevada. Dover has a casino and hotel located on site and has been taking sports book wagers on a limited basis for the past few years, but only parlay wagers and they also couldn't book NASCAR. This weekend they get to book NASCAR for the first time. They get the Trucks Series race Friday, the Xfinity Series race Saturday and the Cup Series race on Sunday. It's a captive audience and it should be worth an estimated $250,000 in wagering win for the weekend for book operator William Hill.
Kevin Harvick grabbed his second Dover win in May in dominating fashion. He won the first two stages before taking the checkers leading six times for 201 of the 400 laps. He passed Stewart Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer with 63 laps to go and never gave it up. Bowyer led three times for 40 laps and made a race-high 47 passes throughout the race. Their other teammates, Kurt Busch finished fourth and Aric Almirola finished 11th.
Chances are all four drivers will be just as good, not just because of the May results at Dover, but also because of the August 18 race at Bristol's half-mile concrete layout. The high banks of Bristol make its set-up requirement similar to Dover. It's a mini-Dover of sorts. Kurt Busch won at Bristol, Bowyer was sixth and led 120- laps and Harvick finished 10th. Kyle Busch won the April Bristol race from the pole.
The best statistical driver at Dover has been Chase Elliott with a fifth-place average finish in five starts. He was 12th in the May race, but last fall led 138 laps before finishing second. He finished third in the August Bristol race leading 112 laps. He should be a contender to win here. He's also got the luxury of getting some Dover pointers from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson who has won a track record 11 times, the last time coming in June of 2017.
Johnson raced himself out of the playoffs last week at Charlotte with a silly move for the win with about 30 yards to go which not only wrecked himself, but also leader MartinTruex Jr. Johnson has never gone a season without a win and Sunday's race on the Roval was the closest he's been to sniffing a win all season. I can't blame him, but I was mad at the time that my Truex bet was trashed.
“After sleeping on it, I would only change one thing from Charlotte," said Johnson. "I should’ve added front-brake bias heading into the braking zone. I think we would’ve been door-to-door with the No. 78 across the start-finish line. We were one turn away, and I was only focused on the win. Bring on Dover."
In 33 Dover starts, Johnson has a ninth-place average finish and holds track records for wins (11), top-fives (17) and laps led (3,105). If there's one track he can be counted to run well it would be Dover. He was ninth there in May.
“Dover is my favorite track – it’s my best track," said Johnson. "It suits my driving style because it's the only track we race on that reminds me of my motocross or off-road roots with the transitions into and off the corners.”
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has shown Johnson lots of respect this week with odds set at 15/1 after being 40/1 or higher most of the season.
Kyle Busch finished 35th at Dover May, but he won this race last fall. He's got three wins altogether there and four other runner-ups. This is a good track for him to possibly get his eighth win of the season and also get that automatic entry into the third round of the Playoffs. He's the current point-leader, five-points ahead of Harvick.
“I love that place," Busch said. "It’s fun to race there and it’s a place I’m looking forward to going to with our Interstate Batteries Camry. I went there when I was 18 to race in the Xfinity Series for my first time. It will scare you the first time you race there. You carry so much speed at that racetrack and, for it to be a mile in length and for it to be concrete – concrete surfaces that we race on, anyway, are a little bit slick. It’s definitely a roller-coaster ride and you need to treat it like it’s fun and not to be scared of the place, I think, because you can get so much out of that place. There are two ways about it – you can probably be really, really good there, or really, really bad there. Some days you’re going to be better than others, obviously, with how you can get your car set up compared to the competition.”
I'm betting Kyle is going to be really, really good there this week.
Harvick leads the series in Top-fives (20) and top-10s (24) and also has seven wins like Busch. Both of his career wins at Dover have come in the past six races there. However, he's been in a bit of a drought with no wins in the past six races on the schedule.
Truex Jr. won his first career Cup race at Dover in 2007 and won there again in 2016. He considers this his home track and he races on it like he has a home court edge finishing fourth or better in his last four starts there.
“No question Dover has been a good track for us,” said Truex. “I really feel comfortable driving there. It’s been one of my favorite tracks.”
The trio of Penske drivers should also have lots of speed. Joey Logano led 95 laps at Bristol last month winning the second stage while last weeks winner Ryan Blaney won the first stage and led a race-high 121 laps before settling for seventh. Blaney was eighth at Dover in May. Brad Keselowski was sixth. Keselowski won at Dover in 2012.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (3/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/2)
3) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
5) #9 Chase Elliott (15/1)
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