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Last Updated May 08, 2022, 22:19 PM

Goodyear 400 Picks, Predictions, Odds

It’s a throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway culminating with Sunday afternoon’s Goodyear 400 which will be only the ninth time NASCAR has raced on Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful Mom’s out there and thank you for all you do!

The story goes that NASCAR founder Bill France’s wife Anne argued that Easter and Mother’s Day were family days and racing shouldn’t be on the schedule. She said a Mom should never have to see her son hurt or killed on Mother’s Day. The cars weren’t very safe back in the day, but the cars of today are built with safety as the main objective.

This will be the 122nd race since 1950 on Darlington’s 1.366-mile high-banked egg-shaped oval with each corner requiring a different approach and exit strategy. So the throwback angle is appropriate and we’ll see dozens of familiar old-school paint jobs on the cars paying respect to the past.

Part of the history on the track called Too Tough to Tame or The Lady in Black is the abrasive surface that tears up tires quickly so it’s up to the driver to manage them. Some drivers do it very well and their success shows in the numbers and trophies while others can’t quite get the hang of it.

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GOODYEAR 400 PICKS & PREDICTIONS

Denny Hamlin, who leads all active drivers with four Cup wins at Darlington and also has five Xfinity Series wins, has said in the past that the key is to keep the steering at a minimum and try to drive a straight line all the way around the track with little movement while pacing himself for 25 to 35 laps and then when others fall off due to racing too hard, Hamlin can maintain higher speeds because he’s got more tire left for the final 25-to-35 laps on a fuel run. Goodyear’s director of racing expanded more on the Darlington tire wear

“We are obviously very excited about this week’s running of the Goodyear 400 at Darlington. To be the sponsor of this race, at a track where we have so much history, is really great for us.,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “As far as the tires are concerned, Darlington’s abrasive surface always makes for an exciting race. Tires will wear and we will have a lot of fall-off over the course of a run, meaning tire management will be important. Drivers can impact their teams’ fortunes by not abusing their tires early in a run so they can fall off that little bit less and be faster than their competitors later. High wear also means four-tire stops all day, keeping the pit crews involved and highlighting the all-important team aspect of the sport.”  

(Getty)

Sunday’s race will also be the first time the new 18-inch wide low-profile tire will be used at Darlington. But the strategy should remain the same regarding saving tires.

The difficulty of the track along with the abrasive surface comes with two differing corners. Think of the movie Days of Thunder which was filmed at Darlington and the lie that crew chief Harry Logge, played by Robert Duvall, told Cole Trickle, played by Tom Cruise, about having special tires that will stick around turn 4. I think it was Trickle’s first NASCAR win.

The thing about The Lady in Black is that she treats everyone the same and drivers have to play her game, but she hands out lots of Darlington Stripes along the way as she did to Cole Trickle in the movie. The stripe happens when a driver hits the wall trying to stick that high line. Happens often, but some do it much better than others.

GOODYEAR 400 BETTING RESOURCES

  • Date: Sunday, May 8, 2022
  • TV-Time: FS1, 3:00 p.m. ET
  • Venue: Darlington Raceway
  • Location: Darlington, South Carolina
  • Distance: 400 miles
  • Laps: 293

Kyle Larson has never won at Darlington but he’s come about as close as anyone as he leads all active drivers with a 5.5 average finish aided by runner-up finishes in his last three Darlington starts and has two other third-places among his eight Cup starts. It’s part of why Caesars sportsbooks have him listed as the 4-to-1 favorite. The Lady in Black finds Larson adorable, I think.

But the Lady in Black has forever had a crush on Denny Hamlin as she did with Jeff Gordon (7 wins), Dale Earnhardt (9 wins), and South Carolina’s own David Pearson who owns the track record with 10 wins. Hamlin has a 7.1 average finish in 19 starts with 11 top-fives and 744 laps led. He was the last driver to win at Darlington last fall leading 146 laps. He respects the track and she’s been good to him. 

“We’re looking forward to this weekend,” Hamlin said. “Darlington has been a great track for us, and we feel like we learned a lot at the tire test, so that gives us confidence going back. Like all season, our biggest thing is just eliminating mistakes – whether that’s me or on pit road or something happening with the car. It seems like every week has been something, but our speed has been good most weeks if we can just put everything together.”

Hamlin is offered at 7-to-1 despite all his Darlington credentials because of those constant mistakes that seem to happen weekly. His Richmond win last month still remains his only top-10 of the season after 11 races. It’s crazy, and so is that single lug nut that is giving almost every team problems.

GOODYEAR 400 BETTING ANALYSIS

Hamlin isn’t the second choice to win, though. It’s Martin Truex Jr. at 6-to-1 odds as he still looks for his first win of the season. Last season in this race, he dominated on Mother’s Day for his second Darlington win. He led 248 laps giving him 693 laps leading for his career. But that was with the old car. The new NextGen car is slowly coming around for his team, but it's been a gradual process.

“Darlington is a challenging track no matter what you’re driving, so it’s going to be a handful regardless,” Truex said. “Our team is looking forward to the challenge. I have a lot of confidence going there with the success we’ve had the past few years and the things we’re learning about this new car, so I’m definitely excited about this weekend.”

Truex has two top-fives and five top-10s after 11 races and it’s a contract year for both he and Kyle Busch with Ty Gibbs waiting patiently for a Cup ride. By the way, Kyle Busch has six top-fives in 20 starts at Darlington and 725 laps led but hasn’t won there since 2008.

Along with Truex, there are four former Darlington winners still looking for a win this season. Kevin Harvick is a three-time winner, Erik Jones won in 2019, and Brad Keselowski won in 2018. Of the four, I have made bets on Harvick (15/1) and Jones (50/1) to win because of how they’ve treated the Lady with respect over the years.

Harvick leads active drivers with 12 top-fives at Darlington and also has led 812 laps, most of them coming in the last 11 races there since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. The due is riding a streak of finishing ninth or better in 12 straight starts there, including all three of his wins. What I like about Harvick is the same I like about Hamlin – he saves his tires to be faster when others start slowing down on a long run.

GOODYEAR 400 CONTENDERS

Erik Jones has a 10.1 average finish in eight Darlington starts and will be driving a sweet-looking old Richard Petty No. 43 paint scheme Sunday. His first six starts at Darlington saw him finish no worse than eighth, but that was with JGR. Last season, his first with Petty, he was given a junky old car and finished 32nd and 18th. But the NextGen car has him running with the leaders weekly and he currently sits 16th in points, just above the playoff cutoff line and 18-points below Harvick. So we have improved equipment, driver knowledge, and respect for the track and 50-to-1 odds. Sold, I’m in.

Along those same lines, I’m looking at Chase Briscoe at 40-to-1 odds. Nothing to brag about with two Cup starts averaging a 15th-place finish last season, but he also has an Xfinity Series win there in 2020. He’s got an idea of how to race The Lady with respect and reverence.   

Another driver I believe respects the track and has learned to understand how to be successful is the driver leading the entire Cup Series with seven top-fives and is tied with two wins. Ross Chastain is only 10-to-1 at Caesars sportsbooks, but this dude has that “it” factor in 2022 and he has a fast Camaro every week set up by Trackhouse Racing. Why can’t he win the Championship? Is something going to change from now until the season’s end? It’s not like baseball where they use different baseballs at their convenience. Chastain doesn’t take any crap either, which could get him in trouble or punted. Truex wasn’t happy about how Chastain raced him last week before Truex wrecked himself late trying to wreck Chastain. Anyway, Chastain working with maximum confidence as a driver and I love it. He was third there last fall in the old car.

One of the things that have me liking Chastain more is that Hendrick Motorsports drivers have been in a slump at Darlington for the last decade. Their 14 wins as an organization since their first win in 1986 with Tim Richmond is the most of any team at Darlington among the first 121 races. Jimmie Johnson was their last win in 2012.

Last season Hendrick drivers won 17 of the 36 races. This season they’ve already won five of the first 11 races with all four of their drivers getting a win. The Darlington drought is an anomaly, but at least it’s something to convince me that they won’t win.

Happy Mother’s Day!

GOODYEAR 400 TOP-5 FINISH PREDICTION

  1. #1 Ross Chastain (10/1)
  2. #11 Denny Hamlin (7/1)
  3. #5 Kyle Larson (4/1)
  4. #4 Kevin Harvick (15/1)
  5. #19 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)   

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