By Cole Cusumano
Each week, Cole Cusumano will provide statistical and observational insight for the upcoming race in hopes you can redeem it for “Cole’s Cash” once the checkered flag waves.
The NASCAR Cup Series has a date with “The Lady in Black” this Mother’s Day.
On May 8, the sport makes its bi-annual stop at Darlington Raceway in a weekend that promises nostalgia and thrills for competitors and fans alike.
The 1.366-mile track traditionally hosts textbook-style races in terms of players, but we could see an element of unpredictability that’s been lacking at the South Carolina facility for years. Aptly named the Goodyear 400, the egg-shaped oval is notorious for expending tires at a rapid rate, which is why experience is always a premium at Darlington, but maybe more so on Sunday.
Pre-Practice & Qualifying Odds/DFS Value per DraftKings Sportsbook:
Kyle Larson +500 ($11,000)
Martin Truex Jr. +700 ($10,500)
Denny Hamlin +800 ($10,300)
Chase Elliott +800 ($10,600)
Kyle Busch +1000 ($9,900)
If you’ve been betting on the favorite each weekend, chances are Kyle Larson has lost you some money along the way. The reigning champion only has one win this season, which came in the second race of 2022, but speed and results have been picking up as of late.
Larson boasts a supernatural resume at one of the sport’s most challenging tracks and should be considered heavily for race winner bets and DFS lineups, even at his steep value. Although winless at Darlington, the driver of the No. 5 has top-10s in all but one start, and in that outlier he placed 14th with 124 laps led. He owns the best average finish (5.5) and is riding a four-race top-three streak which includes three-straight runner-ups.
From one Kyle to another, it’s safe to say Kyle Busch is rounding into championship form. He’s tied for the most top-10s this season (eight) and has amassed six-in-a-row heading into Darlington with a 10.8 average (third-best) this year.
Busch last found victory lane at Darlington in 2008, but he’s been wildly consistent at the South Carolina track. He has a 65% top-10 rate, 725 laps led, a 12th-place average and only one DNF in 20 starts at the 1.366-mile venue. The No. 18 team has been lights out on pit road this season, which can be the difference-maker for the win on Sunday at a place where execution is key.
Martin Truex Jr. has been a bit of an enigma this season, but he’s been in a fairly long-term relationship with “The Lady in Black.” In the last five years (nine races), the former champion has two victories and six top-10s. He swept the Goodyear 400 last year, winning the race and both stages on top of leading a race-high 248 laps.
Collectively, Truex has 10 top-10s, 693 laps led and a 10.8 average finish. If history holds up, the driver of the No. 19 should have a potentially race-winning day in Darlington, but given his inconsistent season thus far, you may feel more comfortable betting on his teammate Busch instead.
Earning Their Stripes
It’s time to put up or shut up for Tyler Reddick. The “win is coming” talks have prolonged for two years and the two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion now sits 16th in the standings in a campaign where he could have multiple wins. The Goodyear 400 could be his best shot at a first-career victory and solidation of a postseason berth.
Reddick is seemingly always a contender for the win at Darlington with top-five speed, until something goes amiss. He finished seventh in his Cup debut at the 1.366-mile track, but also has 70 laps led, three top-10s and a runner-up in four Xfinity starts there. The bottom line is the 26-year-old has a knack for getting around “The Lady in Black” and should be considered a sleeper for the win.
Another driver who’s aggressive on-track prowess compliments Darlington is Ross Chastain. Off to the hottest start of his career, the Melon Man already has proven success in South Carolina. He placed third driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the most recent Cup event at the intermediate track and finished runner-up with a shot at the win in his last Xfinity attempt there. Plan on the driver of the No. 1 being a top-five car.
Times have been tough for Kevin Harvick, but a commendable day at Dover Motor Speedway could be a good omen for what’s to come at Darlington. Last week, the 2014 Champion extended his top-10 streak at the Monster Mile to eight in a season where he’s struggled, and he’ll look to do the same this Sunday. Heading to “The Lady in Black,” he’s riding an absurd 12-race top-10 stretch going back to 2013 with three wins, 10 top-fives and a 3.8 average in this span.
It doesn’t matter what the current season looks like, to have those ongoing stats for almost a decade at one of the most difficult tracks on the circuit should spell at least a top-10 run for Harvick in the Goodyear 400. His DFS value is a bargain this week and should almost be a lock for all lineups – just remember to check where he qualifies, as place differential is accounted for.
Note: Larson, Harvick, Reddick and Denny Hamlin got additional laps at Darlington with the Next Gen car during a tire test earlier this year. If experience is a premium as expected, these four drivers are some of the best to ever compete at “The Lady in Black” and should enter with an advantage.
Additionally, although another sub-top-10 finish won’t reflect it, Hamlin had arguably his best showing of the season at Dover last weekend. He has the most wins (four), nearly a 79% top-10 rate and second-best nods in laps led (744) and average finish (7.1) in 19 starts. The speed should be there for the No. 11, but the team will be without Chris Gabehart and two crew members due to suspensions handed out at Dover. This could be costly in their quest for a fifth victory.
DFS Price/Odds: Chastain $9,700 (+1400), Harvick $8,800 (+1600), Reddick $9,000 (+1800)
We can’t talk Darlington without Southern 500 winner Erik Jones. The speed has been there all season for the No. 43 camp, but the results are finally adding up with back-to-back top-10s entering his best track. He has six top-10s in eight starts and a third-best average of 10.1. Not only should the Petty GMS driver be a lock for all DFS lineups, but he’s worth placing a little money on as a sleeper for the victory.
Austin Dillon is another middle-tier DFS driver who you can build your lineup around. In addition to compiling an extremely consistent 2022 season, he’s been rock-solid as Darlington with a 12.2 average. The elder grandson of Richard Childress placed runner-up at the 1.366-mile track in 2020 and has completed all but two laps there.
Coming off a hard-fought 13th, Chase Briscoe could be worth gambling on for DFS lineups. He placed 11th in his Cup debut at Darlington and has a win with 100 laps led at the abrasive track in Xfinity.
Chris Buescher rounds out the value picks category as a bargain for DFS. The driver of the No. 17 qualified on the pole and placed eighth last week, entering a track where he’s riding back-to-back ninth-place finishes. He was 1-of-5 competitors to score top-10s in both Darlington races last year – Truex, Larson, Harvick and Hamlin being the others – and to be in the same breath as those four at this track is something to keep an eye on.
DFS Price/Odds: Briscoe $8,100 (+3000), A. Dillon $8,500 (+3000), Jones $7,700 (+4000), Buescher $6.900 (+4000)
Throw (them) Back!
Darlington has always been a track where Bubba Wallace has struggled and there’s no reason to believe his luck will change this weekend. He placed 21st in both races last season and has a best finish of 16th. He has an average of 23.7 in seven starts.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may be coming off a runner-up finish at Dover, but don’t expect carryover into South Carolina. In 12 starts, he completed every lap in only four races with a best finish of 12th in 2018 and a 24.1 average.
For the second consecutive week, Ryan Blaney surprisingly rounds out the drivers to consider staying away from. He only has one top-10 and a 19.3 average in 10 starts at Darlington and failed to finish on the lead-lap in half of his attempts.
DFS Price/Odds: Blaney $9,400 (+1200), Stenhouse $6,700 (+7500), Wallace $6,500 (+15000)
Big Money Prop Bets
Kyle Larson to place top-three +150
Tyler Reddick to place top-five +250
Race Winner (Smaller Bet) / DFS Inclusion Combo
Tyler Reddick +1800 ($9,000)
Erik Jones +4000 ($7,700)
For more in-depth an audial DFS analysis, check out The Money Stop on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anchor.