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Kevin Harvick, of the #4 Busch Light Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 19, 2023 in Watkins Glen, NY.   Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images via AFP.  NASCAR
Kevin Harvick, of the #4 Busch Light Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on Aug. 19, 2023 in Watkins Glen, NY. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images via AFP

The NASCAR Cup Series begins its postseason on Sunday with a crown jewel race under the lights at Darlington. Get prepped for the action with our Cook Out Southern 500 picks and predictions based on the best available NASCAR odds from our best sports betting apps.

The NASCAR Cup Series certainly knows how to kick things off with a bang. The sport’s biggest race begins its annual season schedule, and this could be the second most notable serving as the playoff opener. The historic Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is the first test awaiting the 16 drivers who qualified to race for a championship. 

Several playoff drivers were victims of carnage in this race a year ago. That enabled Erik Jones to go on and win the Southern 500 outright, the first of three straight postseason races won by non-playoff drivers. When NASCAR raced here in the spring of this year, William Byron was victorious. 

Few tracks are as difficult and demanding as Darlington. With two completely different ends, an aged surface that eats tires like no other and a unique 1.33-mile length, it's well-deserving of its nickname, “The Track Too Tough to Tame”. Typically, drivers who are best able to take care of their tires and equipment while balancing setup and adjustments between the two distinct turns are the ones who find success. 

Here are our best bets and 2023 Cook Out Southern 500 picks for Sunday night’s playoff opener at Darlington Raceway (odds via our best sports betting sites; pick confidence based on a 1-to-5-star scale).

Cook Out Southern 500 best bets

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Cook Out Southern 500 odds

Martin Truex Jr. +500+550 🔥+500+500+500
Kyle Larson+500+490 ❄️+525+500+550 🔥
William Byron+750+750+750+750+800 🔥
Denny Hamlin+800+750+800+750+800
Ross Chastain+1000+950+1100 🔥+850+650 ❄️
Kyle Busch+1100+1200+1100+1100+1200
Christopher Bell+1200+1100+1100+1100+1200
Tyler Reddick+1300+1300+1400 🔥+1000 ❄️+1200
Chase Elliott+1600+1700 🔥+1600+1600+1600
Brad Keselowski+1600+1400 ❄️+1700 🔥+1600+1600

Cook Out Southern 500 predictions

Outright winner: Kevin Harvick (+2000 via SuperBook) ⭐⭐

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Kevin Harvick will win a race in this, his final season as a NASCAR Cup Series driver. Could it be destined to happen at a track where he's thrived over the course of his Hall of Fame career? The betting market doesn’t seem to think so, and the resulting value is simply too good to pass up as our outright selection.

So, just how awesome has Harvick been at Darlington? In 2014, he won his very first start here for Stewart-Haas Racing. Entering Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, Harvick is on an incredible 15-race streak that includes three total wins, 12 top-5s and 14 top-10s! Only in this race a year ago did he fail to uphold his pedigree due to a build-up of tire rubber catching fire late in the race when his brakes were naturally quite hot.

Harvick’s 6.3 average finish spanning the last 10 races at Darlington is more than two positions better than any other driver. In eight starts dating back through 2020, his average driver rating of 103.2 ranks behind only Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. His two wins, six top-5s and seven top-10s over that same recent span are either tied for or lead all drivers.

In terms of pricing, the No. 4 car is hardly considered the favorite to win Sunday’s playoff opener. However, no shop offer as much value on “The Closer” as SuperBook, which has him priced at 20-1 entering the weekend. Other outlets list Harvick’s outright odds as low as 15-1. 

At a track where he's always a threat, 20-1 is a number straight out of a dream. Thanks to the price, this is a rare two-star outright winner play.

Driver matchup: Kyle Busch (+110 via SuperBook) vs. Ross Chastain ⭐⭐⭐⭐

These days, it's hard to believe Ross Chastain was the top driver in points standings for several weeks earlier this season. Lately, the entire Trackhouse Racing organization was on the struggle bus. Since winning the Ally 400 to lock himself in the playoffs, Chastain only mustered a single top-10 over the course of nine races.

Given his recent struggles, it’s a bit peculiar to find him priced as a bonafide contender at several sportsbooks ahead of the Cook Out Southern 500. The respect granted to him in the outright odds is also reflected in various prop markets including this driver head-to-head where Chastain is a -130 favorite over Kyle Busch.

Busch didn’t exactly close the regular season in elite form, either. However, he was much better than Chastain down the stretch, with three top-5s and an additional top-10 in the nine races since Nashville. “Rowdy” is way ahead of “The Melon Man” when it comes to historical Darlington stats as well.

In the last 10 races here, Busch amassed three top-3s and six total top-10s including a seventh-place run in his first start at Darlington for Richard Childress Racing in the spring. By comparison, Chastain only finished better than 15th once in eight total Cup Series starts here. Five of those eight starts saw him finish 28th or worse.

What more motivation do you need to place this bet when recent form and track stats both align in favor of Busch as the plus-money underdog? Other shops list Chris Buescher as a plus-money dog head-to-head against Chastain, but the +110 return on Busch at SuperBook marks the market's best value.

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Group B matchup: Denny Hamlin (+225 via bet365) vs. Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick ⭐⭐

For as impressive as the Darlington stats for Kevin Harvick were, Denny Hamlin isn’t too far behind. In the eight races here dating back to 2020, Hamlin won outright twice and finished in the top-5 on three other occasions. Only once over that span did he finish worse than 13th.

Given his track record at “The Lady in Black”, there’s no denying Hamlin has the credibility of being a Group A driver this week. While DraftKings, FanDuel and SuperBook all placed him in their respective top-flight group matchup, the same can't be said of bet365. Hamlin may be the favorite to win Group B at bet365, but because he's not in the top group makes this a prop worth investigating. 

Joining Hamlin in this four-man group matchup are Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick. All three drivers experienced some success at Darlington. Busch had the most of the three. However, none came close to matching Hamlin’s consistency over the years.

Hamlin is the favorite to win this matchup at +225, and this is the exact same price that bet365 and some other sportsbooks list him to score a top-3 finish. Betting on the No. 11 car to simply beat four other drivers (despite all being playoff contenders) is a much more favorable wager than betting on him to be among the top three finishers in the race overall.

Cook Out Southern 500 race info

  • Date: Sunday, Sept. 3, 6 p.m. ET
  • Location: Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC
  • How to watch: USA Network
  • Defending winner: Erik Jones

Southern 500 picks made 9/1/23 at 4:32 p.m. ET

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