AAA 400 Drive for Autism

Last week's volatile Talladega Superspeedway race may have momentarily distracted us from the realities of what's been happening in non-restrictor plate races, but let's just put that race won by Joey Logano on the side, and then go back to the realities of this NASCAR Cup Series season and remember that Kyle Busch had won three straight races on three different types of tracks.

The 11th race of the season takes us to Delaware for some exciting racing on Dover International Speedway's high banked, concrete layout. It's the only 1-mile track in the series that isn't flat and because of it being so unique, we don't have a lot of homework to do for handicapping other than using current form and past Dover history.

But despite how unique it is, I've done quite well over the years betting Dover races by applying a bit of what happened in the most recent Bristol race into the overall equation. Although Bristol is a half-mile layout, it's also concrete and high banked. It's like a mini-version of Dover's Monster Mile. And it just so happens that Bristol had a race three weeks ago won by Kyle Busch with Kyle Larson leading a race-high 200 laps and finishing second. Both those drivers are great starting points to picking a winner for Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism.

However, the third-place finisher at Bristol is a driver you need to seriously consider. Jimmie Johnson has gone almost a full season since winning a race and that win came in this race at Dover. It was his 11th career win at Dover. Yes, you read that correctly: 11 wins. Until finishing third at Bristol three weeks ago, his last top-five finish came at Dover last fall when he finished third. He loves this track and he's dominated it like no other driver in history. He owns track records with wins and 3,105 laps led.

“Dover is really a tricky place," said Johnson. "There are usually quite a few caution flags so you have to find a balance between a 'green' track for the first 10 or 15 laps to a longer run where there is a lot of rubber laid down on the track on a longer green flag run. Finding your balance is probably the most challenging thing at Dover. Corner entry is everything. Concrete tracks are poured in squares just like on an interstate so there are a bunch of expansion joints around the track and it really shakes and rattles the car. Its bumpy – and there are bumps in Turns 1 and 3. So if your car isn’t bottoming out and your splitter isn’t hitting, you are usually OK and it’s just part of the ride at Dover. I love Dover, wish we raced there more than twice a year, it’s a great race for this Lowe’s for Pros team and I absolutely cannot wait to get there.”

Even as Johnson went into that horrendous slide after his last win, he still showed well at Dover in the fall which has me intrigued this week, especially if I can find odds like we've seen placed on him lately that have been in 20-to-1 range. He won't be 20-to-1, but maybe he's worth a shot at 12-to-1. We're talking about a driver that wins on this track every 2.9 times he buckles in for it. It's a wager to certainly consider, but be sure to shop around town for the best number. Too bad that nice sports book on the Dover property only takes parlays and doesn't take NASCAR wagers.

Kyle Busch is tied for the second-most Dover wins among active drivers with the three, the last of which happened last fall when the series last visited. His 13th-place finish at the wild-card of Talladega ended a three-race win streak and in the previous four races before winning he was runner-up three times and third-place once. That's a sick run for the Las Vegan and he definitely has the best current form in the series right now.

If looking to bet on someone else than Busch, who is the massive 3-to-1 favorite to win this week, you can feel a little easier about just because Busch has six career DNFs at Dover in his 26 starts. He's also been a bit sluggish in his last four spring Dover races: 42nd, 36th, 30th, and 16th last year.

Kyle Larson, on the other hand, has been stellar in the past two spring Dover races with runner-up finishes in each. Last spring he led a race-high 241 laps and then in the fall he led 137 laps and finished fifth. His Bristol run suggests he should be the top candidate to topple Busch.

Chase Elliott has struggled to find consistent speed just like his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, but just like Johnson, his car always comes alive at Dover. In four career Cup starts at Dover for Elliott he's finished in the top-five in all four attempts. He was runner-up last fall while leading 138 laps. You would think Elliott is fired up about coming to a place where he's been so good, but he's taking a reverse-mush approach to it this week.

“No, I hate doing that because when you think about one race too much you maybe put too much emphasis on it and you are getting your hopes up to potentially be let down," Elliott said. "You just have to treat them all the same I think. Granted, it has been a good track for us and we’ve been fortunate to have some good runs at Dover over the past couple of years. Obviously, haven’t won a race there, but it’s been a solid track. Hopefully, it will continue to be solid for us and we can build off of what we had last year.”

That's a bizarre quote, perhaps he's a bit frustrated by not winning a Cup race yet, but for whatever reason I kind of like it. He's focused, dialed in and tired of finishing second.

Dover is Martin Truex Jr.'s home track and he scored his first career Cup win there in 2007. He grabbed his second win there in the fall of 2016 and then finished third last spring and fourth in the fall. He's led laps in his last four Dover starts.

“I just like the racetrack a lot,” said Truex, who has one win on the season. “The first time I went there I fell in love with the place. Enjoy the challenge of it – it is so different than anywhere else we go. I feel if you like it you have an advantage. It’s been good to me over the years and I enjoy going there. The banking, the concrete, the surface and the way you land in the corners there — it’s just crazy.”

Yes, Truex loves this track also, but Johnson has been hogging all the wins during Truex's career.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #18 Kyle Busch (3/1)
2) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (10/1)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
5) #9 Chase Elliott (10/1)