Without the benefit of practice runs and qualifying, the best bet when deciding how to invest at the window as NASCAR returns is a history lesson.
The most recent winner at Darlington in 2019 was Erik Jones; the most recent driver to win a race at Darlington in the month of May is 48-year-old Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth is back in the car for a competitive Cup race for the first time since November 2018, stepping into a ride that now-unemployed Kyle Larson drove to three top-10 finishes this season.
And the only two-time winner at Darlington since Greg Biffle won back-to-back in 2005 and ’06 is Denny Hamlin (2010, 2017). He owns the best overall finish average at the Track Too Tough To Tame among the 40 drivers entered in Sunday’s field.
Hamlin and Jones are Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and could be the prevailing favorites here.
Jimmie Johnson might have more success here than anyone — three career wins — but none of it is of recent vintage. In a total of 21 starts at The Lady in Black, Johnson’s average finish is 12.1.
But this isn’t a normal set of circumstances.
Qualifying is off.
That’s the case for the next four races, at least, due to coronavirus-related adjustments NASCAR is making. There’s also no practice.
That means a bet on Kenseth is a bet on Larson’s ride, because he will make the first lap Sunday at 3:35 p.m. ET in a rig he never piloted before.
The top 12 positions at Darlington will be set by a random draw using owner points for those in the top 12 spots in the standings entering the sixth race of the 36-race schedule.
The same is true for spots 13-24 and 25-36.
Kyle Busch (+550) enters as the favorite and has been in the top 11 each of his past 10 runs at Darlington.
Kevin Harvick leads the current Cup standings and is +600 at PointsBet to win Sunday. He has 23 career Darlington starts — six with Stewart Haas Racing — and has led 518 laps in those races. He won a Saturday night race at Darlington in 2014.
One point separates Harvick from Penske Racing’s Joey Logano (+800) in the current standings. Logano has three top-five finishes in his past five appearances at Darlington and also bagged wins here on the Nationwide Series. He finished second to Brad Keselowski in 2018 and has two wins in 2020.
Busch and Harvick are co-favorites at DraftKings (+550), which offers Hamlin at +650 and Martin Truex Jr. at +750.
Jones is +1400 at DK and Johnson is +2500.
–Field Level Media