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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:49 PM

NASCAR Cook Out Southern 500 Picks, Predictions

Weekly Video Picks - Darlington

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Cook Out Southern 500 Picks

Let’s get this NASCAR Playoff party started!

Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway high-banked 1.366-mile will be the first of 10 races during NASCAR’s Playoff, a field of 16 drivers that were set after last week’s race at Daytona.

There will be 24 other drivers with a chance to win Sunday who aren’t eligible to win the 2020 Cup Championship such as Erik Jones (40/1), but I’m going to focus more on the playoff drivers because they are the ones who have won races this season.

The playoff format is simple and easy to follow. The first three stages of the playoffs are groups of three races and after the segment is over the four lowest point totals that did not win a race will be eliminated until there is just the Championship 4 remaining to battle it out at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 8.

All points accumulated during the season are wiped away and the best finish at Phoenix wins the Championship. Eligible drivers that win a race during any stage advance to the next round regardless of point standings.

  • Date: Sunday, September 6, 2020
  • Venue: Darlington Raceway
  • Location: Darlington, South Carolina
  • Television-Time: NBCSN, 6:00 p.m. ET

The cool thing I like about the format is that NASCAR has tinkered with it over the years since the postseason was formed in 2004. The way its weighted now rewards the top driver's playoff points for winning races and stages.

Winning is everything and they should be rewarded so Kevin Harvick comes in with a series-leading seven wins and starts with a 57-point lead. Denny Hamlin won six races and starts with a 47-point head start. The No. 16 seed, Matt DiBenedetto (60/1), starts with no playoff points but is still jazzed about being the playoffs.


“The way I look at it is, I was pumped that we made it in and wanted it bad for the whole team because we know that we could be a Playoff contender, not just making it and being there,” said Matt DiBenedetto at Playoff Media Day. “I would say the most stressful part was making it in the Playoffs. Now I feel like we are the most put together as a team and most prepared and ready to go and execute to make some hay and pick some guys off and try to make it through and do a really good job. I would say it is less stressful now and more exciting that it is a clean slate where we are all grouped together in points and can show the strength of our team now.”

It’s an uphill climb for DiBenedetto to make it out of the first round, but all it takes is for some of the others ahead of him to have a bad race and for him to keep grinding like he does every week and he can survive. He was ninth in the May 20 race at Darlington.

Handicapping NASCAR at Darlington

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has DiBenedetto with odds set at 100/1 to win the championship, but they aren’t the longest odds. Cole Custer and Austin Dillon are both 300/1. Harvick is the 2/1 favorite followed by Hamlin (3/1), Martin Truex Jr. (8/1), Joey Logano (10/1), and the winless Kyle Busch at 12/1.

Busch is the defending champion and despite only 3-playoff points, it’s obvious the SuperBook respects Busch. He’s got Joe Gibbs Racing equipment and has 11 top-fives this season which is tied for the third most. In his last race using this week’s race package (550 horsepower) he was fourth and fifth at the Michigan doubleheader and the last time at Darlington he was runner-up to Hamlin.

He has the stuff to point race his way into the Championship 4, but he’ll get a win before then, I believe. At 12/1 odds, a motivated and pissed off Busch is attractive.

NASCAR Cup Series - Championship Odds

  • Kevin Harvick +200
  • Denny Hamlin +300
  • Martin Truex Jr. +700
  • Chase Elliott +850
  • Brad Keselowski +1000
  • Kyle Busch +1200
  • Joey Logano +1200
  • Ryan Blaney +1600
  • Aric Almirola +3000
  • Kurt Busch +3300
  • Alex Bowman +4000
  • William Byron +5000
  • Clint Bowyer +6600
  • Matt DiBenedetto +6600
  • Cole Custer +10000
  • Austin Dillon +10000
  • (Odds Subject to Change)

Buying the No. 19 Truex Jr.

While I like Hamlin to finally win a Cup Championship, the most attractive odds are Truex Jr. at 8/1 because of the run he’s currently on. He’s only won one race this season (Martinsville) but comes into Darlington on quite the roll with finishes of fourth or better in his last eight races which featured all three race packages.

The package new crew chief James Small and Truex have been the most consistent with is the 750 hp package which has been third twice and runner-up twice in the last four traces using it as well as getting his only win of the season. Why this package is important is that it will be used in five of the 10 playoff races and the Championship race will be using it at Phoenix as well after the finale always being at Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout.

Package Analysis

What was the most important package (550 hp) during the regular season has always been the most important during the playoffs ending at Homestead. But that’s different in 2020. Of the eight races run using the 750 hp package (including All-Star Race at Bristol), Harvick and Hamlin each only won once with it, both winning at Dover two weeks ago. It just feels like there are more drivers competitive with the package then there are with the 550 hp they’re racing with this week which Harvick and Hamlin combined to win 10 of the 16 races.

Two of those races came on the NASCAR reboot after the shutdown following the March 8 race at Phoenix. NASCAR got back onto Network TV before any other sport with two races at Darlington, one on May 17 and the other on May 20. Without practices and qualifying, those results become the first piece of data to look through. After that, it’s the most recent races using this package and it still comes out Harvick-Hamlin which is why Circa Sports has them both listed as co-favorites at +325 odds to win.

When looking at past history, those guys are on top as well. Harvick has two Darlington wins and is the active leader with 10 top-fives and 751 laps led. Hamlin has three wins and nine top-fives and a 7.1 average finish in 16 starts.

NASCAR Cup Odds - Darlington

  • Kevin Harvick +325
  • Denny Hamlin +350
  • Martin Truex Jr. +800
  • Brad Keselowski +900
  • Kyle Busch +1100
  • Chase Elliott +1300
  • Joey Logano +1300
  • Erik Jones +1400
  • Ryan Blaney +2000
  • Kurt Busch +2000
  • More NASCAR Futures
  • (Odds Subject to Change)

When looking back at the two Darlington races, the thing that stands out most other than Harvick or Hamlin was Clint Bowyer winning the first two stages and leading a race-high 71 laps before finishing 22nd. Bowyer doesn’t have any top-fives in 16 starts, but he got out front in clean and no could pass him. He’s 50/1 to win at William Hill sportsbooks.

From that same May 20 race that Hamlin won, I remember Chase Elliott should have won but got wrecked late by Kyle Busch. Elliott has led 28 laps, but he was on new tires while those ahead of him were on old tires and were sitting ducks. The abrasive asphalt makes tire stops almost more important than fuel stops. He was also fourth in the May 17 race. Elliott is 12/1 to win his first Southern 500.

Brad Keselowski is 12/1 and should be worth a bet just because he knows how to get out front leading his last eight Cup races at Darlington and winning the 2018 Southern 500. He was fourth in the May 20 race.

Cook Out Southern 500
Top-5 Finish Prediction

  • 1) #11 Denny Hamlin +325
  • 2) #20 Erik Jones 40/1
  • 3) #4 Kevin Harvick +325
  • 4) #18 Kyle Busch 12/1
  • 5) #9 Chase Elliott 12/1

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