Betting news, trends, odds and predictions from various handicappers and websites for Friday 8/31/18
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August 29, 2018
By Micah Roberts
Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!
Throw some meats on the grill, grab a cold one and let's watch the Bojangles' Southern 500 together. It's a family tradition for most of us and it's been a NASCAR tradition at Darlington Raceway since 1950. Just two races remain until the green flag of the Playoffs drops in Las Vegas so for every driver currently outside of the top-16 in points, they've got two whacks at getting in by winning one the two, Sunday's race and next week at the Brickyard.
I don't believe we'll see a new winner in either race, but I am intrigued by a possible new winner next week at the Brickyard. Joe Gibbs Racing's Daniel Suarez, who sits 19th in points, has run extremely well of late. He's the teammate of Kyle Busch and last month at Pocono Raceway he had his best career Cup race starting from the pole and finishing second. The reason that's notable is that Pocono is the best comparison to Indianapolis due to long straights and flat tight turns (Pocono turn 3). Lots of horsepower is needed and he had plenty of it and should again next week. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has Suarez listed at 200/1 odds to win the championship, but there's probably better value by just betting Suarez to win at Indy at a 60/1 price.
As for this week at Darlington's 1.366-mile layout, I don't see any driver outside the top-16 winning, but I can easily see a winless driver on the season winning. There's a couple driver that have figured out this difficult track. All four turns around the track are different and the banking ranges from 23 to 25 degrees. They call it 'The Track Too Tough to Tame' and they also call it "The Lady in Black' who gives all drivers at some point in their career a Darlington Stripe which the rub on side of their car after smacking into the wall. No driver can avoid it. It happens to them all at some point no matter how hard they try.
“My first race and first stripe – that place chewed me up and spit me out," said Kurt Busch who won his first race of 2018 two weeks ago at Bristol. "I think I wrecked 20 times, kept bouncing off wall. I wore out the tires but kept going. I probably finished 40th my first time there. It really was an eye-opener on how tough NASCAR was going to be.”
Busch had an amazing battle with Ricky Craven in 2003 at Darlington. They bumped and banged, slipping and sliding all over the place battling for the lead in the final 10 laps. Craven finally took the lead by a bumper on the finish to lead his only lap of the race. Busch was runner-up and in still remains his best finish after 21 career starts. It's tough. Suarez found out last season as a rookie when Turn 1 found him quickly to end his day in 38th.
Clint Bowyer barely turned a few laps last year at Darlington before his engine died and forced him to finish dead last. He doesn't have a single top-five in 12 starts on the track that really is too tough to tame for him.
“I like the uniqueness of the track," said Bowyer. "I’ve struggled to have good finishes there but we’ve always raced well. We just can’t seem to seal the deal at the end. Something always goes haywire in the end but, sooner or later, we are going to overcome that and have a good weekend.”
Expect to see all the drivers that have done well on the 1.5-mile tracks do well at Darlington, but the Lady in Black adds a bit of a wild card that should create more drama than we've seen on any other 1.5-mile track. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have each won three times on 1.5s and Martin Truex Jr. has one win.
They truly are "The Big-3."
Truex won at Darlington in 2016, Harvick won there in 2014 and Kyle Busch won there in 2008. Of the three, Truex has the best average finish at 11.3 over 12 starts.
“It’s getting close to show time and we’re going to scratch, claw and grind for every playoff point,” Truex said of the upcoming playoffs. “You can’t leave anything on the table.”
Expect Truex to be good again this week. And the same can be said for Harvick who will be using his winning Atlanta chassis that led 181 of 325 laps in February. Since moving to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014 he's been on the Darlington pole in three of four starts and averaged a 4.2 finish. His first career win there in 2014 came just before winning his first career Cup Championship.
Kyle Busch leads all active drivers with 598 laps led at Darlington, but there's quite a gap in wins since 2008. He dominated the 2013 race with 265 laps led and finished runner-up. He's had finishes of 11th or better in eight straight races but has only had the best car once over that span which is unusual for him, especially his last three seasons.
The best active driver at Darlington has been Denny Hamlin with a 5.83 average finish that includes two wins, the last coming last season. He's led a lap in the past four races there and The Lady in Black appears to have some serious affection for him, or at least she's been the nicest to him. Hamlin could use some of that love as he's searching for his first win of the season. He's had at least one in every season of his Cup career since his rookie season in 2006. This could be his spot.
Another driver that has won every year of his career except this season is Jimmie Johnson who has three Darlington wins, but none on Labor Day weekend. Chevrolet is gaining speed and it's perfect timing with the Playoffs starting soon. Johnson is a seven-time Cup Champion and the Westgate has him 40/1 to win his eighth title this season. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook posted him at 100/1 odds, his highest odds ever at Darlington.
The Lady treated Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott rudely in his first start there in 2015 with a 41st-place finish. But then he finished 10th in 2016 and 11th last year. He's a definite wild card possibility this week.
“It’s just a tough place," Elliott said. "There are a lot of things that make it tough. Running up by the wall is a difficult thing to do there. The racetrack is just so worn out, tough to run up there all night and not hit it. Nowadays if you hit the wall at all with these cars, it really can destroy your day – tough thing to do. Then obviously racing from the daylight to the dark and that it is a long race in general, too. A lot of challenges come with it, but we will just try to hit them head on.”
Elliott has finished in the top-10 of his last five races heading into Sunday's race, which includes his first career Cup win at Watkins Glen. He's 25/1 to win this week.
Kyle Larson has shown some speed in his Chevrolet as well and is searching for his first win of the season. He's fared well at Darlington with an 8.7 average finish in four starts. His best finish was third in 2016, but it was last season that saw him lead 124 laps before finishing 14th. He's led laps in his last three starts there.
Some of the best value on the board might be Kurt Busch and Erik Jones, both listed at 18/1 odds. Jones is a sweet run of finishing fifth in three of his past four starts heading in. Busch is still partying after his Bristol win and carries that momentum in addition to his third-place run at Darlington last season.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
2) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
4) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (7/2)
5) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/2)
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Best Bets - Darlington
September 1, 2018
By Dan Dobish
Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS heads to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles Southern 500. The green flag will drop at 6:00 p.m. ET and the race is televised on NBC Sports Network.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin (6/1) is the defending champion at Darlington, averaging a 132.761 mph speed last season en route to his second checkered flag at 'The Lady in Black'. He posted a top speed of 173.571 in qualify to take the pole for Sunday's race, so he is primed and ready to try and repeat his victory on Sunday evening under the lights. NASCAR's Loop Data shows him listed in second place with a 111.4 Driver Rating across the past five starts at Darlington, running out in front for the pack 197 times while running 98.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, third-best among all drivers during the span. He leads all drivers with a 5.8 Average Finish Position (AFP) in 12 career starts, winning twice while posting seven Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with 551 laps led. His worst finish is 19th, so he'll be a highly-coveted driver at both the betting window and for DFS players this weekend.
As expected, Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (5/2) is among the favorites and he is ready to make noise at 'The Track Too Tough to Tame'. Yeah, Darlington has THAT many nicknames. Harvick has rattled off five consecutive Top 10 finishes at the South Carolina run, including a victory in the 2014 race. He slipped to ninth last season at Darlington, but Loop Data shows him No. 1 in Driver Rating (125.9) across the past five starts with 518 laps led, including 186 fastest laps. He has also run a whopping 99.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, so he'll be a slam-dunk selection at the betting window. He hasn't always dominated at the track, as he has just one win with six Top 5s in 21 career starts with a rather paltry 15.3 AFP. However, as mentioned above, he has figured out lately, and that's what matters most. He is set to go off from the 22nd position, too, so DFS players will flock to him since he'll likely rack up plenty of Place-Different points.
It's now or never for Hendrick Motorsports driver and seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (66/1). Vegas doesn't think much of the chance for the No. 48 machine, as he is considered a long shot. My, how the mighty have fallen. He could conceivably miss the Chase this season if things break a certain way, and he can officially punch his ticket with a win. He has snagged the checkered flag three times before at Darlington, posting a strong 10.5 AFP in 19 career starts, second-best among all drivers with at least five career starts under their belt. Like Hamlin, J.J. has led the pack for 551 career laps while finishing outside of the Top 20 on just three occasions. DFS players might find value in Johnson this week since he is in the doldrums. Johnson goes off 20th on Sunday.
Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. (7/2) is just two years removed from his first-career win at Darlington. He has been a quick study at the difficult oval, which races more like a short track. In 12 career starts he has two Top 5s, six Top 10s and 11 of his starts have resulted in a Top 20 finish. His worst-ever finish was 27th in the 2014 race. He ranks third among all active drivers with an 11.3 AFP, so MTJ will again be a popular choice at the window and for fantasy players. He ranks sixth in Driver Rating (103.9) across the past five starts at the run.
The JGR stable of drivers will be highly coveted this weekend. In addition to the pole sitter Hamlin, all eyes are always on Kyle Busch (13/4). Rowdy has been 11th or better in each of his past eight starts at Darlington, and he has an impressive 5.8 AFP over his past 10 stops at the track. He hasn't done the celebratory burnout since taking checkers at the Dodge Avenger 500 back in May 2008 in Darlington, but he is always a threat. In 13 career runs he has eight Top 10s while leading 598 laps with a 12.0 AFP. The track just seems to fit Busch's temperament, and he is a great choice for both bettors and DFS players.
Also in the JGR stable, Erik Jones (16/1) made his Cup debut with a fifth-place finish at Darlington a year ago. Jones is a driver low on experience, but one which has quickly risen to the occasion and been a quick study. Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (7/2) is also in the same boat. He has just four-career Cup starts under his belt in Darlington, but he has never finished lower than 14th. He hasn't won, but he has led 172 laps with three Top 10 finishes and a stellar 8.8 AFP. There is something about Darlington which scratches that itch for Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon (150/1), too. The driver of the No. 3 machine has four Cup starts under his belt, finishing inside the Top 20 on three occasions. While he has never led a lap at Darlington, Dillon has a strong 12.3 AFP and is a value play for DFS players.
Dillon's RCR teammate, Ryan Newman (100/1) always seems to be lurking at Darlington, too. He has never been to Victory Lane at the track, but he has 19 career starts under his belt with a strong 11.7 AFP, fourth-best among all active drivers with at least five starts. The 'Rocket Man' has finished outside of the Top 10 on just six occasions, so Darlington is undoubtedly one of his favorite tracks. Another underrated driver might be Leavine Family Racing's Kasey Kahne (1000/1). This will be Kahne's final appearance at Darlington, at least as a full-time driver, as he has announced his intentions to retire. While he won't likely challenge for a victory, he could easily exceed his low DFS salary expectations. He has 15 career starts at Darlington, posting 353 laps led with three Top 5s, five Top 10s and a solid 15.7 AFP.
It's never a good idea to forget about the Penske Racing drivers, and Ryan Blaney (16/1), Brad Keselowski (16/1) and Joey Logano (25/1) all represent value. Blaney has had struggles at the trackduring his brief Cup experiences, posting a 13th-place finish sandwiched around a pair of Top 30 mishaps. At the same price, Keselowski is a much better play. He has never won in nine career tries at Darlington, but his 12.5 AFP and 250 laps led suggest he could make a move. He'll go off from the No. 13 spot in Sunday's starting grid. Logano qualified in the eighth position, and he looks to improve on his 18.3 AFP in nine career starts. He has never won at Darlington, while leading just four Top 10s with 85 laps led.
Not eveyone enjoys their Darlington experience, and those you should avoid include Paul Menard (150/1) and his dismal 24.1 AFP in 11 career starts, as well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (150/1) and his 24.6 AFP in five career Cup races at the track. For whatever reason, SHR's Clint Bowyer (18/1) has struggled at the track which seems to suit him. In 12 career starts he has a 21.7 AFP with just one Top 10 finish and 16 career laps led. Bowyer was so-so in qualifying, too, as he'll start from the 17th position on Sunday. Kurt Busch (18/1) is also lurking in the weeds as a moderate betting choice. He has never won at Darlington in 21 career tries, posting a 17.4 AFP with 13 Top 20s and 266 laps led. He was third at the race last season, so he has some sleeper potential.
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