Yes, the Cup Series postseason is here, rolling into Darlington for this evening's Cook Out Southern 500.
Those drivers still with live NASCAR Cup Series odds are decided favorites in the field, with a tight pack of favorites topping this week's board.
As the postseason begins, we'll break down the Cook Out Southern 500 odds, and bring you the best free betting picks for today's race.
Odds to win 2023 Cook Out Southern 500
|Martin Truex Jr.||+500||+500||+500|
Odds as of August 31, 2023.
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Cook Out Southern 500 field
The Cook Out Southern 500 odds are distributed pretty abnormally until you consider that this is a playoff race, and one of the 16 qualifying drivers is more likely to take the victory.
Four drivers priced +750 or lower are crowded for the favorites tier, as are the (*checks notes*) fourteen cars under the +2,000 mark. This cluster suggests a highly competitive and more exclusive pool of viable winners, which, again, playoffs.
Leading the way is Martin Truex Jr, a former two-time Darlington winner who's been on a simply torrid pace of late, with Top-7 finishes in 10 of the last 13 races, including two wins, along with Kyle Larson, who has never won at Darlington, but scored a pair of runner-up finishes there in 2021, en route to a Cup championship.
Cook Out Southern 500 picks and predictions
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Odds listed below courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook as of August 29, 2023.
Cook Out Southern 500 pre-qualifying favorites
Martin Truex Jr. (+500)
Recent Darlington finishes say: 24th, 31st, 31st. However, there's a story though. He led 28 laps but was caught up in a crash in the 2022 spring race while running in the Top 5. He led 48 laps in last year's Southern 500, but his water pump failed while leading. This spring, he led 145 laps, but crashed while leading.
He's also led 248 laps in his dominating Mother’s Day performance in 2021. He backed that up by finishing fourth in that year’s Southern 500. He's led 914 laps in 22 starts on this track with two wins, four Top-5 finishes, and 10 Top-10's.
Kyle Larson (+550)
Yes, he may have only been 36th and 12th last year, and only 20th this past spring. But, I can’t ignore three straight runner-ups prior and two third-place finishes in a three-race span even before that, too. He led 45 laps in 2016, 124 laps in 2017, 284 in 2018, 44 in 2019, 156 in the 2021 Southern 500, and 30 in this race last year. All he’s missing is...a win…He was crashed by Ross Chastain while leading late in this past year's spring race.
Denny Hamlin (+750)
Hamlin has nine Top-10 finishes in his last 13 “Lady in Black” starts, including eight in the Top 5. He’s a four-time Darlington winner and also has four runner-ups there, which includes the last time out for the Southern 500. 16 overall Top-10 finishes in 22 starts with 801 laps led.
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Cook Out Southern 500 sleepers
Christopher Bell (+1,100)
Bell had one of the better cars on this track last year. He started third and second, respectively, while finishing sixth and fifth. He was only 14th this May, though.
Tyler Reddick (+1,300)
This track was made for Reddick. Running the high line right up against the wall. Reddick was second and third, respectively, here a year ago and now is with Toyota power. I'll overlook the 22nd-place finish in May.
Kevin Harvick (+1,500)
14 Top-10 finishes in his last 15 tries here, including nine of the last 10 in the Top-6. He was runner-up this past May. Harvick led 63 total laps here in 17 starts at Darlington with RCR. He’s already led 755 in 14 starts with SHR.
Cook Out Southern 500 fades
Kyle Busch (+1,000)
The bad? Three sub-30th place finishes in the last four tries. However, he had a Top-5 car in both races last year but crashed after leading 19 laps while running there in this race, and had an engine blow while leading late in the Southern 500 in a race in which he led 155 laps. Prior to that were 10 Top-7 finishes in 12 Darlington starts.
The only problem is that he’s had just one win in 23 starts, and that came back in 2008.
Ross Chastain (+1,100)
He leads a lot of laps at Darlington, but also has a lot of crashes too. 26 laps led but a crash (30th place) last year. 20th in this race a year ago too after 93 laps led, and a crash while battling for the win this past spring again as well (29th place).
Chase Elliott (+1,700)
He has a pair of Top-5 finishes in his last three tries on the Lady in Black. Still, Elliott is 0-for-13 at Darlington too.
Cook Out Southern 500 prop pick
Ross Chastain vs. Tyler Reddick
A no-brainer here. Reddick (stats above) has a legitimate shot to win Sunday’s race while Chastain has just one Top-5 finish in the last 14 races. With plus money in this matchup, I like Reddick.
Pick: Reddick (+105 at DraftKings)
Darlington Raceway track analysis
Darlington is an older surface where you have to tip-toe around the track rather than go all out every lap. While I get these types of races aren’t for everybody, this is what makes racing fun.
There’s a reason why five of the last eight races at Darlington have all been won by a driver who’s now in their 40s. 13 of the last 16 races all saw veterans win. Erik Jones and William Byron are the lone exceptions.
Cautions are typically limited and teams have to try out different strategies.
This wasn’t the typical new school race where drivers are all bunched up in the end and can just plow over cars to get by. It was spread out and technical. You had to tread lightly around the track, because the harder you push, the slower you go.
Darlington is always that way. You have varying strategies on when to pit. Fresh tires can gain a ton of ground and speed on those going around the track on old sets of Goodyear’s. However, eventually, the new tires fade and those on old tires will pit for new ones and gain the advantage. Whoever can work this game the best usually wins, and usually it’s a veteran who manages his tires over the run to limit the fall-off.
The thing is, this race is different than the spring, because for starters, it’s at night where the spring race is during daytime conditions. Also, this race is 100 miles longer, during which more can happen.
A manufacturer to watch is Chevrolet. They formerly went 0-for-11 here but have now won two straight.
Prior to last year, Toyota had won three of four, and seven of the last 10 overall. They went 0-for-2 last season and didn't win again in May. Toyota drivers combined to lead 92 of 293 laps in the May 2022 race and if not for a late-race crash that pretty much took out their entire fleet while running in the Top 5, they like would have won that day. Then, in the Southern 500, both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had problems while leading in the closing laps. Toyota drivers led 213 of 367 laps that night for which combined, they totaled 46.2% (305 of 660) of all laps led here a year ago. They led 157 more this past May.
Last year was the first time in the history of the Cup Series playoffs that a non-playoff driver won the postseason opener. In fact, the entire first round swept by non-playoff drivers with Erik Jones (Darlington), Bubba Wallace (Kansas), and Chris Buescher (Bristol), so was Race 4 from Tyler Reddick (Texas) too.
Cook Out Southern 500 trends
- Four of the last five race winners each started in the Top 5. That happened just twice in the previous 17. Just twice since the 1997 Southern 500 has the pole winner won here (38 races).
- Every race winner at Darlington during the stage era has scored stage points. Stage 2 position of Southern 500 race winners: second, second, fourth, third, fourth, ninth. What’s odd is, the race winner at Darlington has never won a stage either.