NASCAR Cookout Southern 500 best bets, simulation

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After a wild 26-race regular season in the NASCAR Cup Series, the playoffs open with a 500-mile race at Darlington Raceway, one of the circuit’s oldest and most tradition-laden tracks. With nicknames like “The Lady in Black” and known as the track “too tough to tame”, this week’s race will be a big test for not only the 16 playoff eligible drivers, but for the entire field as well.

Typically at Darlington, the more carefully aggressive drivers are known to do well. Rookies and most younger drivers are apt to make overaggressive mistakes here. In most cases, these guys end up with their cars sporting “Darlington stripes”, a term for the mark left on a car after htting the wall out of this track’s very difficult turns. It is almost impossible to leave 367 laps at Darlington without some sort of scuffs or further damage. That is what the field will be up against on Sunday night in the running of NASCAR’s Labor Day weekend tradition, the Cookout Southern 500.

I have put together an entirely different piece handicapping the playoff field and the odds associated with the series title. I’ve also offered my round-by-round predictions in that piece so be sire to find it in the VSiN.com NASCAR betting section. For this piece I will only be handicapping the Darlington race.

Cookout Southern 500 Statistical Breakdown

The field raced here in May and Joey Logano was the winner, leading 107 of the 293 laps that night. He was also the top rated driver for that race, scoring a 138.5 on NASCAR’s grading scale. That was a full 32 points better than anyone else in the field, so he should be a factor this week as well. Other drivers that ran well in that race were Tyler Reddick, who finished 2nd, as well as Ross Chastain, William Byron, and Christopher Bell, all of whom finished with driver ratings in excess of 100.

In terms of my “handicap” ratings, the track & designation ratings are the exact same for Darlington, as there is no other track like it in the series. These are the my top five drivers in track/designation rating:

  1. Martin Trues – 126.3
  2. Kyle Larson – 125.2
  3. Joey Logano – 115.4
  4. Denny Hamlin – 112.3
  5. William Byron – 105.6

Of those drivers, only Truex is not a playoff competitor, but he still should be a factor on Sunday, assuming of course he and his team are still anxious to compete for the rest of the season after barely missing the playoff cut.

In terms of my Recent Ratings, this is the top 5 heading into Darlington:

  1. Chase Elliott – 112.6
  2. Kyle Larson – 96.9
  3. Denny Hamlin – 93.8
  4. Ross Chastain – 93.3
  5. Tyler Reddick – 92.3

All five of these drivers are in the hunt for the championship still, and Elliott is a big favorite, largely due to his recent performance.

Final Simulation Results/My Predictions

My initial simulation run on Tuesday prior to practice and qualifying on Saturday showed Kyle Larson as the predicted winner for Darlington, followed by Truex, Logano, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch.

Saturday’s practice session was won by Austin Cindric, followed by William Byron & Erik Jones. Martin Truex had the best 10-lap practice pace with Ross Chastain & Cindric a touch slower. A little later, in qualifying, Joey Logan earned the pole for Sunday’s race, followed by Christopher Bell & Byron.

After updating the initial simulation with Saturday’s practice and qualifying results, my final simulation showed this top 5:

  1. Joey Logano
  2. Martin Truex
  3. William Byron
  4. Kyle Larson
  5. Denny Hamlin

These were the biggest movers from the initial simulation:

Bubba Wallace (in the 45 car) + 8 spots

Michael McDowell + 6 spots

Erik Jones + 6 spots

Chase Elliott -6 spots

Chris Buescher -6 spots

Ty Gibbs -5 spots

Drivers projected higher on simulation than usual: Logano (1), Truex (2) Cindric (10)

Drivers projected lower on simulation than usual: Elliott (12), Suarez (22), Briscoe (28)

My final Darlington predictions:

1. Byron

2. Truex

3. Larson

4. Bell

5. Logano

Longshot driver(s): Cindric

Driver(s) to fade: Harvick

This is a tough race to start the playoffs as it is long event and a real challenge physically and mentally for the drivers. Darlington receives a Handicap-Ability Grade of C +. Other races down the line will prove more predictable, but this is always one of the more entertaining races of the season and thus worth a few wagers while you’re watching it.

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