Written by Chris Kubala
NASCAR burst back onto the scene in a big way Sunday with the Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. The telecast of the race drew in 6.32 million viewers, which was a massive 38 percent increase over the ratings for the FanShield 500 at Phoenix back on March 8. That was the last race before everything was paused thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that race, Kevin Harvick picked up his second career win at Darlington by cruising to a 2.154-second win over Alex Bowman.
In case that wasn’t enough action for you after two-plus months of nothing on the track, don’t fret. The NASCAR circuit comes back to you live with the Toyota 500, weather permitting, Wednesday night at 7:30 pm ET from The Track Too Tough to Tame once again. With no qualifying in place, the starting grid was set by inverting the field’s finish from Sunday’s race. The top 20 finishers will start from a spot that is the opposite of where they finished. That means Harvick will start 20th while Bowman will start 19th. By comparison, Ryan Preece, who finished 20th, will start from the pole here. That similar flip happens in the back half of the field, meaning Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who crashed on the opening lap and finished last, will start 21st.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best options for attempting to cash in for the second run at Darlington this week. All odds for the bets, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of DraftKings.
Kevin Harvick to Finish in the Top Five (-143): Harvick won Sunday here but it can be a challenge to prevail in back to back races, especially on a track as challenging as Darlington. He still is going off as the favorite here as VegasInsider.com has him at +350 odds. Having to start from the middle of the field will be a factor but the fact remains that Harvick has had a lot of success at Darlington in his career. Harvick has finished in the top nine at Darlington in each of his last nine runs at the track. He’s been in the top five in that stretch eight times, in the top four five times and has won twice. You have to lean toward him turning in another solid outing here.
Erik Jones to Finish in the Top Ten (-134): Jones doesn’t have a lengthy track record on the NASCAR circuit but he has been terrific at Darlington in his career. He’s raced four times and Darlington and logged a top-eight finish in all four races. Jones has finished eighth, first, eighth and fifth in his four runs here. The fact that he moved up from the 20th spot on the starting grid to finish eighth Sunday is a good sign that he’s capable of making a run. This time, he’ll start 13th, so he’ll be closer to the front. Look for him to finish in the top 10 and continue his success here.
Denny Hamlin to Finish in the Top Five (+125): Hamlin has had a lot of success at the track, winning twice, finishing in the top-five eight times and in the top-10 12 times in 15 races. He turned in a fifth-place finish on Sunday and continued his success on the track. Hamlin never got over the bump to take a run at the lead but he was quietly consistent. On a track like this, sometimes that’s all you need in order to turn in a solid finish. Given the fact that he has raced well on the track and his solid showing in Sunday’s race, you have to lean toward him finishing in the top five again here.
John H. Nemechek to Finish Ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-134): Nemechek turned in a surprising solid finish in the race Sunday as he recorded a ninth-place showing. That marked the first top-10 finish of his short NASCAR Cup Series career as that was his eighth start on the circuit. On the flip side, Stenhouse Jr. couldn’t even complete the opening lap before crashing. His turn two wipeout on the opening lap left a bitter taste in his mouth as he finished last by a wide margin. Based on that showing, it would take more for me to have any faith in what he brings to the table at this stage of things.
William Byron to Finish Ahead of Jimmie Johnson (-112): Both racers had tough showings in Sunday’s race. Johnson held the lead near the end of stage 1 before wiping out on lap 89 and finishing 38th in the race. Byron had a flat tire and crashed on lap 110 en route to a 35th-place finish. Both guys were among the six drivers to hold the lead during the race Sunday and will start near the start of the field. Johnson will start third while Byron starts sixth. This one is a gut call but Byron should be better than he was on Sunday to end up a couple spots ahead of Johnson when all is said and done.
Kurt Busch to Win (+1400): Busch finished third on Sunday as he outshined his brother Kyle, who finished 26th. He has finished in the top seven four straight times and in five of his last six runs at Darlington. While he didn’t lead a lap in Sunday’s race, he was right there pushing Harvick and Bowman throughout the race. Having that experience and having had time to make minor adjustments, his team might be able to pull one out here and potentially steal a win to log his first victory of the year.
Matt Kenseth to Finish Best in Group D (+230): Kenseth turned in a better than expected showing in his first race in more than a year and a half. He finished 10th in the race driving the 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing taking over for the fired Kyle Larson. Ryan Blaney, who finished 16th, Clint Bowyer, who was 17th, and Tyler Reddick, who was a surprising seventh in his second top-10 finish in seven NASCAR Cup racers, are the rest of the group here. It’s hard to put much stock in Reddick given his limited track record. Bowyer has finished in the top-10 just twice in his 15 races and he’s led just one lap here since 2007. Blaney hasn’t finished better than 13th in six races here. That’s enough to give Kenseth the advantage.