NASCAR Props Challenge Picks for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (42) passes lapped cars
- NASCAR's Props Challenge game asks fans to answer 10 prop-betting questions each week, with weekly winners eligible for prizes.
- PJ Walsh offers his Props Challenge picks and analysis for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Darlington Raceway.
After the final off week of the season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) heads to Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for one of my favorite race weekends of the year.
Darlington is an old-school track with a rough surface that shreds tires, putting more emphasis on mechanical grip than aero. With little grip later in runs, cars are very hard to drive, making this a driver’s racetrack.
In addition, the Southern 500 is the official throwback race of the season, meaning teams will be honoring paint schemes from the past. Sunday’s race will focus on 1990-94.
Because Darlington is so unique, I’ll look at recent Southern 500s to make my NASCAR Props Challenge picks in order to pinpoint drivers with the ability to properly manage tires early in runs to therefore have speed toward the end.
1. Denny Hamlin has the best average finish at Darlington (6.2) among active drivers. Does he finish in the top five? Yes or No?
Hamlin is among seven (!) drivers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook with odds of 6-1 or shorter to win Sunday’s race.
He’s clearly one of the favorites, but expecting a top-five finish is a little too rich for my blood.
2. Which previous Darlington winner will finish higher? Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.?
These drivers are very evenly-matched over the past three Darlington races. While Truex has run more fast laps (109) than Harvick (82), Kevin has the better average finish and average running position, and has led considerably more laps (236 vs. 134).
3. Kyle Larson has never finished outside the top four in a stage at Darlington. Does that streak continue? Yes or No?
Similar to my answer to question No. 1, there are simply too many variables at play to be able to bank on a top-four finish in both stages.
4. The last repeat winner at Darlington was Jimmie Johnson in 2004. Does Brad Keselowski defend his win on Sunday? Yes or No?
Keselowski (6-1 odds) should certainly be among the contenders, but this is an easy no for me considering I get the entire field vs. one driver.
5. O/U 4.5 drivers score at least 40 race points?
In two MENCS Darlington races since stage racing was introduced, an average of 4.5 drivers finished with at least 40 race points, so this number is dead on.
I’m grasping at straws here, but lean over because the excessive tire wear at this track doesn’t allow teams to play the strategy card and shuffle up the running order before stage breaks.
6. Will the race winner lead the final 20 laps? Yes or No?
At most tracks, the race leader won’t hit pit road if a caution comes out with 20 or fewer laps to go because track position is so important with this aero package.
However, tires are so crucial at Darlington that teams have no choice but to pit for fresh rubber if a late caution flies. This provides more opportunities for the leader to have a slow stop, a pit road penalty or simply just lose the lead on the restart.
7. Will the polesitter lead O/U 100.5 laps?
Last year’s polesitter Denny Hamlin led just 11 laps, while Kevin Harvick was out front for only 22 laps after starting from the pole in 2017. I don’t feel great about this answer, but I’ll lean on the recent trends over the past couple of races.
8. Which playoff bubble driver will finish higher? Jimmie Johnson or Ryan Newman?
Since 2016 Newman has the edge over Johnson in most statistical categories at Darlington, including better average finishing and running positions.
9. O/U 15.5 lead changes?
This number is skewed by just seven lead changes last season, but 12 of the last 15 races at Darlington have finished with at least 16 lead changes.
10. Which team will have the highest finishing Chevrolet in the race?
Kyle Larson is the race favorite at 5-1 odds, so let’s go with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Pick: Chip Ganassi Racing