By David Caraviello | | 18 mins
Southern 500 Odds, Tips & Picks for NASCAR at Darlington
While it will be the usual 37 cars on the grid Sunday evening at Darlington Raceway, the game has suddenly changed. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs open at NASCAR’s most difficult oval, which will immediately begin to separate the serious contenders from the drivers who got there thanks to an upset or a longshot victory.
That’s because Darlington is the realm of legends and giants. In the long history of the track’s 500-miler, first contested in 1950, there have been only three real outliers: Lake Speed in 1998, Regan Smith in 2011 and Erik Jones in 2019. So, for NASCAR betting purposes, it would seem exceedingly unlikely that one of the drivers on the lower end of the playoff field would score the kind of shocker that just hasn’t happened on the egg-shaped layout very often.
Though the playoff opener has moved around, the eventual champ has claimed it four times and the eventual runner-up four more throughout the 17-year history of NASCAR’s postseason. Ten times over that span, the opener was won by a driver who finished in the top four of the final standings — which under the current format, guarantees a run for the title in the finale.
So, take note when checking out the NASCAR odds on your favorite betting apps. This playoff-opening race is a microcosm of the playoff at large, and in both cases you want drivers who’ve proven they can win.
Cook Out Southern 400 Odds
|Driver||Win||Top 3||Top 10|
|Martin Truex Jr.||+550||+160||-400|
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Southern 500 Expert Picks and Tips
The Pick: Kyle Larson to Win
Odds: +310 at FanDuel
Although he’s yet to win at Darlington, Larson has a clear knack for the place. The top playoff seed and odds leader at betting sites has finished second in back-to-back races there and finished third in 2018 and 2016. Only once has he placed outside the top 10, with most of those runs coming in Chip Ganassi cars a step below the Hendrick equipment he’s in now.
Larson led 124 laps at Darlington in 2017, another 284 in 2018, and his average finish there is a series-best 6.0. Larson’s sprint-car background makes him very effective at that rare type of NASCAR venue where you race up against the wall, similar to the cushion on a dirt track. Combine all of that with his success everywhere else this season, and there’s just no other choice.
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Southern 500 Betting Tips
In almost any other year Kevin Harvick would be the choice here, given that he’s won two of the last four at Darlington — including the playoff opener last year — and is tied with Denny Hamlin for most wins among active drivers with three. But he’s placed outside the top 10 three races running, has led just 70 laps since May and hasn’t shown that ability to finish that’s made him so effective throughout his career. Spring Darlington winner Martin Truex Jr. is also searching a bit right now, with just one finish better than 10th in his last four starts.
Although Chase Elliott has just the 16th-best average finish at Darlington among active drivers, he’s shown tremendous speed there — it just hasn’t always translated into finishes. Still, Elliott has had runs of seventh and fourth at Darlington over the past two seasons, is running well right now and a breakthrough seems inevitable at some point. He has good value right now at sportsbooks.
Then there’s the question of Denny Hamlin, who like Harvick is excellent at Darlington but winless on the season. Unlike the driver of the No. 4 car, though, Hamlin has shown real signs of life lately, with double-digit laps led in two of his last four starts.
And despite his average finish of 7.0 at Darlington, be a little wary of Erik Jones, whose Richard Petty Motorsports car just doesn’t have the oomph of the potent Joe Gibbs machine he drove to his victory in 2019. Better top-10 value options might be Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher, who have both had strong Darlington runs in recent years.
Our three best bets would be Larson to win at +300, Hamlin top-3 and Ryan Blaney top Ford.
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Southern 500 Time, Date and TV
When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
Where: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway
TV: NBC Sports Network
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