After a thrilling regular-season finale at Daytona last weekend, the ten-race Chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will begin in earnest this Sunday. The NASCAR Playoffs kick off in style with the 72nd running of the historic Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. They don’t call the South Carolina oval the “Track Too Tough to Tame” for no reason — Darlington resembles an egg in shape, and the two ends of the track are drastically different. Add in a rough, tire-eating surface, and you have one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.
That said, some teams and drivers have been much stronger than others here. Previous statistics and current season form will be essential to making strong NASCAR betting picks this weekend. Bettors must also factor the playoffs into their handicapping for the remainder of the season. While the 16 drivers running for a championship will throw everything they have at their setups in the coming weeks, non-playoff drivers may suffer a bit as race teams reallocate resources. Make sure to consider every possible angle when making your NASCAR betting picks.
IT'S #NASCARPlayoffs TIME!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 30, 2021
The following outlines some of the best NASCAR bets for Sunday evening’s Cook Out Southern 500. Below that, you’ll find my analysis of the outright odds.
Cook Out Southern 500 Best Bets
The following sections detail the top NASCAR betting picks for Sunday night’s race at Darlington Raceway.
Best Finish in Group C: Tyler Reddick (+250 at DraftKings)
The group plays have been very kind to us in recent weeks. After hitting another group winner with Ryan Blaney last weekend, there’s no reason to back out of the game now. For the Cook Out Southern 500, our best bet resides in the Group C four-man horse race at DraftKings Sportsbook. We have an even split in this group, with two of the drivers part of this year’s NASCAR Playoffs and the other two on the outside looking in. After somewhat miraculously driving his No. 8 Chevrolet to the finish last week after suffering heavy damage in a wreck down the stretch, Tyler Reddick will now embark on his first NASCAR Cup Series postseason run. With a driving style that is favorable to the always tricky Darlington Raceway, Reddick has both the motivation and skill to win this group.
Although the sample size is limited at the Cup Series level, Reddick ranks second among the four Group C drivers with an average finish of 13.6 in four previous races at Darlington. He was a rock-solid 12th in this spring’s Goodyear 400. Group co-favorite and fellow playoff driver Christopher Bell (+250) finished 14th here back in the spring and failed to crack the top-20 in two of his four previous starts. The two non-playoff drivers in the group are set at longer odds. Reddick’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, Austin Dillon (+275), owns the best average finish at Darlington of the four drivers. However, Dillon may get fewer resources from RCR moving forward, as the team could invest extra energy into the No. 8 car that remains in the championship hunt. Finally, Matt DiBenedetto (+300) has struggled mightily at Darlington over the course of his career.
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) August 29, 2021
In addition to the favorable stats and a probable advantage over his teammate, Reddick is known for driving the high line as well as anyone in the NASCAR Cup Series. The legendary “Darlington Stripe” will undoubtedly show up on the No. 8 car at some point on Sunday night. However, the ability to run tight to the wall with no fear helps set Reddick apart in this NASCAR betting group. After he displayed incredible perseverance to nail down the final playoff spot last week, look for the 25-year-old Reddick to follow that up with a strong run on Sunday.
Top 5 Finish: Kevin Harvick (+145 at DraftKings)
When it comes to drivers with a strong track record at Darlington Raceway, no one comes close to matching Kevin Harvick in recent years. The veteran has proven to be a master at navigating the tricky egg-shaped oval while preserving his tires. Darlington may be the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” but Harvick has done just that. His average finish over the last ten races is an astounding 3.6. The span includes three victories, including two in the last four races, and eight top-5 finishes. Furthermore, Harvick’s worst finish over that stretch was ninth! In the world of NASCAR, those numbers are truly incredible.
History is clearly in Harvick’s favor for this Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500. Unfortunately, the defending race champion comes up a bit short when it comes to current season form. After seemingly winning every other week last year, the No. 4 car has not found victory lane at all through 26 races in 2021. Thanks to consistent finishes, Harvick managed to qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs on points. He held his own at Darlington in the spring by finishing sixth even as Stewart-Haas Racing struggled mightily. SHR showed improvement as the season wore on, but the Fords offered very little resistance to the Chevrolets and Toyotas in the Goodyear 400. Harvick has the skills to finish inside the top 3. He could even win the race outright on Sunday. Unfortunately, given his uncharacteristic struggles this season, a top-5 finish is the strongest NASCAR betting play.
Top 10 Finish: Kurt Busch (+140 at DraftKings)
While his Darlington stats aren’t on par with Harvick’s, fellow veteran Kurt Busch has shown the ability to run well at the track consistently. A 35th-place DNF this spring is the only result worse than 15th in his last eight starts. Busch has scored five top-10s and a pair of top-3s over that same seven-race span. Extending the frame out to encompass the last ten Darlington races, Busch has finished top-10 seven times.
Also, let’s revisit the point I made in the introduction about how to handicap the NASCAR Playoffs. Busch benefits substantially through that lens. The No. 1 car is the only Chip Ganassi Racing entry to qualify for this year’s playoff field. Add the fact that this is the final year of CGR’s time in NASCAR, and all hands should be on deck to try and go out a winner. As a result, extra funding and prep work might very well be transferred from the No. 42 garage of teammate Ross Chastain. After a terrific second half of the season, look for Busch to pen the postseason strong at Darlington.
NASCAR Betting Odds to Win | Darlington
The table below offers a comparison of the NASCAR betting odds to win the Cook Out Southern 500 across three major U.S. sportsbooks. The top 30 drivers in terms of odds are included.
Favorite: Kyle Larson (+310 at FanDuel)
The odds-on favorite to win the Cook Out Southern 500 and NASCAR Cup Series Championship is none other than the driver with the most wins (five) of anyone this season. It has been a dominant year for Kyle Larson. He fell just a few laps short of running down Martin Truex Jr. for a win at Darlington back in the spring. Nonetheless, that runner-up showing was Larson’s fourth top-3 finish in his last five starts at "The Lady in Black." Bet against the regular-season champion at your own peril this week.
Value Bet: Chase Elliott (+950 at FanDuel)
Given that I already made the case for a Kevin Harvick top-5 above, I’ll go in another direction here for my outright value bet. This might be the most profitable price that bettors will see on NASCAR Cup Series Champion Chase Elliott for the remainder of the season. While his overall body of work at Darlington isn’t spectacular, Elliott has shown an ability to run well here. He has finished 11th or better in five of his last seven starts with a pair of top-5s on that list. After finishing seventh here in the spring, a race in which the entire Hendrick Motorsports stable ran well, perhaps NASCAR’s fan-favorite can take it a step further and capture a Crown Jewel victory this weekend.
Longshot Hopeful: Tyler Reddick (+4000 at BetMGM)
Since the current NASCAR Playoffs format was instituted, non-playoff drivers have rarely won a races outright. With this in mind, we revisit Tyler Reddick as a longshot hopeful to win the Cook Out Southern 500. Reddick has been consistent in his four previous Darlington starts as previously mentioned. Along with Kyle Larson, his dirt-track background enables him to feel comfortable running the high line, a strategy that has proven very successful here in the past. With some extra resources under the hood, could this be the week Reddick scores his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory?
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