Top NASCAR Bets for Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington

Top NASCAR Bets for Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington article feature image

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Erik Jones

  • The famed Bojangles Southern 500 starts at 6 p.m. ET and is the second-to-last NASCAR race of the regular season.
  • Darlington Raceway is a steep track with an asphalt surface, which will change in temperature and impact racing as the sun sets.
  • Erik Jones has a top-10 starting position and an undervalued chance of winning the race at +2250 odds.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has one of its crown jewel races Sunday: The Bojangles Southern 500. Darlington Raceway is an egg-shaped, highly banked 1.366-mile oval where tire and car management are key. Because the optimal racing line is in close proximity to the wall, cars will frequently tag the wall in what’s known as the “Darlington Stripe,” and hits that are too hard can cause a higher incident rate than we see at most tracks.

Because the race starts in the early evening and moves into night, the asphalt track will undergo heavy changes. Some cars that start the race fast may end up struggling as the sun sets, and vice versa. As a result, my machine learning model de-emphasizes practice times that were put down in the heat of the day and instead relies on a heavy dose of track history. The top factors in my model include:

  • Quality pass percentage at past Darlington races.
  • Driver rating, finishing position and fastest laps over the past 15 races.
  • Year-to-date laps led and fastest laps for top-tier drivers to determine race-leading potential.

I also use the RotoViz Driver Sim Scores to gauge race-winning upside.

As always, make sure you shop around for the best lines.

Erik Jones: +2250 at

If you look at just Jones’ long-run speed in the two practice sessions, the times can be misleading. I think that’s why he’s moved from +2000 at open to his current price. However, I’m reading the practice times as a positive.

In opening practice, Jones made his long run after Jamie McMurray lost an engine, which meant his run was on older tires and in the hotter part of the practice session, which translates to a slower track. Of the cars that made their long run later, Jones ran the fastest.

In final practice, Jones also made his run later in the session, when the track was slower and in the heat of the day. Remember, the race is transitioning from evening into night.

Jones’ track history is encouraging. He finished fifth here in his only Cup start, in addition to finishes of sixth and fourth in the Xfinity series. Jones performs admirably at the steep tracks in general, and he has the sixth-best average finish over the past 15 races. That leads to the fifth-best average finish projection in the model. Additionally, two of his 20 closest comps in the Sim Scores went on to win their races.

Erik Jones -115 over Ryan Blaney -115 at

Not only do I think Jones is undervalued, I also think Blaney is overvalued. Blaney put up blistering times in final practice — fourth in 10-lap and second in 15-lap average — but that came in the heat of the day.

Blaney has traditionally struggled at Darlington, with no finishes better than 13th. Even in the Xfinity series, his best finish (seventh) is worse than Jones’ worst finish (sixth).

Blaney has struggled over the past 15 races, posting an average finish of 16.7 to Jones’ 12.8.

The model gives Jones a massive finishing-position advantage of five spots, while the Sim Scores favor Jones by hefty margins in both upside and median finish.

This is my favorite bet of the week. I like hammering this one hard.

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Martin Truex Jr. +600 at

The Big Three of Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick turn into a Big Four at Darlington, where we add in Kyle Larson, who has a strong track history. These four all wind up in a four-driver group match, where Truex has +300 odds. However, give me the +600 odds to win the race instead, because it’s highly likely that one of these four will take home the trophy.

Truex has just as strong of a track history as the others. He won this race two years ago, and last year he led the second-most laps (leading one lap less than race winner Denny Hamlin). His strong track history and recent performance are why he fares well in the model, where his projected finishing position trails only that of Busch among the Big Four. His Sim Scores are even more impressive; he’s the only driver who has four race-winning comparables.

Here’s one final data point that’s more anecdotal than anything, but I find it interesting. In the four night races that resemble Darlington in size or banking (Kansas, Kentucky, Charlotte and Bristol), Truex has one win, two second-place finishes and a Did Not Finish where he was in second when he got wrecked by Kyle Busch.

Matt Kenseth +110 over Austin Dillon -140 at

We’re digging deep here for hidden value, but I love the odds we’re getting on Kenseth.

Yes, Kenseth takes a hit moving from top-tier Joe Gibbs Racing to mid-tier Roush Fenway Racing, but I think the key data points indicate that this matchup is at worst a toss-up for Kenseth.

Kenseth has a strong Darlington history, with five top-six finishes in his past six races, including one win. That makes Darlington one of his best tracks, and with track history being so important here, Kenseth gets the nod over Dillon. And while practice times mean less here, we can’t discount them completely. Kenseth was faster than Dillon in the opening practice session, when the track was at its coolest.

Dillon hasn’t done enough over the past 15 races to overcome the difference, posting an average finish of 20.0, compared to Kenseth’s 22.5 in a limited 2018 schedule. The model and Sim Scores both favor Kenseth, and even if we discount Kenseth by 3.5 places, he still comes out ahead of Dillon in all categories.