NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Southern 500 track trends, favs, sleepers, fades, etc

TRACK: Darlington Raceway (1.33 mile oval). DISTANCE: 367 Laps — STAGE 1: 115 Laps, STAGE 2: 115 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 137 Laps, MILES (501 Miles)

One of the oldest tracks on the current NASCAR schedule anymore. This weekend will be the 123rd race on the South Carolina race track with the first coming on Sept. 4, 1950.

  • Prior to last year, the last eight winners had come from a starting spot outside of the top five. Then both came from 4th and 2nd respectively in 2021. Joey Logano won from the pole in May for three straight winners now from the top 2 rows. 6 of the last 10 winners on the season have come from the top 5 (prior to Richmond but the 10 includes all the way up to now).
  • Every race winner at Darlington during the stage era have scored stage points. In fact, in 8 of the 9 races, the eventual winner finished in the top 5 in the second stage. Logano was 3rd this past May in Stage 2 but won Stage 1.
  • 3 of the 8 races saw someone sweep both stages, but in neither event did they win the race in the end either.
  • Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 4 of the last 6 at Darlington including 5 of the last 9 overall.
  • The final green flag run to the checkered flag has been at least 34 laps in 6 of the last 9 races at Darlington including 3 of the 9 being 86 laps or longer. The final stretch was 26 laps this past May.
  • Expect the race to end in regulation. We’ve had no overtimes in the last 11 races there including 11 of the last 13 (since 2013).
  • Chevrolet hasn’t won a Darlington race since 2014 (0-for-11). Toyota has won 3 of the last 5 including 7 of the last 11 overall there.
  • A playoff driver has won the postseason opener every year under the system since it started in 2014. Just three times however did the playoff opening winner go on to make the Championship 4 however. Martin Truex Jr. did it twice (2017, 2019) and Kyle Larson once (2021).

Favorites

Kyle Larson (+600)

He’s finished runner-up in 3 of his last 4 Darlington starts including four top three’s in his last 5 tries and five in his last 7 Darlington tries in general.

Tyler Reddick (+700)

He was +2000 this past May but +700 now. This track was made for him as he’s at his best on these types of places. He was 2nd here in May.

Joey Logano (+800)

Logano won as a +1400 sleeper in May. He’s dropped to +800 but that doesn’t scare me for a driver who’s had 4 top 6 finishes in the last 5 weeks. He’s also had 4 top 8 results in his last 5 Darlington tries too.

Denny Hamlin (+900)

Hamlin is the defending winner of the Southern 500. He has 8 top 10 finishes in his last 11 “Lady in Black” starts including 7 of them being in the top five. He’s a four time Darlington winner and also has three runner-ups there too.


Sleepers

Ross Chastain (+1200)

He looked good in a 3rd place finish in last year’s Southern 500. He was also runner-up in the 2020 Xfinity Series race on Labor Day weekend too. He was 2nd in Stage 1 and won Stage 2 before losing control of his car on the new patch in Turn 2 in the final stage.

Kevin Harvick (+2000)

In 2020, Harvick finished 1st, 3rd and 1st respectively on this track. Last year he was 6th and 5th last year and 4th this past May for 12 straight top 10 finishes here including 9 of them being in the top 5. He led 63 total laps here in 16 starts at Darlington with RCR. He’s already led 730 in 14 starts with SHR. With 2 wins in the last 4 weeks, these are phenomenal odds.

Christopher Bell (+2000)

He was 6th back in May…

Austin Dillon (+3000)

2 top 5’s including a runner-up in 2020 as well as 5 top 11’s in his last 7 at Darlington puts him on this list. Dillon was 9th in May.

Daniel Suarez (+4000)

He was 13th in this race last year and 10th in May.

Chase Briscoe (+5000)

Worth a play. He won an Xfinity Series race here in emotional fashion in 2020 as well as being 11th in May of 2021 in the Cup Series. This spring he finished 20th.

Justin Haley (+7500)

He was 3rd this past May so worth a look.


Fades

Chase Elliott (+800)

I don’t like his opening odds here. While he’s led a lot of Darlington laps, he also has just 3 top 5 finishes in 10 starts here too.

Kyle Busch (+1000)

He has three top three finishes in his last 7 Darlington starts. Furthermore, he has 10 top seven finishes in his last 14 starts on the track dubbed “Too Tough To Tame.” However, he’s not had a top 5 finish on the season since June 5 and in that span has just 2 top 10’s at that.

Martin Truex Jr. (+1000)

Better odds in going from +700 in May here to +1000 now, however this race favors playoff drivers and Truex isn’t one. While he’s won 4 of the last 8 stages in Darlington including leading 248 laps in his win on Mothers Day weekend last year and also having led 196 laps in the 2020 Southern 500, he’s not likely to win on Sunday. So yes, I’m punting on a driver that finished 4th in this race last year. If he was longer odds, I’d maybe consider it.

Ryan Blaney (+1500)

Not a strong suit for him. His 8th place run last May of 2021 was his 1st and only top 10 finish in 11 Darlington starts.

William Byron (+1600)

He has 2 top 5’s in his last 4 Darlington starts and the only reason it’s not 3 was because Joey Logano wrecked him while he was leading in the final laps of the May race this year. However, he’s not had a top 5 finish since his Martinsville win in April and just 1 top 10 in his last 18.

Alex Bowman (+2500)

Bowman’s last 5 Darlington finishes are 23rd, 18th, 17th, 26th and 29th. He also has 1 top 10 in his last 12 starts on the season and no top 5’s in his last 15 tries.

Brad Keselowski (+7500)

Just 2 top 5’s in his last 7 at Darlington including 24th and 7th a year ago and 34th this past May.

Aric Almirola (+7500)

0 top 5’s in 14 Darlington starts and just 2 top 10’s too.

Cole Custer (+50000)

He’s 0-for-6 in top 10’s at the Lady in Black but he does have 2 top 12’s in his last 4 there including an 11th place run in last year’s Southern 500. However, a non playoff driver without a top 10 finish on this track is highly unlikely to win the postseason opener too.

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