Last Updated Sep 10, 2022, 6:55 PM

NASCAR Cook Out Southern 500 Picks, Predictions

It’s going to be a hot and humid Sunday night at Darlington Raceway’s high banked 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. It’s time for the Cook Out Southern 500, one of the grandest traditions in NASCAR history running on Labor Day weekend almost every year since 1950. It’s 500 miles on The Lady in Black, and she’s angry all the time. But she’s been sweet to a few drivers over the years who understand her story and understand how to not wear out their tires too quickly.

It’s the perfect race to start the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs where 16 qualified drivers will be competing for the 2022 Championship. The Southern 500 begins the Round of 16 and four drivers will be eliminated after this three-race round. Win a race in this round and you move on to the next round regardless of points. After nine races and three stages, we’ll have the Championship 4 race at Phoenix on Nov. 3 and a Champion will be crowned.

I wrote earlier in the week about who I like to win it all.

COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 PICKS & PREDICTIONS

Here’s a look at who I like this week using odds courtesy of BetMGM

Kyle Larson (6/1) - In nine Cup starts at Darlington he has an 8.9 average finish with five top-fives which includes three straight runner-ups before his 36th in the May race. He started second, led 30 laps, and the engine blew. The 2021 Champion likes the track a lot, but no wins.  The NextGen car has brought his party way down. Too much noise from 10 wins in 2021. Just two wins this season, each separated by a long gap. So why is he favored? Because it’s the playoffs and he gets his old car back? No. Because he’s due? No. It doesn’t matter because the sportsbooks all copied each other's lazy odds, likely using last fall’s odds grid, past experience on the track, and threw 2022 results out the window. I won’t be on Larson this week, but I’ve got a driver they fell asleep on with odds. 

"We had a really fast car last time before we had trouble,” Larson said of the May race. “The first round has a lot of really good tracks for us. Darlington, Kansas, and Bristol. Those are honestly three of my best racetracks. I really like that round and hopefully we can do well in it and get some wins and get some bonus points. I have always run really well at Darlington, but have not gotten a win there yet. I finished second three times in a row before this year, so would love to be one spot better there and finally get that Darlington win that I have been close to getting."

Denny Hamlin (7/1) - He’s still banged up from the late Daytona wreck and will not race in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. He has five Xfinity Series wins at Darlington and a series-leading four wins at Darlington. He won last year's Cup race there. He leads all active drivers with a 7.8 average finish and also has 11 top-fives and 786 laps led. The Lady in Black and Hamlin are good friends and send each other Christmas cards. But the new car has taken away all the edges he’s experienced at his favorite tracks like Darlington and Martinsville. And he had to scheme with differing pit strategies to win at Richmond. We’ll look to bet him next week at Kansas, but he’s saying all the right things this week. 

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“I feel really good about where our team is at. We have as much potential as anybody in the field if we can just put it all together,” Hamlin said. “Darlington is obviously a great place to get that started with our history there. It would be nice to go in there Saturday, qualifying up front and be able to maintain that throughout the night Sunday. That’s easier said than done, but Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) and everyone on our 11 team is doing everything they can right now, so I’m excited to see it play out.”

COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 BETTING RESOURCES

Date: Sunday, September 3, 2022
Venue: Darlington Raceway
Location: Darlington, South Carolina
Distance: 501.3 miles
Laps: 367
Network-Time: USA - 6:00 p.m. ET
Defending Champion: Denny Hamlin

Chase Elliott (8/1) - He has four wins this season and they’re all at different tracks except no road course wins. He’s the road ace, but he’s in championship form right now which is why he’s the favorite to win the championship. He has three top-fives in 11 Cup starts, including a fifth-place in the spring. But no wins at Darlington. The Lady in Black can be tough like that.

Joey Logano (8/1) - His two wins this season were at Darlington where he led a race-high 107 laps and then the flat St. Louis layout. He’s been the hardest good driver to figure out this season. He has no patterns. One win doesn’t correlate to another similar track. I expect him to be good Sunday night. Caesars is offering 10-to-1 odds.

Ross Chastain (8/1) - He’s been stuck on two wins and 10 top-fives for a long time and I think it’s because he let some of the veterans push him around. They took him out of his game, slowed his roll, and stole his mojo. He needs to flip his own mental switch and do what he does best which is drive aggressively and make passes to the front. He was third at Darlington last fall and was 30th in the spring, but there’s more to the story than the finish. He was second in the first stage, won the second stage, and was involved in an accident after leading 26 laps. Caesars has him at 10-to-1 odds to win.  

Tyler Reddick (8/1) - I could see him winning this race, winning at the Charlotte ROVAL, and then Homestead which would put him in the Final Four at Phoenix. He was runner-up in the spring race driving the high-line, or rim-riding, which lessens the wear on tires because he runs such a straight line. He’s alive play this week.

Kyle Busch (9/1) - He has one 2008 Darlington win and he has only one win this season (Dirt Race), but I know he understands how to tackle Darlington. He’s led 744 laps in 21 starts with six top-fives and 13 top-10s. 

“We’ve had good speed with our Toyota group on the mile-and-a-half and 2-mile tracks,” Busch said. “We’ve been good at those places. Under a mile, we’ve struggled a bit, and road courses we’ve struggled a bit, as well. Would like to think we have a good shot at Darlington this weekend. We were running in the top-four the last time there and a car in front of us blew a tire and crashed and we got caught up in that. So don’t need any of that this time around. I would like to think we can go to Darlington and run in the top-five for sure and maybe even improve our program from the last time we were there and go out there and get a win with our M&M’S Camry.”

Martin Truex Jr. (10/1) - Maybe I need to say this louder. In 2022, the NASCAR Cup Series changed cars. The NextGen car has brought the top teams down and brought the lesser teams up which has made this one of the most interesting seasons ever. Truex is a two-time winner at Darlington, but that was the old car. No wins in 2022 for him and just three top-fives, but the odds suggest he’s got the old car. Caesars odds are even worse at 7-to-1. Do they know something we don’t? No, it just sounds like lazy oddsmakers. Truex did not make the playoffs, either, and he’s not happy about it.   

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” Truex said of missing the playoffs. “We haven’t had a great season by our standards, but it has still been a good year overall. We just haven’t been able to get a win and that cost us. Very disappointing because there are a lot of good tracks for us in this stretch. We’re not going to quit by any means. We have a lot of pride and we’re still here to win races. Darlington is a good track for us. We ran well there in the spring. I have a lot of confidence we’ll go there and run well this weekend and have a shot at it.”

Ryan Blaney (14/1) - He’s never had a top-five in 11 Cup starts at Darlington while averaging a 19th-place finish. But he’s made the playoffs and he can keep it alive by winning his first race of the season. He needs to be more aggressive and maybe settle some scores from the long list of bullies who have done him wrong this season.

William Byron (14/1) - He’s got two top-fives at Darlington but that was with the old car. He was 13th in the spring race. His story continues to be he had two wins and four top-fives in the first eight races and he has none since. It has to be terribly frustrating and there is no playoff switch to flip signifying it’s go-time. Because of all that he should be offered with odds priced like his teammate Bowman who has been getting junk as well.  

Kevin Harvick (16/1) - Here it is. It’s Christmas early. Harvick has won two of the last four races of the season. His team has found speed, balance, and handling all at one time after struggles with the new car helped a winless streak get to 65 races. But the closer is back. The 2014 Cup Champ has found his swagger. I would have made him the 7-to-1 favorite to win if offering odds to win. Not only does have current form going but he’s got the best numbers among active drivers with 13 top-fives and 813 laps led. He has three Cup wins, two of them coming in the last six races there. He knows what it takes to win and I like him to do it Sunday. 

“Darlington favors the guy who can be very disciplined and is able to push the car right to 99.9 percent of where that tire run is, and be able to put the car up against the wall and not overstep those boundaries,” Harvick said. “You have to be very disciplined there to get everything out of the car and keep up with the tire fall-off and not tear anything up – on your own, let alone being around everybody else.”

COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 CONTENDERS

Christopher Bell (18/1) - He leads all Toyota drivers with seven top-five finishes this season and he made the playoffs by winning at New Hampshire on July 17. He was sixth in the spring race and he say they had something cooking.

“Darlington was a really good race for me in the spring,” Bell said, “I was in position to win it and the yellow came out in the middle of mixing up pit strategies and then we had a bad pit stop but ran really well there and I’m excited to go back. Our pit crew has been performing really well the second half of the season so I’m feeling really positive about it. I really enjoy Darlington, typically you get long green flag runs which is right up my alley, it’s a fun racetrack and my results in the past don’t tell the whole story. My results have been terrible but I’ve run really well there.”   

Alex Bowman (33/1) - I feel like he’s the player with broken ribs that plays the football game only because it’s the playoffs. He’s been in a struggle since he got his third and final top-five at Dover in Week 11. It’s been a major struggle with this car. He has a 19th-place average finish in 10 Cup starts at Darlington.   

Daniel Suarez (33/1) - He had his first top-10 at Darlington in the spring. I’m going to look for him to advance to the next round because Trackhouse Racing has produced great cars all season for all different types of tracks. 

SOUTHERN 500 BETTING ANALYSIS

Erik Jones (40/1) - First off, shop around for the best prices. I know Caesars sportsbooks are offering him at 70-to-1 odds to win. His first six races at Darlington were all top-10s which included a 2018 win. He hasn’t been as good driving for Petty the last two seasons, but he knows what it takes to win. This dude fights every week getting better finishes than the car is capable of.

Bubba Wallace (50/1) - He’ll be driving the No. 45 this week with Ty Gibbs going to Bubba's normal No. 23. It’s just paint. The same chassis and crews will be used with their drivers. I like him to run well here and maybe get a top-10 finish. He’s run extremely well the last nine races, and some were on tracks that he didn’t typically run well on. 

Chase Briscoe (50/1) - In three Cup starts at Darlington he has a 16th-place average finish. But I can’t bet him because he’s going backward in the NextGen car after making an immediate impact with third place in the Daytona 500 and winning his first Cup race at Phoenix three weeks later. He has only three top-fives all season. 

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Ty Gibbs (50/1) - This will be his first Cup start at Darlington, he’ll get his first Darlington stripe, but I’ think he’ll be good after that. He will be driving the No. 23 car during the playoffs as teammate Wallace drives No. 45 for ownership and manufacturer points. 

Aric Almirola (66/1) - He was 11th in the spring race and has a 17th-place average finish in 14 starts with two top-10 finishes.

“I always enjoy going to Darlington,” Almirola said. “It is a really tough race track – they call it ‘Too Tough Too Tame’ and that’s the slogan for a reason. The technicality of that race track is so difficult. It’s not like any other race track we go to and I know that each and every race track is unique, but Darlington is very unique. It has two corners that are very different and the racing surface is very narrow. We predominately race up against the fence, so we’re at 180 miles an hour and you’re trying to run 1 to 2 inches off the wall with very little room for error. One little slip and one little slide and you’re in the fence, so it’s just a very difficult race track, but that’s why we all love it. We found a lot of speed when we went there earlier this year and I think we’ve only progressed, so we’re expecting to unload with a fast Renegade Ford this weekend.”

Austin Dillon (66/1) - This is a guy to consider especially in driver matchups. Darlington has been good to him over his career. He has the fifth-best average finish (11.9) among active drivers. Two top-fives in 12 Cup starts and he was ninth in the spring race. He understands the patience game and tire wear of the Track Too Tough to Tame. 

Ricky Stenhouse (66/1) - He’s had 13 career Cup starts at Darlington and his lone top-10 happened this season with the new car. He was eighth, and he carried some momentum into other tracks that he typically didn’t do well but he’s not on my list of things to bet this weekend.

COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 LONG SHOTS

Austin Cindric (80/1) - There are only two races I’ll bet him during the playoffs – the Charlotte ROVAL and Talladega. That’s it for now. That’s all he’s been consistent at this season. 

Brad Keselowski (100/1) - He has a 2018 win at Darlington but was 34th in the spring race with his team. In 17 Cup starts he has a 12th-place average finish which is seventh-best among active drivers. I won’t be betting him here. He’s had only three top-10s all season.

“Darlington is one of the more challenging tracks we go to in just how hard it is to maintain and maneuver each corner perfectly for a lot of laps,” Keselowski said. “It’s a long race, and having the right handling and perfect entry and exit means everything. Our focus is on improving each day over these last 10 races, and continuing to make strides to set ourselves up for more success now and in the future.”

Chris Buescher (100/1) - He has a 17th-place average finish in 10 Cup starts at Darlington with a best of ninth twice, both coming last season. He was 16th in the May race.

“Darlington is one of those places we’ve worked really hard at to be better, and I think we made some good strides in the spring as a company, even though our finish(es) didn’t necessarily show for it,” Buescher said. “It’s a really challenging place to drive, but is really fun once you get the drive of the car tuned in. We’re looking forward to a solid weekend in the Fifth Third Ford.”

COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1.) #4 Kevin Harvick (16/1)
2.) #1 Ross Chastain (8/1)
3.) #8 Tyler Reddick (8/1)
4.) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
5.) #9 Chase Elliott (8/1)

NASCAR CUP SERIES
WEEKLY PREDICTIONS

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