NASCAR at Darlington Odds, Picks: Best Bojangles’ Southern 500 Driver Matchup Bets

NASCAR at Darlington Odds, Picks: Best Bojangles’ Southern 500 Driver Matchup Bets article feature image
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Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Martin Truex Jr.

  • The 2019 Bojangles' Southern 500 starts Sunday at 6 p.m. ET (NBCSN) at Darlington Raceway.
  • Matthew Freedman breaks down his favorite head-to-head matchups for the race.

With just two races left before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, we head to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500, one of the more popular events on the NASCAR calendar.

In analyzing the head-to-head matchups across the market, we should keep a few points in mind.

With the end of the regular season in sight, we’re likely to see more chaos than usual. Drivers are incentivized to take more chances in order to get a win and secure a playoff spot.

Additionally, “The Track Too Tough to Tame” is a steep track — one of the steepest on the NASCAR circuit — with banking of 23-25 degrees in the turns. As a result, “rim riders” driving near the top of the track are able to maintain their speed through the turns, making Darlington a fast track for its 1.366-mile length. With enhanced speed comes greater possibility for incidents.

On top of that, Darlington is a difficult track because of its unique egg-like shape. Turns 1-2 are rather wide. Turns 3-4, however, are relatively sharp. These turn types tend to suit different kinds of drivers, and crews can struggle to set up cars optimally for all the turns.

Finally, this race starts in the day and finishes at night, so the temperature often drops during the event. And since Darlington is an asphalt track — they don’t call it “The Lady in Black” for nothing — the impact of the temperature change on the surface of the track is significant.

A car that performs well in the day might not drive as well at night (or vice versa), so in-race changes to the setup of cars are often necessary.

Add all of these factors together, and we could have an exciting race with lots of positional changes.

Martin Truex Jr. over Kyle Busch

  • Kyle Busch: -165
  • Martin Truex Jr.: +125

Busch leads all drivers with an 8.3 running position and 111 driver rating.

But Truex is top three in both categories with marks of 9.9 and 102.9, and Busch and Truex are tied atop the standings with four wins apiece this year.

In any given race, there’s not much that distinguishes Busch from Truex, and at Darlington it’s possible that Busch might not have an edge at all.

In his qualifying run, Busch struggled with his vehicle, finishing 33rd out of 39th, and after qualifying his team decided to change out the engine, which means that he has to move to the rear of the field to start the race.

Busch had the superior 10-lap average in final practice on Friday afternoon, placing second, but Truex was close behind him in fourth — and the engine Busch used for practice has been trashed.

With an unknown setup and a last-place starting position, Busch will begin the race at a disadvantage to Truex, who starts 22nd.

As for track history, Busch and Truex have had similar performances at Darlington since the race moved back to Labor Day weekend in 2015.

  • Busch: 7, 11, 2, 7 – 6.75 avg.
  • Truex: 9, 1, 8, 11 – 7.25 avg.

Given how similarly Busch and Truex have performed this year and at this track, I’ll gladly take Martin at plus-money.

I’d bet on Truex down to +105.

Kevin Harvick over Denny Hamlin

  • Denny Hamlin: -160
  • Kevin Harvick: +120

It’s not hard to see why Hamlin is favored. For the season, he has a series-high four wins and 13 top-five finishes. He’s been as consistent as any driver.

And Hamlin won the Sports Clips Haircuts VFW200 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Darlington on Saturday. (His victory was disallowed later in the evening after his car failed post-race inspection.)

But even with everything Hamlin has going for him, Harvick still has the edge in almost every predictive statistic this year:

    • Running position: 10 vs. 10.9
    • Driver rating: 103.6 vs. 96.2
    • Quality pass percentage: 61.1 vs. 57.8
    • Laps led percentage: 9.5 vs. 5.7
    • Fastest laps percentage: 9.3 vs. 4.6

Hamlin and Harvick have similar starting positions (9 vs. 11). In final practice, Hamlin had the better 10-lap speed (3rd vs. 6th), but they had neck-and-neck 20-lap averages (4th vs. 5th).

And they’ve raced comparably at Darlington over the past four years.

  • Hamlin: 3, 4, 1, 10 – 4.5 avg.
  • Harvick: 5, 2, 9, 4 – 5.0 avg.

It’s a little scary going against Hamlin because at his best he’s as good as anyone, but Harvick has had the statistical edge throughout the season, and they have similar track history and form entering the race.

I’d bet on Harvick down to +105.

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