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Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Martin Truex Jr.
The second season—and the one that counts—begins this week for the NASCAR Cup Series.
The Round of 16 in the 10-event championship Playoff begins with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. After the two following races at Kansas and Bristol, the Playoff field will be trimmed to 12 drivers.
Given that full-field races in all 10 Playoff events, drivers aren’t really eliminated from the competition. They are simply eliminated from Playoff eligibility. Hence, we consider all drivers on the entry list when handicapping the race.
Notably absent from oddsmakers’ consideration for the win this week are Ford drivers, even though six members of the Blue Oval Brigade qualified for the Playoffs.
Here’s the reason: in the 21 races held at Darlington since 2006, Ford drivers have won just four times. Bear in mind, though that two of those victories came from Kevin Harvick and one each from Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano—all three of whom are currently active and part of the Playoffs.
It’s true, too, that the Fords have been a tick slower at intermediate tracks than their Chevrolet and Toyota counterparts.
Bottom line: we don’t think a Ford driver will win on Sunday, but if you do, go with Keselowski (the top Ford pick as ninth choice overall) at +1600 via DraftKings Sportsbook.
In the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, four competitors start the postseason in the hole—in other words, below the cut line for the next round.
In last Saturday’s race at Daytona, Wallace secured the final Playoff berth on points, and he starts the postseason with no Playoff points to his credit.
However, we think Wallace has the best chance of the four to overachieve at Darlington. Wallace has his best two results in his last two races at the Lady in Black, both in the Next Gen car.
He was ninth in last year’s Playoff race. In the 2023 spring race, Wallace qualified second and finished fifth. Therefore, we don’t think it’s too big a leap to place a small wager on Wallace to finish in the top three on Saturday at +850 via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron leads the NASCAR Cup Series in victories this season with five.
Byron starts the Playoffs with a comfortable cushion of 36 Playoff points, tied with Martin Truex Jr. for most in the series.
Those are tangible assets, but Byron is strong in the intangibles, too. He is justifiably confident as the Playoffs begin.
Among his nine career wins are five victories at tracks that will be part of the Playoffs, but Byron and crew chief Rudy also know where they need to improve and have a game plan to do so.
Darlington is not one of those places. Byron won the spring race there, and we expect him to finish off a season sweep at the 1.366-mile track on Sunday. At +750 via DraftKings, he’s an attractive bet.
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Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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