Date: Sunday, May 17, 2020
Venue: Darlington Raceway
Television-Time: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
We’ve got NASCAR racing and we’ve got NASCAR Darlington 400 Picks this weekend so all the awful news going on in the world gets put to rest for a couple of hours for Sunday’s 400-mile race at Darlington Raceway. When the green flag drops Sunday it will have been 70 days since the NASCAR Cup Series last raced at Phoenix Raceway.
But this isn’t just an ordinary race. No fans will be in the stands and there will be no practice or qualifying which puts most of the pressure on the guys at the garage in Charlotte to get the set-up perfect and then the other half of the equation is on the crew to make the proper changes during the race.
“It will be really interesting,” Chase Elliott said. “NASCAR has never seen anything like what we are about to see this year. Showing up and just racing without any on-track time or any prep inside the car is super unorthodox and has never really even been considered until this. It’s exciting to have something new and I’m excited that we are going to be back on TV and give our fans something to watch. I think the silver lining is that we are going to be able to offer something to our viewers on TV.”
Yes, we certainly are starving out here for some real racing and appreciate NASCAR getting a plan together as they join UFC to be the only major American sports leagues to defy the virus. While I enjoyed iRacing’s Pro Invitational Series driven by the Cup drivers on simulators, the last two weeks of it had me wanting the real stuff like an addict out of crack.
Handicapping Darlington 400 Picks
The first thing to do in the handicapping process is getting back into the mode of where we were in the season after four races: Denny Hamlin won at Daytona, Joey Logano won at Las Vegas, Alex Bowman won at Fontana, and Logano won at Phoenix. Four races and three different race packages.
So rather than looking at Daytona and Phoenix for any answers to who will win on Sunday, I look at Las Vegas and Fontana because both were using the 550 horsepower package with the tiny spoiler that will be used at Darlington this Sunday and then again on Tuesday night, as well as the two traces at Charlotte next week.
My takeaway from those races was that Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports, along with the new Camaros in general, were vastly improved from the 2019 version of this race package when Joe Gibbs Racing won nine of the 18 races. The Gibbs cars didn’t look the same as last season and while Kyle Busch was runner-up at Fontana, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., and Hamlin didn’t look as strong.
Because of a late pit sequence at Las Vegas with five laps to go, the final results look a bit weird and only three drivers finished in the top-10 of both Vegas and Fontana -- Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski. But underneath the box score, there is a driver that has been dramatically undervalued by the sportsbooks because he didn’t finish well in either, despite having a dominant car in each. Perhaps the odds are a reflection of the long delay between races and the books not remembering.
Ryan Blaney opened 30/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $3,000) at Circa Sports in Las Vegas and was bet down to 19/1 quickly. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook opened him 20/1 and William Hill sportsbooks opened him 22/1. But he should probably be in the 12/1 range with Elliott and Bowman.
Blaney was the driver leading at Las Vegas with five laps to go and despite not needing fuel, the team opted to get fresh tires. Joey Logano stayed out and won, Blaney finished 11th. At Fontana, he started 16th and found his way to the front quick leading a total of 54 laps finishing second in the first stage, first in the second stage, and then a tire started to go down in the third stage.
“Racing happens. Just corded a right rear there at the end and gave up a good finish,” Blaney told Fox. “Just lost the lead. They got (Bowman’s) car better, I just got kind of too loose at the end there.
NASCAR Betting Analysis - Darlington
So Blaney had some bad luck. It happens all the time. But it doesn’t take away his blistering speed with this package and his results don’t show he can win, but having bets on him in each of those races I can say I felt like he was going to cash in each, especially after Elliott had a tire go down in Las Vegas after leading 70 laps and winning the first two stages.
Elliott is also part of my betting strategy this week in odds to win and driver match-ups. Brad Keselowski, who won at Darlington in 2018, is also on my list at 10/1 odds to win due to always running well at Darlington with a 10.7 average finish. He’s led laps in his last six races there.
Denny Hamlin (7/1) has always figured out the key to keeping the "Lady in Black" off his back. In 14 Cup starts he has a 7.7 average finish with two wins and 562 laps led. He also has five Xfinity Series wins. His key to success has been saving his tires at the start of a run by not making any wild movements and running a steady line. When other drivers start to have their tires wear down after 20 laps, Hamlin maintains his speed close to his first lap. His teammate Erik Jones (15/1), last year’s winner, has also followed the tire gameplan to perfection and has a 4.6 average finish in three Cup starts which is the best among active drivers.
The Chip Ganassi Racing Camaros driven by Kurt Busch (19/1) and Matt Kenseth (40/1) should both be looked at for a bet as well. Busch doesn’t have a win at Darlington in 23 Cup starts, but he was runner-up in the most exciting Darlington race ever held in 2003 when he bumped and banged with Rickey Craven for the final 27 laps. Last season he led 94 laps there before finishing seventh.
Kenseth comes in rusty as he takes over the No. 42 formerly driven by Kyle Larson, but at this stage everyone is rusty. His 2013 win at Darlington was the last race held there in May. He gets the saving tire strategy and he’ll have a great car set-up. Larson had a 6.6 average finish between his six cup starts there.
Logano has been left off my betting list and that scares me. He could be a problem after getting his only top-fives on the track in three of his last five starts there. More so, the issue is he’s got a really fast 550 HP package.
Enjoy the race y’all. We’ve earned this. And I think we also deserve to cash a few tickets.
I'll be back for more on Monday evening with betting information on Tuesday's Darlington race.