NASCAR Darlington 400 Preview & Predictions

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford. Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/AFP

Often when you tell people that you handicap NASCAR, people laugh. Many people think it’s impossible to successfully handicap the variables. WRONG. The combination of pre-race looks and live betting value is what made me so successful betting on this sport last season. Weekend specific data is mandatory when betting on NASCAR.

The Real Heroes 400

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Darlington Raceway, South Carolina

The pandemic has altered my normal betting strategy. For the next few races, we will have no data. The drivers will not participate in qualifying and practice sessions this week at Darlington Motor Speedway. Things will not be back to normal until The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway next weekend. That’s the race that NASCAR decided to resume “normal’ race week schedule and procedures.

Let’s start with how we should bet this weekend, and then we can transition into how we should handicap motorsports in “normal” times. If you are making prerace bets this weekend, do not bet substantial amounts of money. You wouldn’t fire a gun blindfolded, would you? We have no lap times, no consecutive lap averages, and we have no idea who put down the fastest lap at Darlington because there are no qualifying or practice sessions.

Prerace Drivers to Watch

Experience should be the rule of thumb on Sunday considering the circumstances surrounding this week are unprecedented. What drivers have been familiar with this track for a while, and of those veteran drivers who has had success here? Chances are the Pit Crews will use their best setup from the 2019 Darlington race when the green flag drops on Sunday. If that’s the case, look towards drivers that finished in the top 10 the last two years at Darlington. It’s only logical that the drivers that finished well, had the best setup, right?

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick is one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history. In the last few years, his car has been special every week. His move to Stewart Haas Racing has paid off in spades, and he will be hard to beat on Sunday, in theory. Five of the last six years, Kevin Harvick has finished in the top 5 at Darlington. That is as dominant as it gets over that stretch, including a 4th place finish the last two years. If veterans are the way to go, Harvick is a great prerace look.

Kyle Bush

Kyle Busch, who many consider being the best driver in the sport, has also had recent success at Darlington. Victory has escaped Busch at this track, but he has finished in the top 8, seven of the last eight years. You always know you have the car to win when you race Joe Gibbs Racing, and Busch will be a threat this weekend. The issue with these veterans that have won NASCAR Cup Championships, is the short price. Often times, it’s not worth betting short numbers because there are so many variables when 40 drivers are racing at 200 mph inches from each other. However, the cream often rises to the top in stock car racing, and that could be the case for Kyle Busch on Sunday.

  • Kyle Busch (+500)

Team Penske

Roger Penske has had a strong race team this decade, and this year is no different. He has two Cup champions and one of the best young drivers in the sport. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are elite drivers in this sport. Keselowski won a Cup championship in 2012 and has knocked on the door multiple times since then. Joey Logano won the 2019 Cup championship. It was his first chip, but he’s a contender every year. Both these drivers are notorious for not taking any s**t on the track. They will move you out of the way if you are too slow. Sometimes you love them, but oftentimes you hate them. These are two more veterans that should be able to deal with the chaos of this week. They are both the same price at Bookmaker and worth a serious look.

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Combos Toyota. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/AFP

In-Game Racing Strategy

This is how I bet NASCAR. I think most of the value when betting on NASCAR is LIVE Betting. The benefit of knowing how your car is running late in a race and being able to bet that edge accordingly is invaluable. The prices might not be as good, but the winning percentage is dramatically higher. Seventy percent of my bets in a NASCAR season are live bets. The pandemic has made live betting that much more important.

You need data to bet this sport, but we have none this weekend. Unless you are comfortable with using last year’s data for this race, but I am NOT. I will watch the first 60% of this race. By doing that we will know what driver has put down the fastest lap time, and what drivers have the best consecutive lap averages. On top of that, track position is king the closer a race gets to completion. These benefits can not be passed up. Watching the sporting events that you bet on is important if you plan on LIVE Betting. Remember… look at the data from the race, and for the value on the board. If you do that, you should be successful.

Some prerace bullet points for what data you should be looking at, when the world goes back to normal:

First Practice / Final Practice Times: This tells you how fast the car was on it’s fastest lap in both practices, how it improved, and how well they did compared to the other drivers.

Consecutive Lap Averages*: This is my favorite metric. This gives you the most realistic look at how your car will perform at the start of the race. 10 and 20 lap averages are what I look at. The driver with the fastest 20 lap average in Final Practice, should have the best car at the start of the race. However, that is just at the start. When the track temperature changes, so does the handling and performance of the car. This is a good gauge but should not be the only metric you use.

Driver Averages: A driver’s average is how they have done at the track in years past. Especially, the last couple of years. It lets you know if last season’s engine package worked or didn’t work. It gives you an idea of how far the race team and driver were from a good setup.