NASCAR Betting Guide: Toyota 500K at Darlington
In theory, Wednesday's NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington should look similar to Sunday's. It's almost the exact same list of drivers, and it's literally the same track. It's hard to get more aligned than that.
But there are several key differences between the two races, and those differences should influence the way we look to bet the Toyota 500K.
The first key difference comes from the name itself: Toyota 500K. Because this race is 500 kilometers instead of 400 miles, the race is scheduled to be 65 laps shorter than the one on Sunday. We're trimming the sample size to increase randomness and decreasing the amount of time drivers have to claw their way forward from the back of the pack.
That brings us to the second key difference: how the starting order was set. With no qualifying due to COVID-19, NASCAR has decided to set the starting order in two sets. The top 20 drivers from Sunday's race were inverted, meaning Sunday's winner -- Kevin Harvick (+350) -- will start 20th. Meanwhile, the driver who finished 20th -- Ryan Preece (+20000) -- will start first. The drivers who finished best on Sunday will be coming from the middle of the pack.
The rest of the field was set by where the drivers finished on Sunday, except with a few drivers moving up one spot with one less team entered in the field. So Kyle Busch (+750), Jimmie Johnson (+2000), and William Byron (+2200) -- all of whom had speed in Sunday's race but fell victim to one issue or another -- will start 26th or lower.
Normally, that wouldn't be a major issue because Cup Series races are long. Wednesday's race, though, is shorter than most at a track of Darlington's size. They also may have to contend with weather.
As of now, there's a decent chance of rain for Wednesday night in Darlington. NASCAR's procedure for rain is that once the race is either past the halfway point or through the second stage, the race is official and can be called at that time. Wednesday's race, then, would be official after lap 114.
This means the drivers starting further back could have as few as 114 laps to go from their starting spot to the front. It's certainly doable. Tyler Reddick (+5000) started 29th on Sunday, but he finished the first stage (at lap 90) in eighth position. You can make up ground in a hurry; you've just gotta have some giddy-up to do it.
It's always possible the race gets completely washed out on Wednesday night, in which case they'd run the full thing on Thursday. The rain could also just not come into play at all, which would allow them to run the full 228 laps, as well. But it's another factor to consider when deciding how to bet this race.
While that's a detriment for those starting in the back, it also opens up some betting opportunity closer to the front. With that in mind, who stands out based on the odds at FanDuel Sportsbook? Let's check it out.
Joey Logano (+1000)
Joey Logano actually opened at +850 and has since lengthened to +1000. Clearly, he hasn't generated much interest yet. But he is the driver who benefited most from the way the starting order was set.
Logano finished Sunday's race in 18th, which isn't great. It means he wasn't contending for the win, and when we have such recent data from the exact same track, we should put a lot of weight in it. That downgrades our expectations of Logano's speed. But it also means he gets to start third on Wednesday.
Before accounting for starting position, Logano ranks second in my model, trailing only Harvick. Only two other drivers in the top 10 of my model -- Logano's teammates, Brad Keselowski (+750) and Ryan Blaney (+2000) -- are slated to start within the first 13 positions. This means that Logano's going to have massive speed relative to the other drivers starting near the front. This could allow him to pull out early, grab solid track position and clean air, and rack up a bunch of laps led.
In such a short race, a scenario like that has a ton of value. Unlike Harvick, Busch, and most of the other top names, Logano doesn't have to work his way through traffic in order to get to the front. He'll already be there when the green flag drops. With Logano's odds being this long, we'd be wise to go against what we saw on Sunday and give Logano a tug for Wednesday.
Erik Jones (+1800)
There's a wave of drivers who were impressive on Sunday and will, thus, start in the middle of the pack on Wednesday. That wave begins with Martin Truex Jr. (+850) in 15th. Right before that wave, though, is Erik Jones in 13th. Jones is a former winner at Darlington, and he was good enough on Sunday for us to have faith in him at +1800.
Jones' Darlington win came last September, and it was far from a fluke. He led 79 laps and outran his teammate, Kyle Busch, down the stretch. Jones had a 10th-place average running position on Sunday, something he has now accomplished in all four career Cup Series race at the track.
With Jones starting 13th, he's going to be leading the charge of Sunday's fast cars to the front. If he can get there before drivers like Harvick, Alex Bowman (+750), and Kurt Busch (+1300), he'll be in a good spot to zoom out front and hold down favorable track position. His betting odds are also longer than the others in that tier behind him, making Jones a solid value at +1800 to potentially get his second Darlington win.
Clint Bowyer (+4200)
As mentioned when discussing Logano, only three drivers in the top 10 of my model are starting within the top 13 spots. That means Clint Bower is not in that top 10. Instead, the model has him 13th. But Bowyer had legitimate speed on Sunday and is starting fourth, and he could be another driver who could control the race early on.
Bowyer finished Sunday's race with a ninth-place average running position. That was tied for the fifth-best mark of any driver in the field, and you'd expect better than a 17th-place finish when that's the case.
In total, eight drivers had a top-10 average running position on Sunday. Bowyer is the only driver with betting odds longer than +1800 for Wednesday, and he's alllllllllll the way down at +4200. This is where data and watching the race can give us an edge; Bowyer's car was better than his finish would indicate, and it's allowing us to snag him at a discount.
Bowyer also has one advantage that Logano won't have: he's starting in the outside lane for the beginning of the race. As outlined on the Positive Regression Podcast with Alan Cavanna and David Smith, the outside line is the heavily preferred groove at Darlington. This is less true in the first few rows than it is further back, but Bowyer still has the edge over Logano even though he is technically starting one spot lower in the order.
Bowyer hasn't won since 2018, and he has just 10 career Cup Series wins in 510 races. There are reasons his odds are this long. But with how fast he was on Sunday and how advantageous his starting spot projects to be, we shouldn't be shocked if Bowyer bucks that losing streak on Wednesday.
Tyler Reddick (+5000)
Logano and Bowyer are starting on the same row. It's only fitting, then, that we should recommend Jones' rowmate in Tyler Reddick, who was the talk of the town on Sunday. It was for good reason.
Reddick started Sunday's race in 29th. As mentioned before, though, it didn't take him long to reach the front as he was eighth at the end of the opening stage on lap 90. He was one of the fastest drivers on the track at the end of that stage.
But on lap 156, Reddick was penalized for a tire violation during a pit stop and sent to the rear of the field. It meant he had to dig his way through traffic a second time.
Clearly, he did exactly that. Reddick finished seventh, which means he'll start 14th on Wednesday. As mentioned with Bowyer, this is an advantage because it will put him in the outside lane for the start of the race. We should view his starting position as being better than Jones' in the same row.
Reddick was +11000 entering Sunday's race, so it's probably unappealing to bet him at +5000. However, we saw him with elite speed on this very track just a couple days ago, and he's starting in a favorable spot. Reddick was a rim-riding specialist in the Xfinity Series, winning back-to-back championship races at Homestead and finishing in the top three twice at Darlington. This is a situation where we can trust what we saw on Sunday, and what we saw there was a dude who deserves to have odds shorter than +5000.