NASCAR Betting Guide: Cook Out Southern 500

For this week's Cook Out Southern 500, we've got ourselves a dilemma.

It's obvious that the two favorites are Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. They won the first two races at Darlington this year, and they've lit the field on fire ever since. Straight up, they're the drivers to beat.

But if you want to bet them, you've gotta pay the piper. Harvick is the favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook at +280, and Hamlin is +310. Ain't no discounts in these lands.

Not only does that make it tough to bet those two, but it is also something we have to consider when looking at other outrights. If that driver's going to win, they have to unseat Harvick and Hamlin.

So, after we account for this, which drivers stand out for betting Sunday's race at Darlington? Let's check it out.

Brad Keselowski (+1200)

As mentioned, if we want to bet a non-Harvick or Hamlin driver, they need to have the upside to top those two guys. Brad Keselowski has proven this year he can do that.

Keselowski is third in the Cup Series in wins this year with three, and he's fourth in the series in laps led. He out-dueled Hamlin head-to-head in New Hampshire for the win, so we know he can defeat the giants. We've seen him do it at this track, too.

Keselowski won the Southern 500 back in 2018, the beginning of a streak where he has finished in the top five in three of the past four races here. In the one non-top-five, Keselowski led 80 laps and had a sixth-place average running position before slipping to 13th. He consistently puts himself in position to capitalize late in races, and that's valuable.

In Keselowski, you get a driver who blends form and track history and has proven this year he can defeat the titans. He'll start the race in fifth position. He seems to have the sauce necessary to get us to bet against Harvick and Hamlin in this spot.

Kyle Busch (+1400)

Kyle Busch doesn't check the "prove you can beat Harvick and Hamlin" box. He has won just one race since last June, and that win wasn't in 2020. Based on this data, he's a tough sell for an outright.

Some underlying data, though, points toward this potentially being the weekend that Busch breaks through.

Within the past nine races, Busch has wrecked three times. That's not exactly ideal. But in the six races he has finished, he has four top-five finishes. Those top-fives have come on three different track types, so this little improved stretch should translate to Darlington. In the current form section of my model, Busch ranks third in the entire field.

We also saw Busch flash upside the first two races at Darlington. In the second race, Busch started 26th. Despite that, he worked his way through the pack and finished second behind Hamlin. It was his third top-five in the past five Darlington races, and he even led 118 laps after starting 33rd last year.

It takes a bit of a leap of faith to bet Busch as an outright with how he has performed this year. With that said, things have been looking better recently, his team dominates this track, and you're getting Busch at a discount. That should be enough to get us to bite.

Alex Bowman (+3100)

There's a reason Alex Bowman's odds are this long. He has just three top-fives and eight top-10s the entire season, and that's not going to hold a candle to other drivers in this field. But this type of track seems to suit Bowman's strengths.

Bowman's win this year came in Fontana, which is a track where tire wear is massive. Darlington falls into the same bucket. It should be no surprise, then, that Bowman finished runner-up in the first Darlington race, leading 41 laps. He had a third-place average running position there, and he followed it up with an eighth-place average running position in the second race.

We know Bowman can do well here. The question is whether his form is bad enough to cross him off the list.

It helps that Bowman has started to spring back to life recently. He was fifth in Dover and seventh in Daytona. Those tracks don't directly translate to Darlington, but it's good to see him closing out races.

That has been the major issue for Bowman this year: finishing the deal. He has just one top-10 finish on 1.5-mile tracks for the season even though he has had a top-13 average running position in all eight of them and has threatened to win three times. Darlington shares characteristics with those tracks and adds in the tire wear factor. With Bowman starting fourth, he's got a good chance to right the ship and open the playoffs with a bang.

Clint Bowyer (+4700)

Like Bowman, Clint Bowyer has long odds, is starting near the front, and runs well on this track type. That's a lot of boxes to check at +4700.

Bowyer enters this weekend with three straight top-10 average running positions at Darlington. One of those was in the second Darlington race this spring.

In that one, Bowyer started fourth after a poor finish in the opening race. But because he started near the front, Bowyer was able to grab the lead, run out front for 71 laps, and win the opening two stages. He -- once again -- couldn't put together a full race, but we know the speed will be there.

Bowyer added a seventh-place average running position in Atlanta earlier in the year, another track with heavy tire wear. He'll start the race in ninth. That's not quite as close to the front as he was earlier this year, but Bowyer's got the equipment necessary to claim a win. At these odds, that's kinda all you can ask for.