Darlington. Sunday night. Southern 500. Playoff Race #1.
“The Lady in Black” is an old, worn-out race track which means tire conservation is going to play a big role in who has the fastest car late in runs this weekend. There’s 367 laps scheduled for Sunday’s race, which also means this is going to be a long night for these drivers and these teams. One or two “Darlington stripes” from hitting the wall is pretty normal here, but hit it too hard and a driver’s night could be done early.
You should expect the 16 Playoff drivers to all challenge for a top 15 finish on Sunday night, as that just seems to be what happens when the postseason starts in this sport. Additionally, we’ve raced here at Darlington twice this season (back in May), and Goodyear also brought this exact same tire combination to Homestead earlier this year. The cars also ran this same left side tire at Fontana and, most recently, Dover, so what I’m saying here is we have a ton of recent data from this season to analyze, as well as track history here at Darlington. Now let’s get into this breakdown of the 39 drivers racing in Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington.
I would recommend checking out my DraftKings Projections article for this racen in addition to this driver-by-driver breakdown. Click here to get to the Projections article.
If you throw my Projections for Darlington Sunday night into an optimizer and let it create 150 lineups with no restrictions, these are the core drivers that it uses most of the time:
- Kevin Harvick (96%)
- Denny Hamlin (95%)
- Tyler Reddick (80%)
Darlington Cook Out Southern 500 Starting Lineup
- Chase Elliott ($10,600) – 72.3 projected FPTS
– Track position is king at Darlington, and this will be the first time that Chase Elliott has started better than 8th at “The Lady in Black.” I fully expect him to rack up a good amount of DraftKings dominator points on Sunday night, but the question is, how many? Denny Hamlin is going to have a really good car to work with, but I honestly think we’ll see the earlier season speed we got accustomed to with this #9 Chevrolet return now that the Playoffs are here. Chase is a race-winning contender with above-average dominator potential on Sunday.
- Denny Hamlin ($11,400) – 96.3 projected FPTS
– The $11,400 price tag is means Hamlin is going to need a dominating effort on Sunday night, and probably a win as well since he starts 2nd and has virtually no place differential potential. I guess it’s a good thing Hamlin is the most recent race winner at Darlington and also won the Southern 500 in 2017 (as well as in 2010). Hamlin has similar race-winning and dominator potential as Chase this weekend, it’s basically a coin flip in my eyes between the two on who dominates from the start.
- William Byron ($7,800) – 30.4 projected FPTS
– I can see why people would get excited at Byron having sleeper potential on Sunday, but it’s just hard for me to take a risk here with him starting 3rd and Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin starting on the front row. With this starting position, Byron will need to dominate a decent portion of this race on Sunday to put up a good DraftKings score, and I just don’t think that’s very likely.
- Alex Bowman ($7,900) – 40.4 projected FPTS
– This guy is going to be on quite a few people’s “sleeper” radars this weekend, simply because he’s so good at high wear race tracks. And it’s hard for me to argue against it, especially after Bowman nearly won here at Darlington back in May. He’s also averaging the most fastest laps at Darlington over the last four races here at 26.3 per race. The question becomes whether or not you think Alex Bowman can finish top 5 or not, because he sure has a knack for fading in the second half of races, and has just three top 5 finishes this year. That’s the downside of taking a risk with a driver starting 4th.
- Brad Keselowski ($8,800) – 51.6 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Brad Keselowski as a GPP/tournmament pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Martin Truex, Jr. ($9,400) – 67.5 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Martin Truex, Jr. as a GPP/tournmament pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Ryan Blaney ($10,300) – 30.5 projected FPTS
– It’ll take a career night and then some out of Ryan Blaney on Sunday in order for this $10,300 DraftKings price tag to pay off. In seven career Cup Series starts at Darlington, he’s never finished better than 13th, and he’s never had more than 10 fastest laps. I won’t have any Blaney on Sunday night.
- Kevin Harvick ($10,900) – 91.8 projected FPTS
– I really like the driver pricing by DraftKings this weekend, but Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick should’ve been flipped since Harvick starts back in 8th. However, that makes him easier to fit into lineups, so I guess I can’t complain. Now that Kyle Larson is gone, I think Kevin Harvick deserves the title of the best driver at Darlington right now, as he’s finished 4th or better in each of the last four races here, and inside the top 5 in eight of the last nine. That same time frame includes two wins and a worst finish of 9th. Additionally, since the 2014 season, Harvick leads all active drivers in fastest laps at Darlington with 34.1 per race. Brad Keselowski is 2nd on that list with 20.4 fastest laps per race.
- Clint Bowyer ($8,100) – 39.0 projected FPTS
– Bowyer is a decent option to take a risk on on Sunday night if you think he can get up there and lead some laps. Clint has an average Green Flag Speed ranking of 8.7 in the Darlington and Homestead races this year, and he came home 6th in last year’s Southern 500 race. He should be relatively low owned on Sunday night so definitely a GPP/tournament option.
- Aric Almirola ($8,300) – 37.7 projected FPTS
– Aric Almirola is similar to Clint Bowyer. He could end up being in the optimal lineup on Sunday night with a top 5 finish. Will that happen? It’s unlikely, but it’s possible. Almirola came home 12th and 7th in the first two Darlington races this season–which rank as his best and 3rd-best finishes ever here–and then 5th at Homestead. Again, a GPP/tournament option here.
- Matt DiBenedetto ($7,400) – 27.5 projected FPTS
– This range definitely has GPP/tournament options. DiBenedetto has finished 9th, 14th, and 8th in his last three Cup Series starts here at Darlington, and at $7,400 he’s much easier to fit into a DraftKings lineup than Bowyer or Almirola. At Homestead this year, Matty D came home 14th.
- Austin Dillon ($8,600) – 28.8 projected FPTS
– Austin Dillon is a solid racer at Darlington, as he’s finished 12th or better here in five of his eight career Cup Series starts here, but at $8,600 in DraftKings, it’s hard to imagine him being in the optimal lineup. Austin did finish 4th here back in 2017 but that’s his only result better than 10th at “The Lady in Black.” I could see rolling the dice on him in some other Fantasy NASCAR leagues but not DraftKings.
- Joey Logano ($9,800) – 47.3 projected FPTS
– I’m not a huge fan of Joey Logano’s price point because he’s likely going to need dominator points for it to pay off. He’s led 37 total laps in the last six Darlington races despite starting 9th or better in each. As far as fastest laps, Logano is averaging 8.3 per race over that span with the highest in one race being 13. I don’t see myself having much Joey on Sunday night, although I do think he should be good for a solid top 10 finish.
- Cole Custer ($7,600) – 16.0 projected FPTS
– At $7,600 and starting up in 14th, I don’t see a reason to have much Cole Custer in DraftKings on Sunday night. He ran 22nd and 31st in the first two races here this season and was 22nd at Homestead.
- Kyle Busch ($10,000) – 55.8 projected FPTS
– The Busch Brothers are intriguing options this weekend, first let’s start with Kyle. Over the last ten Darlington races, Rowdy has finished 7th or better eight times, and over the last five he’s came home inside the top 3 three times. He has place differential potential on Sunday night since he starts back in 15th, but with a $10,000 DraftKings price tag, he will need dominator points to make it into the optimal lineup. Kyle is averaging just 9 fastest laps per race over the last four years here, but that’s excluding the 2019 Southern 500, as he led 118 laps and had 43 fastest laps. That seems to be an anomaly for Rowdy, though, and with how his season is going, it’s hard to see that happening again. Still, it’s worth having some (15-20%) exposure.
- Kurt Busch ($9,000) – 40.0 projected FPTS
– Kurt Busch is actually a sneaky solid play this weekend and worth being overweight on in DraftKings, but nothing super crazy. Kurt has finished 7th or better in five of the last seven Darlington races, and over that same time span he’s also averaging the 3rd-most fastest laps per race (22.4). My only issue with Kurt is his momentum: four straight races outside of the top 10, and he hasn’t had a top 5 finish since Kentucky back in July.
- Bubba Wallace ($6,700) – 20.3 projected FPTS
– His price makes it to go too overweight on Bubba Wallace this weekend, but in lineups where it makes sense, I don’t mind taking the risk here. Bubba has improved in each race he’s ran here at Darlington, most recently finishing 16th in May. Additionally, the #43 Chevrolet came home 13th at Homestead this year.
- John Hunter Nemechek ($6,200) – 12.3 projected FPTS
– John Hunter Nemechek finished 9th in the first Darlington race this year and came home 19th at Homestead. If he can repeat that first performance then obviously he will be a great pick in DraftKings here on Sunday. Likelihood? Not very high at all.
- Michael McDowell ($6,400) – 16.5 projected FPTS
– McDowell finished 15th at Homestead this year after coming home 23rd and 17th in the two Darlington races. I’m expecting a finish of around 20th again out of him (at best) here on Sunday. Not worth the $6,400 price tag in DraftKings, in my opinion.
- Chris Buescher ($5,700) – 25.7 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Chris Buescher as a GPP/tournmament pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Christopher Bell ($6,900) – 28.2 projected FPTS
– There’s some sleeper potential with Christopher Bell on Sunday night if you want to roll the dice with him as a pivot off of Tyler Reddick or Ryan Newman. This #95 Toyota crossed the stripe in 11th in the second Darlington race this season and then ended up 8th at Homestead. As with pretty much any other week, though, there’s definitely no guarantee with Christopher Bell. Before Daytona, he had three straight finishes outside of the top 20, and has finished 21st or worse in six of the last eight non-superspeedway races this season.
- Jimmie Johnson ($8,400) – 39.5 projected FPTS
– I see the upside with Jimmie Johnson this weekend, especially because he showed race-leading speed in the first Darlington race this season and because he starts back in 22nd, but it’s hard to justify this $8,400 price tag. Johnson will likely need close to a top 5 run on Sunday night to be in the optimal lineup, and I don’t think that happens. On a positive note, Jimmie had finished 8th or better in four of the six races on this tire (or similar) combination. Maybe he’s a pivot down off of Erik Jones?
- Brennan Poole ($4,500) – 03.8 projected FPTS
– Full fade. If Poole scores more than a couple of FPTS in DraftKings on Sunday night it will be a great race for this team. He starts way too high to even be considered.
- Tyler Reddick ($7,000) – 49.2 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Tyler Reddick as a cash pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Ty Dillon ($6,000) – 24.8 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Ty Dillon as a cash pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Matt Kenseth ($6,500) – 33.5 projected FPTS
– I almost wrote up Matt Kenseth as a cash pick this week instead of Ty Dillon but I decided to write up the cheaper option. Still, I think Kenseth is a solid play in DraftKings on Sunday night. For one, this #42 Chevrolet has been the best car here lately with Kyle Larson behind the wheel. Obviously Kenseth and Larson are two completely different drivers, but this team still knows this track well. Additionally, Kenseth ran 10th in the first race here this season, and in the second race he would have finished mid-teens but had to make an unexpected pit stop late.
- Corey LaJoie ($5,500) – 15.5 projected FPTS
– I feel like you have to have some Corey LaJoie exposure with every race simply because we’ve seen him out-perform expectations many times this year. As far as Darlington goes, though, Corey posted his career-best finish here the last time we raced at “The Lady in Black,” but it was only a 24th-place effort. He’s a pivot option off of Chastain or Preece if one or both of those guys wreck out…
- Daniel Suarez ($5,800) – 14.5 projected FPTS
– Unless we get some major attrition on Sunday night, Daniel Suarez is likely going to finish around where he starts. In the two Darlington races earlier this year, he came home 25th and 27th, and in the last seven Cup Series races overall he’s ended up between 24th and 30th each race. I don’t see much upside here.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($9,200) – 25.5 projected FPTS
– I’d be willing to give Stenhouse a shot this weekend if he was priced under $7,000, but paying up this much for him is just ridiculous. Even in cash games you shouldn’t pay $9,200 to roster Stenhouse. In nine career starts at Darlington, he has just one top 15 finish and an average result of 25.9. This year, he finished 40th and 25th in the two races, and at Homestead he came home 20th.
- Erik Jones ($9,600) – 60.4 projected FPTS
– Darlington has been a great track for Erik Jones, and if the Cup Series only raced here for all 36 races, he’d probably have a championship. In five career Cup Series starts at “The Lady in Black,” Jones has one win, three top 5s, and has never finished worse than 8th. He’s a great option no matter what type of contest you’re playing, and an obvious cash play since he starts 30th.
- Ryan Newman ($7,200) – 36.0 projected FPTS
– Newman’s DraftKings salary this week makes it kind of awkward to fit him in to some lineups, but in all likelihood we’re looking at a mid-teens finish from “The Rocketman” and a solid points day in DFS. He’s a viable option in both cash games and GPPs/tournaments. In the first two Darlington races this season, Newman finished 15th and 14th, and he’s ended up 15th or better in seven of his last nine starts at this track.
- Quin Houff ($4,600) – 11.3 projected FPTS
– Houff actually pulled off a 26th-place finish in the second Darlington race this season, but don’t forget that five of the fully-funded cars had issues in that race. He ended up 36th in the first race there this season and 33rd at Homestead. It’s hard to imagine Houff improving from his starting position this time around. Maybe if you really want to try a punt play on Sunday night, you consider Houff to save even more money, but I prefer the guy starting 37th if you’re going to go with that strategy.
- Timmy Hill ($4,800) – 07.8 projected FPTS
– Hill survived the carnage at Daytona and will start about 5 spots higher than normal on Sunday night at Darlington because of it. That pretty much takes away all of his playability in DraftKings, although that was already super low to begin with. Surprisingly, Timmy finished 33rd in both Darlington races this season, and 34th at Homestead, but this #66 Toyota is slower now that it was earlier in the year.
- Ross Chastain ($5,600) – 21.8 projected FPTS
– Ross Chastain was a late add to this race so he will have to go to the rear on the pace laps, and he’ll be scored from 34th on Sunday. I can see the appeal here, considering Ross has driven this #77 Chevrolet for Spire to finishes of 25th and 16th at Daytona, 21st at Charlotte, and 17th at Indianapolis, but I still don’t trust this equipment. As far as track history, Chastain drove the under-funded Premium Motorsports car to finishes of 28th in two races here in 2018 and 2019. I could see a similar result happening on Sunday.
- Ryan Preece ($5,900) – 31.2 projected FPTS
– I wrote up Ryan Preece as a cash pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- James Davison ($4,900) – 08.5 projected FPTS
– Davison is driving the #53 car this weekend. In the first two Darlington races this year, Garrett Smithley drove this car to 37th- and 34th-place finishes, and at Homestead, Josh Bilicki came home 37th. A high 30s finish out of Davison on Sunday would be a great race for him and this team.
- JJ Yeley ($5,200) – 18.8 projected FPTS
– I wrote up JJ Yeley as a GPP/tournmament pick in my Projections article for Sunday. Click here to read that.
- Josh Bilicki ($5,100) – 12.7 projected FPTS
– The #7 Chevrolet will be piloted by Josh Bilicki on Sunday night, and honestly he’s only going to move up if there’s attrition on Sunday night. Other than that, this car is a 35th-place finisher at best. I will note, though, that the #7 team actually has a sponsor this weekend, so they could see a minor boost in speed. Still, Bilicki will be at least 5 laps down on Sunday night.
- Joey Gase ($5,300) – 15.0 projected FPTS
– Gase is driving the #51 Ford this weekend, and this car is just garbage right now. My guess would be that they’re getting low on funding, and there’s no sponsor listed this week. Gase did finish 30th and 29th in the two Darlington races earlier this year in this car, but they also had a sponsor then. A good amount of attrition is what you’re banking on here if you roll the dice with Joey Gase this weekend.