The Southern 500 is not typically kind to Young Guns or dark horses. Even a quick look at the PointsBet Sportsbook reveals two heavy favorites, with Kevin Harvick entering the weekend at +260 (13/5) and Denny Hamlin +300 odds.
Martin Truex Jr. (+750), Chase Elliott (+900), and Brad Keselowski (+1000) round out the top five and there is not a single dark horse among them. In fact, the closest one comes to finding a longshot is the eighth-ranked driver Erik Jones with +2000 odds for an outright win, and he already has one Darlington victory to his credit.
Harvick opened the week among other oddsmakers at +325. At the time, Hamlin was only 25 points away at +350. By the weekend, both drivers saw their odds shrink. At almost 5/2 for Harvick and 3/1 for Hamlin, there is not much wiggle room to lay off a pair of bets on each to win, which means bettors are going to have to make some difficult decisions.
When NASCAR returned to action following the COVID-19 break, both drivers were immediately successful. Harvick won the Sunday Real Heroes 400; Hamlin won Saturday’s Toyota 500k and both swept the top five. Their dominance of that race has been carried forward until now and the drivers are at the top of the PointsBet list to win the championship. Harvick is currently listed there at +200; Hamlin is +300.
To pick a favorite this week, bettors are going to have to expand the parameters. Harvick enters the weekend with eight top-fives in his last nine starts. In that same time span, Hamlin has two fewer top-fives. Give the advantage to the driver of the No. 4.
Hamlin had a dominant car in Wednesday’s race, but without an assist from his teammate he would not have won that race. Chase Elliott (+900) had the right strategy and was heading to the front in a hurry during the closing laps. Unfortunately, an overly enthusiastic Kyle Busch (+1100) tried to jump into a hole that didn’t exist and he spun Elliott into the inside wall. Elliott went from second to 38th in the blink of an eye, but his handicap should reflect his fifth-place finish on Sunday. The difference in his line from Monday is 400 points lower from an opening of +1300.
Martin Truex Jr. (+750) joins Harvick and Hamlin among the top three. This has to be reflective of his current momentum and not his track record. At Darlington, Truex has only one top-five in his last nine attempts. Granted, that was a 2016 victory, but it is not enough to encourage bettors to place a heavy wager on an outright win. However, there is no driver in the field with more momentum because he has finished in the top five in his last eight races this season and in nine of the last 10. Truex’s line movement this week was +50.
Rounding out the top five is Brad Keselowski (+1000) and he shows the opposite trend from Truex. It has been five weeks since he scored a top five. From Kansas 1 through Michigan 1, he finished second twice and won at New Hampshire. He would like have earned another strong finish if he had not gotten loose under his teammate Ryan Blaney (+1800) while racing for the lead in Michigan 2. It’s been hard going ever since. But at Darlington Kez has three top-fives in the last four races. One of these was a win in 2018, so he deserves a little money.
Harvick (+175), Hamlin (+175), Truex (+300), and Ky Busch make up Group A on the PointsBet matchups. There is not a lot of appeal in those bets because it is going to be difficult to short the No. 4 or 11 drivers. If you do, however, go with the driver that faces the longest odds. Busch is overdue for a win and it’s only a matter of time before he gets it.
Group B has a five driver field that includes Ky Busch at +350 in this matchup. It would seem that the oddsmakers are far less confident in one racer pulling away from the field because the favorite is Elliott at +310. If he kept his notes from May and can get track position at the end of the race, Elliott could easily triple your investment, however. Keselowski (+310), Joey Logano (+350), and Kurt Busch (+375) round out the list.
While longshots don’t tend to payoff very well at Darlington, Group C has an interesting opportunity. Matt DiBenedetto is listed at +350 in a matchup that includes Jimmie Johnson (+275), William Byron (+320), Clint Bowyer (+320), and Christopher Bell (+500). DiBenedetto doesn’t have to win for you to collect; he only needs to outperform those other drivers and he is going to be filled with enthusiasm after qualifying for his first playoff.
There is also a solid bet in Group D. Erik Jones (+325) is seeded second among Ryan Blaney (+300), Alex Bowman (+350), Aric Almirola (+350), and Tyler Reddick (+400). Jones has never stumbled on this track with a perfect record of five top-eight finishes in five starts. One of these was a 2019 Southern 500 victory and two were fifth-place finishes with the most recent occurring this May. We still don’t know where Jones is going to wind up for 2021, so he is effectively driving for a job. That will light a fire under his seat.