For most of NASCAR’s history, the Southern 500 has been one of the Crown Jewels of the sport. Traditionally held on Labor Day with a few exceptions, this ranks with the Daytona 500, Coke 600, and even Indy 500 as a race everyone wants to win. Only one driver can and with it now opening the Round of 16 in the playoffs, it has even more importance than ever.
When handicapping races on the Track Too Tough to Tame, we typically look at other rough-surfaced courses like Dover Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, and Bristol Motor Speedway, but none of them are as difficult to navigate as this track. The natural groove – the arc drivers would ideally like to take – is somewhere on the outside of the retaining wall, so compromise is always part of the race line.
The same is true about tires. If drivers race too hard at the beginning of a run, excessive tire wear will drop them to the back quickly. Mismanaging even a single run can cause a driver to get lapped and take away his chances of winning.
The Southern 500 is a high-speed chess match that no one wins by accident.
1. Chase Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +700 | +100 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +721 | Best Odds: BetMGM +800
Elliott has not finished well in the last two Southern 500s. He was 31st last year and 20th in 2020, which may account for the fact that he is not the favorite. That could play into your favor with consensus odds that are about 150 higher than Kyle Larson, who does not have as strong a record this year on rough-surfaced tracks as Elliott. With wins at Dover and Nashville so far and a fifth in this spring’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington, Elliott deserves a lot of juice.
2. Joey Logano ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +1000 | +120 top-five
Logano is an unassuming driver outside of the car, but he becomes a different man when the helmet gets strapped on. The bump-and-run he performed at Darlington this spring that sent William Byron into the wall was not surprising, but how that impacted his odds this week is. Logano is ranked only seventh overall in terms of his consensus odds. Four of the major sportsbooks list him at 10/1. He’s been erratic for most of the season, but has come on strong recently with a string of four top-10s entering Daytona.
3. Kevin Harvick ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +1700 | +200 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +1550 | Best Odds: DraftKings +1700
The lack of respect for Harvick this week is shocking. He enters the Southern 500 with a current streak of 13 Darlington top-10s, including three wins. His last win was in 2020 before he struggled through most of the last two seasons, but even while he was mediocre on other track types, he was excellent on rough-surfaced courses. If he misses, it won’t be by much because he’s been sixth or better in his last eight tries on this egg-shaped oval and that makes his +200 odds for a top-five and easy pick.
4. Kyle Larson ⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +600 | -110 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +575 | Best Odds: PointsBet +650
Larson is the favorite on the six major sportsbooks with odds as low as +450 at BetRivers. His 2021 numbers back up that enthusiasm because he was second or better in five races on rough tracks last year with wins at Nashville and Bristol. He was second in both Darlington races, but he has not been quite as strong this year with a sixth at Dover and fifth at Nashville. His blown engines at Darlington this spring and Daytona International Speedway last week give us a little concern also.
5. Denny Hamlin ⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +600 | -110 top-five
There is not a lot of variance in the odds on the major books this week for Hamlin, which is ironic given his inconsistency in 2022 as well as in recent races at Darlington. That the odds are low does make sense, however, because when he finds the right setup on this track, he is capable of dominating and winning with two victories and four top-fives in his last six starts there.
6. Erik Jones ⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +6000 | +750 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +5683 | Best Odds: Caesars +7000
It’s not uncommon for dark horses to get a four- or five-star rating when they excel on a given track and since our algorithm that determines strength is different than the one used by the traders, some interesting names pop up at the top of the list. It was in different equipment, but Jones has a win at Darlington in 2019. That victory was not a fluke. He was in the middle of a six-race, top-10 streak at the time. He hasn’t been as strong since, but with odds of +150 for a top-10, he deserves a little action.
7. Ross Chastain ⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +900 | +140 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +875 | Best Odds: Caesars +1000
Chastain has lost momentum at an inopportune time, but his early season strength gives him a little breathing room in the playoffs. He is seeded third this week with 13 more bonus points than the 13th-seeded driver, who happens to be his teammate Daniel Suarez. The bottom five drivers will be jockeying to get out of the basement and that is going to be a big distraction for them. If Chastain can find a way to win in the Round of 16, he could have a decent cushion to clear the next hurdle – and this team must think of the playoffs strategically.
8. Kyle Busch ⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +900 | +125 top-five
Busch believes he is getting closer to announcing where he will race next year. Since we don’t have that piece of information yet, it makes handicapping him a little challenging. If he is leaning toward leaving Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) one must wonder just what kind of overall effort the organization will direct his way compared to Hamlin. Busch says he has multiple offers in front of him, however, and that will give this driver confidence – not that he’s ever lacked it.
9. Christopher Bell ⭐⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +2000 | +250 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +1733 | Best Odds: DraftKings +2000
The rough-surfaced tracks have not always been kind, but Bell has come on strong in 2022. He is one of only three drivers this season to sweep the top 10 at Dover, Darlington, and Nashville with a sixth in this spring’s Goodyear 400. His playoff-qualifying win came late in the season and it was followed by top-fives in two of his next three oval races.
10. Michael McDowell ⭐⭐⭐
DraftKings: Outright Win +5000 | +600 top-five
Consensus Odds*: +9517 | Best Odds: Caesars +15000
With odds of 150/1 at Caesars for the outright win and a top-five line of 6/1 at DraftKings, there are a couple of options for McDowell. This plucky team has outperformed expectations quite a few times this season and one of those occasions ended in a seventh at Darlington. That’s his only rough-surfaced top-10, but he’s been in the mid-teens in his other attempts and with the pressure of the playoffs off his shoulders, he could be a pleasant surprise.
*Consensus odds at the average of six sportsbooks: DraftKings, PointsBet, MCM, FanDuel, and BetRivers
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