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Cook Out Southern 500 Preview

10-Race Sprint to NASCAR Cup Title Begins at Darlington

We have finally reached the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. As good as the 2021 season has been, it’s about to get even better as the 10-race sprint to the title begins this weekend at the Cook Out 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Sixteen drivers remain in the hunt for the Cup Series title, but 37 drivers will be on the race track this weekend. Some will be trying to advance to the round of 12, while others will look to play spoiler and add a positive note to their otherwise disappointing results for the year.

Cook Out Southern 500
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images for NASCAR/AFP

Cook Out Southern 500 Favorites

  • Kyle Larson (+275)
  • Denny Hamlin (+550)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (+600)
  • Kyle Busch (+600)
  • Chase Elliott (+900)
  • Kevin Harvick (+1200)
  • William Byron (+1200)
  • Brad Keselowski (+1600)
  • Joey Logano (+1600)
  • Alex Bowman (+1600)

Of course, Kyle Larson is the favorite to win. His has been a season to remember, but also he’s just really good at Darlington. He’s never won here but in seven career races at Darlington, he has six top-10 finishes and four finishes in the top five, including a second place back in May.

Kevin Harvick is the 16th seed in the playoffs, with the lowest point total of all of the qualifiers, but he’s been running well at Darlington. Since 2018, Harvick has made six starts here and all resulted in the top-10 finishes, including two victories, in May 2020 and September 2020.

He is winless on the season for the first time since 2009 and this comes on the heels of last season’s incredible nine wins. But Harvick is still a threat to win anything the green flag drops at Darlington.

Updated Cup Series Odds

As the playoffs begin this weekend, the odds have been updated on the eventual Cup Series champion.

  • Kyle Larson (+225)
  • Chase Elliott (+650)
  • Kyle Busch (+800)
  • Martin Truex Jr. (+800)
  • Denny Hamlin (+800)
  • Ryan Blaney (+1200)
  • Joey Logano (+1200)
  • William Byron (+1400)
  • Brad Keselowski (+1400)
  • Kevin Harvick (+1600)
  • Alex Bowman (+1600)
  • Christopher Bell (+2000)
  • Kurt Busch (+3300)
  • Aric Almirola (+6600)
  • Tyler Reddick (+6600)
  • Michael McDowell (+15000)

Larson has led 1,566 laps this season. The next highest total is 821 by Denny Hamlin. So if you want to know why Larson is the huge favorite to win the Cup Series title, that’s it. Plus, his five wins, 14 top-five finishes, and 18 top-10s all rank as the best in the regular season.

He has, quite simply, being the best in 2021.

Chase Elliott is fifth on the points board but paying the second-highest odds. That’s because, since the beginning of July, he has finished in the top-10 in six of seven races, the top-five three times, and he’s a past Series champion. If he makes the Round of 12, he will also be aided by a road course race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to close out the round.

Along with Elliott, there are six other drivers in the field of 16 that have previously won the Cup Series championship. They are Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Kurt Busch.

Tyler Reddick was the final driver to qualify for the playoff field, punching his ticket with a fifth-place finish last weekend at Daytona. Michael McDowell, however, is paying the longest odds of anyone in the field. His surprise win at the Daytona 500 got him into the field. But it’s been 13 races since he cracked the top 10, and since July he has finished 25th or worse in five races.

Each round of the playoffs consists of three races. Win one and you advance. Finish in the bottom four in points, without a win, and you are out.

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