Cash or Pass: Darlington is the first in a series for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. This guide is for fantasy ‘cash-ins’ and ‘pass-on’ with best and worst bets, sleepers, and wild cards.
With the NASCAR playoffs getting underway, it’s only fair that the pressure ramps up on the track. That pressure also gets higher in the sportsbooks, well, for everyone except Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin that is. Harvick (+325) and Hamlin (+350) have far and away the best odds to win the CookOut Southern 500 at Darlington.
The ‘Track Too Tough to Tame’ tends to bring some craziness and unpredictability, and it can be difficult to bet on a winner with any type of confidence. Here, in the first edition of Cash or Pass: Darlington, we go over the best and worst bets for the first playoff race of the NASCAR Cup Series season.
Notes: In Las Vegas, betting $100 on +200 odds means winning is a $200 take-home, plus the original $100.
Chase Elliott (+1300)
From the surface, it doesn’t appear that Elliott has much success at Darlington. Elliott has just two top-five finishes in seven starts at the track, and a finish of 38th in the second race of the doubleheader earlier this year. Looking a little deeper though, Elliott should be one of the favorites coming in. He has finishes of fifth in 2018 and fourth in the first 2020 race; and that 38th place finish? Well, Elliott was running second, about to take the lead, when he was dumped by Kyle Busch before a rain-shortened finish. Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports in general, look better over the past couple of weeks, and after losing a win here earlier in the season, the No. 9 looks like a good bet to head to victory lane.
Kurt Busch (+2000)
Kurt Busch has the best odds to win at Darlington among the winless playoff drivers, and for good reason. Busch has finishes of seventh or better in four of his past five starts at the track, including a third-place run in the first race of this season’s doubleheader. Busch has come close to victory on a couple of occasions this year but hasn’t been able to replicate his 2019 Kentucky win. So far, Kentucky is his only victory lane trip with Chip Ganassi Racing. Busch is essentially a guarantee as a top-ten driver, and it wouldn’t be that shocking to see him pull out a win at Darlington to lock himself into the second race in the Round of 16.
Kevin Harvick (+325)
As predictable as it may be, Harvick comes into Darlington as the odds-on favorite to pick up his eighth win of the season. If anyone in NASCAR has a claim to have tamed Darlington, it’s Harvick. He hasn’t finished worse than ninth at the track since 2012 and is currently in the midst of a streak of four consecutive top-five finishes. Harvick also has a victory in the first race of the doubleheader earlier in the season. Having won more than one-fourth of the races this season makes this an even better sure bet, even if the rewards may not be as high as some of the alternatives.
Martin Truex Jr. (+800)
It’s a bit odd to see that Truex comes in with the best odds to win, outside of Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Truex did win here in 2016, but in the past five races, he hasn’t finished inside the top-five. Truex is showing a lot of speed over the second half of this regular season, but he still has just one win to his credit, way back at Martinsville. Looking at the odds, +800 is still a low-risk, high-reward investment, but comparing it to the odds of the likes of Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, and even 2019 winner Erik Jones (+1400) makes the bet seem less attractive.
Joey Logano (+1300)
Logano’s odds are even for sixth-best to win, but he’s currently riding a 22-race winless streak that dates back to Phoenix, the last race before the COVID shutdown. It appears Logano will break that stretch at some point during the playoffs, but it’s unlikely to be at Darlington, a track where Logano has been inconsistent. He has four top-fives in his last eight starts at the track, but also three finishes outside of the top-15 during that time. Penske as a whole has struggled slightly at Darlington this year as well, another reason to stay away from Logano here.
Ryan Blaney (+2000)
Similar to Logano, Blaney is seeing limited success recently at Darlington and is part of a Team Penske group that isn’t doing all that well in the two races at the track this year. Blaney hasn’t finished better than 13th in seven Cup starts at Darlington, and with his second-half struggles, it’s hard to see why he has the same odds as Kurt Busch to win. If you’re betting on Blaney, it better be a low-risk bet.
Clint Bowyer (+6600)
At +6600, Bowyer is a deep sleeper in the eyes of the oddsmakers. Bowyer hasn’t had great success at the track, especially recently, with an average finish of 19.4 and zero top-fives in his last ten starts. He also has finishes of 17th and 22nd in the two races earlier this year. However, Bowyer finished sixth in 2019, was able to pick up some good stage points in this year’s first race, following that up by sweeping the stages in race number two. Overall, a win for Bowyer is probably unlikely, as his winless drought has extended past two years now. That being said, he’s in the playoffs, and his ride may be up for grabs at season end. There’s a lot on the line for Bowyer, and a surprise win wouldn’t be too out of the blue.
Erik Jones (+1400)
Erik Jones isn’t in the playoffs, which automatically makes him a risky bet. However, his odds being above the likes of Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, and Alex Bowman show that his success at the track is catching the attention of oddsmakers. In five career starts at Darlington, Jones has an average finish of 5.4, including a win at the track last year. He hasn’t finished worse than eighth, and he’s still looking for a ride in 2021. Another top-five run at Darlington will bode very well for Jones’ future.