The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin on Sunday at Darlington with 16 drivers eligible to win the points title in November. Kyle Larson is the betting favorite to win Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 and also the favorite to win the points title. Be sure to check out for NASCAR betting odds and lines at our online Bitcoin sportsbook.
2021 Cook Out Southern 500 Race Info
- When: Sunday, Sept. 5 at 6:00 pm ET
- Where: Darlington Raceway, Darlington, South Carolina
- TV: NBC Sports Network
- Radio: MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
- Live Stream: NBCSports.com
Darlington Raceway Track Facts
- Number of previous races: 120.
- First Cup race: September 4, 1950, won by Johnny Mantz.
- Last Cup race: May 9, 2021, won by Martin Truex, Jr.
- Won from pole: 20, last time by Kevin Harvick in 2014.
- Won from top-5 starting position: 71 times in 120 races (59%).
- Won from top-10 starting position: 101 times (84%).
- Won from 21st or worse starting position: 6 times (5%).
- Worst starting spot for race winner: 43rd, by Johnny Mantz in 1950.
- Most laps led: 351, by Johnny Mantz in 1950.
- Fewest laps led by a race winner: 1, by Ricky Craven in 2003.
- Fastest race: 141.383 mph by Matt Kenseth in 2013.
- Fastest qualifying speed: 183.479 mph by Kevin Harvick in 2014.
- Most lead changes: 41 in 1982.
- Closest finish: Ricky Craven’s .002 second margin over Kurt Busch in 2003.
- Most caution flags: 18 in 2015.
The race distance is actually 501 miles, which is 367 laps around the 1.336-mile egg-shaped Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. It has 25 degrees of banking in turns 1 and 2, and 23 degrees of banking in turns 3 and 4. It’s the 27th race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, first race of the Playoffs and the first race of the Round of 16. Darlington is known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame”. From 2016-2021 a typical Darlington race had 14.9 lead changes, 8.1 cautions for 42.6 laps, and an average green-flag run of 31.3 laps
2021 Cook Out Southern 500 Preview
Retired Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon has won this race a record six times. The defending champion is Kevin Harvick, who is +1000 to repeat. He also won it in 2014. Last year, Chase Elliott and 2016 Southern 500 champ Martin Truex Jr. were dominating, but with 14 laps left and Elliott leading, Truex tried for the pass, but his Toyota brushed against Elliott’s Chevy, and they wrecked. That cleared the way for Harvick to take control.
“At that particular point, the whole game changes just because of the fact that obviously I knew we were running third,” Harvick said. “At that point it was managing what I had behind me and trying to make sure that I didn’t make any big mistakes to give up big chunks of time. As we went through the next couple laps, obviously I could see the (Elliott) and (Truex) getting progressively closer to me as we were making laps, and the (Truex) pitted there, and when I passed (Elliott’s car), I saw that he was all tore up. So it was definitely a strange cycle of laps there over those four or five laps.”
Harvick hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in any Darlington race since 2012. Despite going winless in this season’s first 26 races, Harvick pointed his way into the playoffs by finishing ninth in the regular-season standings. This is his 12th consecutive playoff appearance. Harvick won the championship in 2014.
The opening of the Round of 16 sets up well for Larson, who is +300 to win this week. Larson has yet to crack Darlington open with a win, but has three top-three finishes in the last four races on the track. Larson was credited with a 20th place DNF in the regular-season finale last week at Daytona. He started on the pole and completed 164 laps of the 165 laps run before exiting the race (Accident). Larson is seeded 1st with 2,052 points heading into the playoffs. He has won a NASCAR-best five races this year. Only one of the tracks Larson has won at this season (Las Vegas) appears again the rest of the way, and it’s relatively early on as the Round of 12 opener.
Truex is the +500 second favorite this week. He won at the track in May. Truex was able to finish off a dominant afternoon where he swept both stages and led 248 of 293 laps. It was his second career victory at “The Track Too Tough to Tame.” Larson gained on Truex following green flag stops with just under 40 laps to go and closed on him during the final run, but ultimately settled for second. Truex Jr. finished 29th last week at Daytona. He started 7th in the lineup, led 13 laps and completed all of the 163 laps run.
Kyle Busch is +600 and Denny Hamlin +700. Busch last won at Darlington in 2008 but he’s been rock-solid at the track. He’s finished in the top 11 in all but two races since and was third to Truex and Larson in May. Hamlin was fifth in May and has an average finish of 7.4 at the track.
Ryan Blaney could be good value at +2000. Blaney will start his No. 12 Team Penske Ford from the first spot for the first time this season, in search of his first Darlington victory. Blaney, a playoff driver, is coming off back-to-back wins to close out the regular season but hasn’t contended yet at Darlington.