The Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 has all sorts of sponsors and is this week’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Many of the circuit’s drivers have to be happy to be back on ovals. There will only be one more “road course”, which is a hybrid “Roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
With three races left in the Xfinity Series regular season, we don’t have very much drama for playoff berths, but we do have the next wave of NASCAR stars vying for wins and paydays.
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A Dandy Day in Darlington
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is at a much more challenging time. The 6 p.m. Sunday start means varying track conditions over the course of the race. This race starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday, so it will be hot and stay hot in the Carolina heat of late summer.
This will be a good test for the drivers. The 1.366-mile oval has four turns that are high-banked, with Turns 1 & 2 at 25 degrees and Turns 3 & 4 at 23 degrees. The flat straightaways are angled a little bit on this egg-shaped design, so it will be a race about handling the car. That means that long shots probably aren’t going to come in. It may be a chalkier handicap.
This is also a once-a-year stop, so the younger drivers and the rookies won’t have a ton of experience at this track. Finding the right line in the corners is huge…
Which is Why
Denny Hamlin is favored. Hamlin is a two-time Cup Series winner at Darlington and he’ll be in his first Xfinity Series race of the season. Hamlin is a five-time winner of this race, with his most recent victory coming in 2017. He finished fourth last year and second in 2016. In this particular race, Hamlin has only finished outside the top five once (2005).
This is a Kyle Buschian price for Hamlin at +155. We usually only see Busch get prices like this, but he’s not in this race. It would be very fascinating to see the odds if he was, but he’ll be focused on Sunday’s Cup Series race.
Christopher Bell is the second favorite at +250, which also makes perfect sense. Bell won last week at Road America for his sixth victory of the season. He’s had some rough finishes, so he’s 45 points behind Tyler Reddick for the top spot, but he has 20 more bonus points than Reddick. The 24-year-old Bell was 34th last season. That is the one risk with him. He does have a propensity for wrecking. He won seven races last year and has six this season. He has 14 in his Xfinity Series career. He’s also finished outside the top 25 on 10 different occasions.
Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney is the third favorite at +400. This will be the second Xfinity Series start for Blaney, who was fourth at Watkins Glen. He last ran here in 2016 and was seventh. His Cup Series runs have topped out at 13th in four tries.
Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick are +550 and +700, respectively. Reddick has four wins and is on a run of seven straight top-five finishes. He hasn’t gotten much respect this season in terms of the odds, but +700 still probably isn’t good enough here with Hamlin, Bell, and Custer, who runs very well on ovals. Custer has struggled of late, though, with no top-five finishes in his last five starts. He was second here last year, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
Barring an absolute stunner at Darlington, Indianapolis, or Las Vegas, the playoff 12 are set. Reddick, Bell, Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Michael Annett, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones, and Ryan Sieg are the guys. Sieg leads Gray Gaulding by 118 points for the last playoff spot.
But, playoff bonus points are still available and can take a guy from the first round to the second round. The Round of 12 and the Round of 8 are sets of three and then the final race will be at Homestead-Miami in mid-November, where a champ will be crowned. It sure seems like the champ will be one of Bell, Custer, or Reddick, but wrecks or mechanical malfunctions in two of the three races of a round can make things interesting.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be in the race this week and will have lots of supporters. Dale Jr. and his family were involved in a fiery plane crash just a couple weeks ago and there was some question as to whether or not he would participate this week. But, here he is and he is +1100. This is a name recognition line to say the least. Dale hasn’t won an Xfinity Series race since 2016 and his most recent win before that was at Daytona in 2010. He has zero career wins at Darlington.
Among the longer shots, Chase Briscoe at +2200 is interesting. He was second at Bristol between road course races. He won at Iowa. He was fifth at Kentucky. He’s run well on intermediate ovals this season. The 24-year-old has to have some confidence going with seven straight top-seven finishes, including better road course showings.
Bell and Briscoe, Attorneys at Law. Those are the two picks this week. Obviously Hamlin is most likely to win and has a great track record, pardon the pun, in this race. Bell is my favorite oval racer in the Xfinity Series. The crashing thing has to stop, but this tends to be a pretty clean race.
Briscoe prices like this aren’t likely to be around much longer on the ovals and he could find himself in the Reddick type range next season. We might as well try to get some value while we can.