For the second time in four days, the NASCAR Cup Series is back on the track at Darlington, but bettors should expect a different race on Wednesday night (6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT, FS1).
Kevin Harvick (8/1 odds) won Sunday’s race, and his dominance in Stage 3 is important to note. As the track cooled under darkness, Harvick’s car became faster, and the increased grip allowed him to pull away from Alex Bowman in both the short and long runs.
Wednesday’s race, the Toyota 500, will be under the lights, and handicappers should look to Sunday’s Stage 3 to see how cars handled under what should be similar track conditions. Here’s a quick refresher on Darlington’s layout, driver stats and notes.
The mid-week event will also be shorter in length (500 kilometers over 228 laps) and begin with a unique inverse lineup that sees 500/1 longshot Ryan Preece on the poll. While drivers used the first 30 laps on Sunday to shake off the rust from a 2-month layoff, Wednesday’s start should be more chaotic with the threat of rain and as teams with faster equipment start in the middle of the field. Race favorites Harvick (5/1) starts 20th, Kyle Busch (7/1) lines up 26th, Denny Hamlin (7/1) 16th and Martin Truex Jr. (7/1) 15th.
Darlington II odds, starting lineup
Odds from Westgate SuperBook as of Tuesday
|John Hunter Nemechek||300/1|
|Martin Truex Jr.||7/1|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||300/1|
Note: Gray Gaulding and JJ Yeley will drop to the rear of the field at the start due to a team driver change.
Notable betting matchups
Kevin Harvick -130 vs. Kyle Busch +110
Kevin Harvick -130 vs. Martin Truex Jr. +110
Kyle Busch -120 vs. Denny Hamlin EVEN
Denny Hamlin -125 vs. Chase Elliott +105
Martin Truex Jr. -125 vs. Chase Elliott +105
Chase Elliott -110 vs. Alex Bowman -110
Brad Keselowski -110 vs. Kurt Busch -110
Kurt Busch -125 vs. Jimmie Johnson +105
Matt Kenseth -140 vs. Ryan Blaney +120
Aric Almirola -130 vs. Matt DiBenedetto +110
Betting value for Wednesday night’s race
Like any other sport, previous results tell only some of the story. While Harvick won, Hendrick Motorsports and its engine affiliates continued to have the best cars of the season. Bowman was second; Kurt Busch, whose Chip-Ganassi team uses Hendrick engines, was third; and Chase Elliott finished fourth. Jimmie Johnson and William Byron each led laps, but wrecks from the top-5 ruined their day.
Joe Gibbs Racing is off to a slow start this season, per their lofty standards, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. each recorded a fastest lap 14 times, and Kyle Busch worked his way up to fourth before a loose wheel ruined his race late on Sunday. Of the Joe Gibbs cars, Truex was most impressive when he worked his way up from 28th to ninth after a pit stop was needed to fix a hole in the nose of his car. Truex had 5th-fastest car over the last 25% of Sunday’s race when the track began to change. Harvick, Bowman, Kurt Busch and Elliott were the only faster drivers.
Truex is a driver to target in matchups, especially at the books dealing him close to even with Brad Keselowski, whose car was mediocre when not racing in clean air.
Another driver vastly undervalued in the markets is Aric Almirola, who can be found as long as 66/1. I’ll be targeting him in matchups against Ryan Newman and Matt DiBenedetto.
Over the first five races this season, only five drivers have spent more time in the top 15 than Almirola. He’s also sixth-best in quality passes and average running position during that span. On Sunday, Almirola finished a misleading 12th after a pit road penalty on Lap 160 knocked him to the rear of the field. With Stewart-Haas’ data sharing, Almirola’s team has access to the setup that made Harvick so fast on Sunday.
Lost in the shuffle from Sunday’s race was Team Penske. Keselowski started on the pole and led 80 laps but struggled in traffic during Stage 3. Joey Logano had a negative-23 pass-differential en route to an 18th-place finish, while Ryan Blaney spent just under 33% of laps inside the top-15. Blaney, who recorded a poor 70/8 driver rating, was faded in matchups early at Circa Sports for Wednesday and can still be found as a fade-worthy favorite over Hendrick-powered Matt Kenseth.
In addition to Blaney, other fade-worthy drivers who finished better on Sunday than their driver rating suggests were Austin Dillon, John H. Nemechek and Daniel Suarez.
Statistical information from NASCAR Media releases was used in this report
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