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The Action Network: Eye Larson, Jimmie for Dover win

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The second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs kicks off at Dover International Speedway. The “Monster Mile” is a steeply banked, 1-mile oval with a concrete surface that features a modest incident rate of 20.1% since 2013. Notably, that number reduces to 14.8% during the seven high-downforce races in that time frame.

Track history plays a strong role in my statistical model, which is likely due to the fact that Dover is such a unique track. Additionally, weighing the high downforce era improves the out-of-sample predictive power of my model, so it gives extra weight to the 2013-2015 races, plus the first race of 2019.

My statistical model this weekend consists of the following data points:

10-lap average
Track history
Year-to-date performance
Steep track performance (Dover, Bristol, Darlington, Homestead)

Because 15, 20, and even 30-lap practice data became available to the public just this year, I cannot use it in a historical model. But we can use that data as part of our intuition on how to evaluate driver performance.

With all that, here are my top bets to win Sunday’s Drydene 400.

RELATED: Updated winning odds

Kyle Larson +500

In the spring Dover race, there was a big five of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Larson. Each of these drivers placed in the top five in average green flag speed. They also all brought their cars home for top-five finishes. Clint Bowyer was sixth in average green flag speed, but was three-tenths of a mile per hour slower than the other five, and only finished ninth.

Larson might have the car to beat this weekend and certainly is one of the three favorites across the industry. Most books have him in the +300 to +450 range, but MGM has him listed at +500. It’s hard to trust Larson, who is winless  in his last 75 starts, but this could be the weekend he snaps that streak.

Larson has five top-five finishes at Dover. Each of those finishes also corresponded with a 10-lap average inside the top seven. This weekend, Larson was quickest over 10 and 25 consecutive laps, and second to Harvick over 15 and 20 laps. In opening practice, Larson tied for the fastest five lap average, but did not make a longer run.

Harvick, Truex, and Larson are the favorites across the industry, and while Harvick is also listed at +500 at MGM, Larson has shorter odds at more books, and has finished better than Harvick in each of the last three steep-track races.

It’s always imperative to shop around for the best lines, but especially so with favorites. Breaking even on a +500 vs. a +350 bet means increasing the bet’s win rate by 5.6%. That’s about the same as going from a +9900 bet to a +1500 bet. I’d pass at +400, but anything longer is playable. Get the best number you can if you’re willing to make this bet.

Alex Bowman +2500

Bowman was the runner up at Dover in the spring, and didn’t fluke his way into that finish. He had the third-fastest green flag speed among all drivers during the race, behind only race winner Truex, and Harvick.

Bowman has only run at Dover three times for a highly-funded team, but last year’s two races were with the low downforce package. If we go back to 2014-2015 when there was more downforce on the car, Bowman was running with two underfunded teams. His 2015 result of 20th was one of two top-20 finishes he had at non-restrictor plate tracks in those two years. The other came at Bristol, another highly banked concrete track.

Bowman was also fast in practice, placing third over 10 consecutive laps in Happy Hour and fourth in the opening practice. Bowman has five career top-two finishes, all coming this year. He could be in line to push that to six. MGM and PointsBet both carry this generous line. There’s value here down to +1800.

Jimmie Johnson +2750

Johnson is an 11-time winner at Dover, but with only one since 2016. However, prior to that, Johnson won three of the six Dover races from 2013-2015, when more downforce was on the car.

In the first race at the Monster Mile this year, Johnson struggled to a 14th-place finish. Notably, he only practiced 16th quick over 10 consecutive laps in Happy Hour. This weekend, Johnson looks to have his old Dover mojo back. He placed second or third in every consecutive lap category in final practice, and was fourth and second respectively over five and 10 consecutive laps in the opening session.

The spring’s big five could turn into a big six with Johnson in the mix. My model don’t trust Johnson as much as Bowman because of Johnson’s struggles this year, but he’s not too far behind Bowman. There’s value here down to +2000.



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