Who will become the first driver to clinch a spot in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs?
Sunday’s race at Darlington (6 p.m. ET, NBC) kicks off the 10-race NASCAR playoffs and Martin Truex Jr. opens as both the favorite to win the 2023 Cup Series title and to win the first race of the postseason. Truex is +500 to win Sunday night and +425 to win his second Cup title.
The top eight favorites are all playoff drivers and 14 of the top 15 favorites are all in the postseason. Only Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+6600) and Michael McDowell (+10000) can be considered true long shots to win Sunday night among the 16 playoff drivers.
If you need a refresher on the NASCAR playoffs, here’s how it works. The field is whittled down from 16 to four over three three-race rounds. A win automatically advances a driver to the next round and the remaining spots are filled out by the points standings. Bonus points carry over from round to round — a driver with an excellent first two rounds can add to his starting tally for the third round.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that a non-playoff driver could win Sunday night. Erik Jones won a season ago at Darlington as the first three races of the playoffs were won by drivers who didn’t qualify for the postseason. And with Chase Elliott at +1300 to win on Sunday, don’t be surprised if he’s the driver who plays spoiler.
Here’s what you need to know to bet Sunday’s race.
Martin Truex Jr. (+500)
Kyle Larson (+550)
William Byron (+700)
Denny Hamlin (+850)
Ross Chastain (+1100)
Kyle Busch (+1100)
Christopher Bell (+1100)
Truex’s recent Darlington luck has been pretty rotten. After winning and finishing fourth in 2021, he’s finished 24th, 31st and 31st over his last three races thanks to two crashes and a water pump issue. Larson has five top fives and seven top-10 finishes in 11 Darlington starts but hasn’t gotten a win. Byron won the spring race at Darlington and has three top-five finishes but a 16.8 average finish in 10 starts.
Hamlin is consistently excellent at Darlington and should be considered the favorite in our eyes. He has four wins, 12 top-five finishes and 16 top 10s in 22 starts. His average finish is 7.7 and three of those four races have come in the fall.
Chastain has just one top-five finish in eight Darlington starts and has never finished better than 20th in his Trackhouse career. Kyle Busch has a win and 14 top 10s in 23 starts while Bell has a top five and two top 10s in eight starts.
Good mid-tier value
Joey Logano (+1600)
Chris Buescher (+1800)
Logano has a win and six top fives in 19 starts. Buescher has just three top 10s in 12 starts but was 10th in the spring. And do you want to count him out at this point? We don’t.
Don’t bet this driver
Wallace’s odds are a bit too short for our liking, though there are reasons for Darlington optimism. His two top-10 finishes have come in his last two starts and he was fifth in the spring after starting second.
Looking for a long shot?
The defending winner at 40-1 is always a good value play. However, it’s worth noting that Jones’ other four finishes at Darlington in the 43 car are all 18th or worse.