The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs kick off this weekend with the annual Southern 500 race at Darlington. This is always a fan favorite race because it’s the “throwback” event, so we’ll be seeing plenty of throwback paint schemes in addition to some throwback haircuts (read: mullets). This is also one of rare Sunday night races that we have, and it’s a long one: 500 miles around Darlington equates to 367 laps, so thankfully there’s a holiday on Monday so most people can stay up and enjoy this event.
As far as tire combination goes, Goodyear is bringing the same set that they ran here at Darlington in the two races we had in May, and it’s also the same tires that were used at Homestead this year. Additionally, the cars will have the same left side tires from the Fontana and Dover races this year. To refresh your memory, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick each won one of each at Darlington and Dover this year, while Hamlin took the checkered flag at Homestead. At Fontana, Alex Bowman was the winner. Chase Elliott is on the pole this weekend thanks in big part to to his 2nd-place finish at Daytona last Saturday night, and if you need to see the full starting lineup, you can do so by clicking here.
Speed Report in 2020 After Daytona
We’ve had a few “throw aways” in terms of the recent races in which we monitor Green Flag Speed, as we don’t include superspeedways or road courses because those rankings get so out of wack. Still, I think the six legitimate recent races give us a great picture of who is fast right now, and who should be fast on Sunday at Darlington.
Over the last six races here are the fastest drivers in terms of Green Flag Speed:
- Kevin Harvick (3.8 average rank)
- Denny Hamlin (4.2 average rank)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (6.2 average rank)
Joey Logano (6.2 average rank)
- ***tie for 3rd***
- Kyle Busch (6.5 average rank)
You can click here to check out the updated Cheat Sheet on Green Flag Speed and see how every driver ranks in that category plus more, not only for the last six races but for the whole season.
DraftKings Strategy for Darlington
We have a long race to run here on Sunday night, with 367 laps scheduled for this Cook Out Southern 500. That means one thing: a lot of dominator points! So you have to nail those dominators. We typically see one main lap leader dominator and two “mini” ones, but fastest laps are a little more spread out. Now let’s get into those breakdowns.
One thing to remember about the Southern 500 at Darlington is that there are typically a lot of long, green flag runs. In the three Southern 500s from 2017 to 2019, over 88% of the laps were ran under green in those events, which obviously means more and more fastest laps were earned by drivers. As I said, those are generally pretty spread out; in five of the last six races at Darlington, at least 25 drivers have posted one or more fastest laps. Gotta love tire fall off!
On average over the last seven races here, the breakdown for fastest laps looks like this:
- Driver with most fastest laps = 22.46% of the total
- Driver with 2nd-most fastest laps = 14.12% of the total
- Driver with 3rd-most fastest laps = 11.86% of the total
Lately, though, those numbers have seen an uptick up top. Looking at this year’s two races, the two best drivers when it came to fastest laps both grabbed over 30% of the total.
As far as correlation between fastest laps and laps led, yes. The answer is yes. I went in and looked at the top 3 drivers in terms of fastest laps and the top 3 drivers in terms of laps led, and 71% of the time the same driver ranked in the top 3 in both for a race here.
Five of the last six drivers that led the most laps at Darlington have also had the most fastest laps.
Looking at the breakdown of fastest laps, here are the averages over the last seven races at Darlington:
- Driver with most laps led = 49.06% of the total
- Driver with 2nd-most laps led = 19.53% of the total
- Driver with 3rd-most laps led = 14.29% of the total
Surprisingly, the pole sitter has ranked inside the top 3 in terms of laps led only once in the last five races at Darlington. That one time was the first race this season, when Brad Keselowski led 80 of the 293 laps (27.3%). Kevin Harvick led the most laps in that race, staying out for 159 circuits, or 54.3% of the race.
Still, track position means a lot here, as the driver who has led the most laps at Darlington has started 6th or better in six of the last seven races. Additionally, over 85% of the top 2 lap lead dominators at Darlington since the 2015 season have started inside the top 10. That should definitely be true again this weekend because of how the starting lineup is set up.
GPP / Tournament Picks I Love for the Cook Out Southern 500
Martin Truex, Jr. ($9,400) – This weekend, it’s Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick that are the two heavy favorites. At DraftKings Sports Book, Harvick is the favorite for Sunday at +285 odds, while Hamlin is close behind at +300 odds. Martin Truex, Jr. is a distant 3rd at +800 odds (8-to-1). So you can imagine how surprised I was when my algorithm (click here) spit out Truex as its favorite for Sunday night. I actually went through, double checked everything, and then ran it again to make sure, and yep, it likes Truex on Sunday night just a smidge more than Hamlin and Harvick. I’ve doubted that thing before and it hasn’t worked out. So with Truex being priced at just $9,400 on DraftKings, I definitely like being overweight on him in GPPs/tournaments. He’s a previous winner at Darlington (2016) and Truex could easily end up being one of the dominators here on Sunday night since he starts up in 6th. Momentum-wise, this #19 team is the hottest in the garage that hasn’t won, as Martin has finished of 4th or better in EIGHT STRAIGHT RACES now. He’s a definite pivot option off of Erik Jones in DraftKings this weekend, and honestly I don’t mind pairing the two together either.
Brad Keselowski ($8,800) – Another under-priced driver in addition to Martin Truex, Jr. is Brad Keselowski, who got priced at $8,800 by DraftKings this weekend. But honestly, it’s going to take just a bit more than a “typical Darlington race” out of BK for that price tag to pay off. Kez has finished top 5 in three of the last four races at this track and has also led 19+ laps in five of the last seven. When it comes to fastest laps, Keselowski ranks 4th on that chart at Darlington since the 2015 season, averaging 22.3 fastest laps per race. He starts up in 5th, so there’s some risk here, but that’s kind of the reason he makes a great GPP/tournament play on Sunday.
Chris Buescher ($5,700) – Buescher starts up in 20th on Sunday night, and while that makes him a bit of a risky play in DraftKings, I love being overweight on this guy. This #17 team is finding their rhythm right now. Over the last six Cup Series races overall, Buescher has no finishes outside of the top 20, has two top 10s, and four results of 16th or better. He came home 32nd and 23rd here at Darlington earlier this season, but, like I said, this #17 Ford is running better now than it was three months ago. As far as track history goes, Buescher finished between 12th and 17th in all four of his Darlington Cup Series starts before this season. At just $5,700, I’d gladly go super overweight with him in DraftKings GPPs/tournaments on Sunday.
BONUS “PUNT” PICK: JJ Yeley ($5,200) – I’m all for taking the risk on JJ Yeley this week if you want to go with a punt driver strategy to load up on the high-priced guys. Yeley ran 28th in the first Darlington race this year in this #27 Ford, and then Gray Gaulding came home 32nd in the second event. Over the last month, this car has been about a 30th-place car most weeks, and Yeley has definitely been the best of the typical “back markers” when he has a Ford engine under the hood. Yeley starts back in 37th on Sunday night so with a 30th-place finish he would score 21 DraftKings FPTS.
Cash Core Drivers I Love for the Cook Out Southern 500
Tyler Reddick ($7,000) – I debated for quite a while here on whether to write up Ryan Newman ($7,200) or Tyler Reddick here, and I settled on the rookie because he has significantly higher upside. Looking at the three races ran on this tire combination this season, only Kevin Harvick is averaging more fastest laps per race (27.7) than Tyler Reddick (20.7), although you have to note that Reddick only posted 9 and 5 fastest laps in the two races here. Still, Tyler finished 13th and 7th in the two races here earlier this season, and with him starting 24th on Sunday, you have to expect at least 40 FPTS in DraftKings out of him. That’s a solid return for a guy priced at $7,000.
Ty Dillon ($6,000) – After a period of sustained success at a certain track, you kind of learn to just trust a driver to get his “normal” finish and you don’t even really think about it much. That’s Ty Dillon at Darlington. In five career Cup Series starts here, Ty has never finished worse than 21st, and his average result is 18.4. This weekend he starts a little higher than I’d really like (25th), but since he’s priced at only $6,000 in DraftKings, that makes him a great cash lineup option. Momentum-wise, Ty had had three top 20s in the last five Cup Series races overall and just one finish worse than 23rd over the last eight.
Ryan Preece ($5,900) – The Daytona race last Saturday night ended with another DNF for Ryan Preece, his 8th of the year, which, holy shit, bud, we’re only 26 races in. But because of that, Preece is going to start from back in 35th for Sunday’s race at Darlington, and since DraftKings didn’t price him up at all, he’s going to be part of my cash core this weekend. Preece finished 22nd in his first Cup Series start at “The Lady in Black” last season, and then ran 20th here in the first race this year. In the second race, he started on the pole but finished 39th thanks to an engine failure. Preece also finished 24th at Homestead this year. Yes, he’s a little riskier than I’d like for cash games, but if Preece can finish the race on Sunday he will be a solid pick in place differential leagues such as DraftKings.
Darlington Southern 500 DraftKings Projections
The following chart takes into account the very basics: the starting position and the projected finish of each driver. The projected finishes are averaged from five different ranking systems. Also included are projected laps led and fastest laps for each driver. You can click the headers below to sort the chart by that attribute. By default it is sorted by average projected FPTS.
|Driver||Starting Position||DraftKings Salary||Avg Proj FPTS||Avg. Projected Finish||Proj Laps Led||Proj Fastest Laps||Dollar Per FPT|
|Martin Truex Jr||6||$9,400||67.5||03.7||40||27||$139|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||29||$9,200||25.5||25.5||0||4||$361|
|John H. Nemechek||18||$6,200||12.3||25.7||0||1||$503|