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Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway

The 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season keeps delivering hit after hit. If you watched the Atlanta race this spring and thought a finish couldn’t get any closer than that, Kansas Speedway said, “Hold my beer” and went out to produce the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history.


Everyone – even the technology – thought that Chris Buescher had come away victorious. The track pylon and FOX timing and scoring both showed Buescher as winner, but upon further review, it was determined that Kyle Larson got to the line first and earned his second victory of the 2024 season, both coming on 1.5-mile tracks.


The race was insane all night long. Following a long rain delay before things got started, the racing was incredible from the get-go. For a while in stage one, it was Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain battling back and forth, swapping the lead multiple times.


Racing like that continued all night with multiple drivers running up front. Chris Buescher, Denny Hamlin, and others continued to battle throughout the race for the top position.

As things wound down late in the race it became a fuel mileage race. Hamlin led with Buescher in hot pursuit, but both teams having to save fuel brought Martin Truex Jr, into the picture as a potential winner.


Honestly, us fans were robbed of a really good finish. When Kyle Busch spun out it was going to be interesting to see what would happen. Was Truex good enough to go up and pass Hamlin? Did Hamlin save enough fuel to race Truex for the final five laps and still make it to the end?


We can continue to wonder what might have been, but what did happen were a pair of great pit stops by Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher that set up what would be a great finish – maybe even the best in NASCAR history. If it wasn’t the best finish, it surely was the closest, as Kyle Larson edges out Buescher at the line.


1.5-mile racing is absolutely incredible with these Next Gen cars. NASCAR absolutely nailed the 1.5-mile package, and we’ll get to see more of it in the coming weeks. This weekend’s race at Darlington will likely race like a 1.5-mile track, and then the Coke 600 is right around the corner on Memorial Day weekend.


More great racing is coming right around the corner.


As for this coming weekend at Darlington, expect much of the same. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson will likely be favored, and they will likely unload with the two best cars. Both drivers have won multiple races at Darlington, and both have won multiple races this season. It’s hard to imagine these guys won’t be running up front this Sunday.


Last year, William Byron won this race after Larson was taken out while racing for the lead with Ross Chastain. In the fall, Larson got his revenge by winning the Southern 500 and advancing in the opening round of the playoffs.


Though Hamlin has not been great here lately, he has won four career races at Darlington, including the fall of 2021. He also finished runner-up at Darlington in the fall of 2022.


I wish I could tell you other teams will have a chance to win this race, but until Gibbs or Hendrick loses a non-superspeedway race, I’d be willing to bet they can keep the streak going.


Make sure to follow me on Twitter (X) @WKFCody for my most up-to-date bets. I’ll tweet out my full card Sunday morning before the green flag.


One more quick plug, make sure to sign up for our NASCAR One & Done. Pick a driver to win every week and accumulate points all season long. Even if you missed the first quarter of the season, it’s still a fun time, and you can still possibly win some prizes.


Now, on to Darlington.

 

Track Facts

The Goodyear 400 is a 400.2-mile (293-lap) race around the 1.366-mile oval at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. Darlington has been on the NASCAR schedule for many years. The fall race that consists of 500 miles is one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events. Darlington has been on the Cup Series schedule since 1950 and started hosting two races a year in 1960. The track hosted two races all the way up to 2005 when it dropped back down to one race until the COVID pandemic. In 2020, three races were run at the track, and it has had two back on the schedule ever since. Darlington is a real driver’s track. Look for the most talented of today’s drivers to run up front. Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin figure to continue to be outright favorites to come away with the victory. Tire wear will also be a concern this weekend, as the Darlington surface is very abrasive. Drivers that are good at saving their stuff should also find their way to the front. Last year, Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson crashed racing for the lead late in the race and William Byron snuck away to earn his first ever Darlington victory. Attrition could come into play this weekend, as it can be hard to stay out of the wall when the fastest way around is often up at the fence.

 

Who’s Hot?

Kyle Larson remains the hottest driver in the sport after barely edging out Chris Buescher for the win at Kansas last week. The win was just Larson’s second of the year, but he entered the weekend as the series point leader and was able to open his lead to 29 points now over Martin Truex Jr. Darlington profiles as a great track for Larson. As I mentioned above, he crashed while racing for the lead here last spring, and he also earned the victory here last fall in the 500-mile race. Outside of those two races, Larson has five other career finishes of third or better at Darlington in 10 tries. He’ll likely open as the favorite this weekend, but it’s hard to bet against a guy that is as on fire as Larson right now at a track that is statistically one of his best.


Denny Hamlin was about to earn his series-leading fourth win of the season last Sunday, but a caution with less than 10 laps remaining changed things drastically. Despite losing the lead on a pit stop and only taking two tires, Hamlin held on to finish fifth, giving him his second consecutive top-5 and his fourth top-5 this season. Hamlin heads to Darlington where it seems he always dominates, but that wasn’t the case last year when he brought home finishes of 12th and 25th in the two Darlington races. Hamlin has won four times at the track too tough to tame, and he’s in great form right now, making him one of the favorites this week.





Noah Gragson may be a surprising or unexpected name to see on this portion of the list, but the #10 Ford Mustang has been carrying Stewart-Haas Racing recently. Gragson has carded three consecutive top-10 finishes and has certainly exceeded most expectations heading into the season. Just 12 races into the season, Gragson is just one top-5 and one top-10 away from tying Aric Almirola’s stats in that car for the entirety of last season. Even with an early-season points penalty, Gragson sits 19th in the standings, 71 points behind Brad Keselowski for the final playoff spot. He may need to win to get in, but I wouldn’t put it past Gragson to way he has run lately. In seven career Xfinity starts, Gragson has never finished worse than eighth at Darlington, and his three most recent attempts at the track ended with finishes of 1st, 2nd, and 1st. He may be a sleeper pick to earn a win, or at least a top-5 or top-10 this weekend.

 

Drivers I Like

Martin Truex Jr. won a bet for me last weekend with his top-5 finish. He very well could have won the race had it stayed green before the final caution came out, as Truex was certainly tracking down the fuel-saving #11 car of Denny Hamlin. This week we head to a track that has been good to Truex throughout his career. Truex has two wins here and has certainly outperformed his finishing position many times recently. Last spring, Truex led 145 laps before an accident caused him to finish outside the top-20. In the fall of 2022, Truex was leading this race when a mechanical failure took him out, and in the spring of 2022 he led 28 laps but was once again involved in an incident. I’d say Truex is due this weekend. I’d bet him right now at any number +700 or better. I haven’t even looked at any lines yet, but I’m thinking you’ll be able to find that somewhere due to his recent string of bad finishes.


William Byron is another chalk pick here, but until someone besides Gibbs or Hendrick wins a non-superspeedway race, what can you do? Byron won here last spring and finished fourth in the fall. He has finished top-10 in three straight Darlington races and five of his last seven. Don’t forget he was also booted out of the lead here by Joey Logano back in the spring of 2022 or he could have multiple victories at the track too tough to tame.





We just mentioned Joey Logano, so we may as well talk about him a bit here. Logano won Darlington in the spring of 2022 as previously mentioned by moving Byron out of the way. He did lead 107 laps that day after qualifying on the pole as well. He also won the pole and led some laps in the fall of 2022. Logano has top-10 finishes in five of his last eight Darlington attempts and often runs up front for a nice portion of the race here. I don’t know if I’m ready to throw money down on a Ford yet, especially a Team Penske Ford at this point, but seeing Logano perform well here on Sunday would not be the biggest surprise to me.

 

Drivers to Avoid

Chase Briscoe has had less than stellar performances at Darlington over his career, and I’d expect those to continue following a tough 21st-place finish at Kansas last week. In six career races at Darlington, Briscoe does not have a finish better than 11th, which came in the spring race of his rookie season in 2021. Since then, Briscoe has not led a single lap and has finished worse than 15th in every Darlington race. Briscoe did finish top-10 at Texas earlier this season, so the 1.5-mile speed is still there, but this track has not fit Briscoe’s driving style over the past three seasons.


Fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric has also failed to find success at Darlington over his brief career. Since his Darlington debut in 2022, Cindric has never recorded a top-15 finish at the track, with his best run of 16th coming in the fall 2022 race. Cindric has not shown much this year, having finished top-10 in just one race, and outside the top-20 in nine of 12 races. Cindric has not had a top-10 at 1.5-mile type ovals since Las Vegas in the spring of last season. I can’t imagine him turning things around this weekend.


Ty Gibbs has a very brief history at Darlington, but that brief history has not been particularly good. In three tries at Darlington, Gibbs has not finished better than 15th, which came in a fill-in start for Kurt Busch in the 2022 playoffs. Gibbs has never led a lap here and has only finished top-10 in one of three career Xfinity starts. Gibbs has been having his best season to date by far, but I’d still avoid him at the technical Darlington Raceway this weekend.

 

Keep an eye on…




Chris Buescher could have, should have, would have won that Kansas race last weekend had one or two small things gone his way. Buescher found himself back in contention following a great pit stop on the last caution of the race, but he ended up coming up about three inches short of Kyle Larson at the line, finishing runner up in NASCAR’s closest finish in history. Buescher looks to shake that off and go win at Darlington, a track where he hasn’t been half bad lately. Buescher carded a pair of top-10 finishes at Darlington last year, including a third place showing last fall. Buescher has finished top-10 at Darlington a few times even before Brad Keselowski owned resurgence the team saw last year. Back in 2021, Buescher finished ninth in both races. Showing speed last week at Kansas was a big step forward for RFK Racing this year. Could they take the biggest step forward this weekend by earning an unexpected win?


Erik Jones is always a threat here, but I’m a little hesitant on his return from injury this week. In the past, we’ve seen injuries like Erik’s take a lot longer to heal, and the drivers took a lot longer to find their stride once they got back in the driver’s seat. Jones has been solid at Darlington, though his best performances tend to come in the 500-mile fall races. He’s won two of those, but he has never finished top-10 in the spring race at Darlington in Legacy Motor Club equipment. He has done so in two consecutive fall races. Whether the track handles better for him at night, or if he needs the extra 100 miles to find his way to the front, I’m a little nervous about Jones this week. I’d bet him with caution and hope for the best.


Chris Buescher’s teammate Brad Keselowski gets a quick shoutout here as he has had some good runs at Darlington recently. Keselowski has finished top-10 in four of the last five Darlington races, including a fourth place run here last spring. Though the most laps he has led here since joining RFK Racing as an owner/driver is 11 in the fall of 2022, Keselowski has run up front often and put himself in position to take advantage. I’m looking for Brad to run top-10 again, a bet worth making if the price is right.

 

Current Bets

I’ve got nothing on the book yet, but here is what I have my eye on (all lines via DraftKings):

To Win:

Denny Hamlin +500

Ross Chastain +1300

Brad Keselowski +1800

 

Top-10:

Noah Gragson +150

Erik Jones +150

 

Be sure to follow Cody (@WKFCody) on X for his most up-to-date NASCAR bets and weekly NASCAR betting card posted on Sunday mornings. Also, listen to the WKF NASCAR Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts. The WKF NASCAR Podcast comes out at 7 a.m. every Friday morning over the course of the season.


Don’t forget to join our WKF Fantasy NASCAR One & Done! For more information, DM @WKFCody or @WKFNate on X.

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