We kick off the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs tonight with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In my opinion, Darlington is one of the best stops on the circuit, as tire falloff is extremely high thanks to the abrasive surface of the track, and driver talent tends to come into play because of this. The Southern 500 is scheduled to start around 6pm ET tonight, which means the teams will be dealing with early evening conditions transitioning into night–which will require crew chiefs to make the right adjustments on the car and keep up with the track. And with the added drama of this being the first Playoff race of the season, this is bound to be a great race on Sunday night!

Optimal Lineup According to Jordan’s Projections

The optimal DraftKings lineup for Darlington on Sunday according to my Projections is:

  • Kyle Busch
  • Joey Logano
  • Martin Truex, Jr.
  • Daniel Suarez
  • Chris Buescher
  • Cole Custer

I will note that the 2nd-highest projected lineup is: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr., Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Cole Custer.

DraftKings NASCAR Cash Core Picks for the Darlington Cook Out Southern 500

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Martin Truex, Jr. ($9,500) – Martin Truex, Jr. is a two-time Darlington winner and was actually a contender here at Darlington back in May but caught up in the big wreck near the end of the race and ended up finishing 24th. This time around, Truex will have some work to do when the green flag drops since he qualified back in 17th, but all that does is make him a great cash game play in DraftKings this weekend, especially with his lower-than-expected price tag. In practice on Saturday, Truex had the best 10- and 15-lap averages, and when it came to 20-lap average he was 2nd-fastest. There’s definitely a strategy play in being somewhat underweight on Truex in big tournaments, but for cash lineups, he’s a great core driver to start building with.

Daniel Suarez ($8,000) – I hate ultra-chalk weeks, but we have to make do with what we have. The #99 Chevrolet driven by Daniel Suarez failed inspection three times on Saturday, which means Suarez wasn’t able to complete a qualifying lap, and he’ll also have to serve a pass-through penalty down pit road once the race goes green. We haven’t really seen the pass-through penalties be a dagger to the heart at any track, though, so that’s not overly concerning. An early caution will get Suarez back on the lead lap, and if that doesn’t happen, this Southern 500 is a pretty long race, so I have no doubts that he will get back on the lead lap at some point on Sunday night. After that, you really don’t need much from Suarez for him to be in the optimal lineup tonight. Even a mid-teens finish, which he should be more than capable of getting, will get him there. Like Truex, though, there’s definitely a strategy play in going underweight on Suarez in tournaments. For what it’s worth, if you run an optimizer with my projections for 150 lineups, Suarez only shows up about 69% of the time (nice). While this is still a very high percentage, it’s worth noting that most drivers who start dead last like that show up in nearly 100% of lineups.

Cole Custer ($5,500) – As soon as DraftKings released the driver prices for this race, the first question that popped in my head was, why do they hate Cole Custer so much? A salary of $5,500 is simply too low for a guy like Custer this weekend, and since he qualified back in 30th, he should be really chalky on Sunday night. There’s obviously strategy plays and pivots to talk about with Custer here on Sunday–he wasn’t stellar here in May by any means–but as far as cash lineups go, I think Custer is the best option in this price range simply because he has significantly better equipment than every other driver down here, and with the same (or better) upside for DraftKings FPTS.

DraftKings NASCAR Tournament Picks for the Darlington Cook Out Southern 500

Denny Hamlin leaning next to car at Pocono 2021
Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Denny Hamlin ($11,100) – There is a very good chance that Denny Hamlin goes significantly under-owned on this DraftKings slate, and it’s all because of where he’s priced. Kyle Larson ($11,400) is the obvious high-dollar driver play tonight, as he is great at Darlington, has a bit of place differential potential starting 7th, and has a really fast race car. And then we have Chase Elliott ($10,700), who comes in at a $400 discount off of Hamlin, but starts 12 spots further back in the field (Elliott starts 23rd compared to Hamlin’s 11th). My projections have Hamlin coming in at just around 24% ownership tonight, but that might even be a little high. Here at Darlington, Denny is a four-time winner, has the best career average finish in the field (7.8), and is the defending winner of this race. Looking at the practice chart, his teammates all ranked higher than him in speed over the long run, but Hamlin was right there. He may not dominate this race early, but if this #11 Toyota gets to the front in the second half of the race, we could definitely see Hamlin in victory lane to kick off these Playoffs. I like pairing Denny with a high starter (such as pole sitter Joey Logano ($9,800)) to have the strategy of getting the early dominator points and then maybe the “surprise” dominator points later.

William Byron ($8,900) – Let’s not forget who Joey Logano punted out of the way to get the win here at Darlington back in May…William Byron. Yes, this #24 team has struggled mightily ever since their win at Martinsville back in April, but as my Stacking Dennys podcast co-host pointed out on Twitter a couple of days ago, there’s a good chance that this team has simply been experimenting during that time. So right now, we’re hitting a potential “sweet spot” (as I like to call it) for Byron when it comes to DraftKings: most DFS players don’t trust him, he starts really high (3rd), and his price isn’t extremely low, all of which will keep his ownership down. We’ve seen Willy B compete for the win here at Darlington before, though, and the #24 Chevrolet ranked 4th in ten-lap average during practice this weekend. I definitely can’t argue against being overweight on Byron for this slate.

Ty Dillon ($5,800) – Down in the lower driver price range for this slate, the chalk plays are going to be Cole Custer ($5,500) and Corey LaJoie ($5,400), so my contrarian brain immediately went to look for a different option. He’s priced a little bit higher, but I really like rounding out your lineup with Ty Dillon this weekend if you can fit in the price. Ty has always been a solid performer here at Darlington, with finishes of 21st or better in all but one of his seven career Cup Series starts here. This weekend, he starts back in 29th, so he essentially has the same upside as guys like Custer and LaJoie but is projected to come in about 10 percentage points lower in ownership than those two. It helps that Ty’s teammate, Erik Jones ($7,200), seems to have respectable speed this weekend as well.

Stacking Dennys Podcast with Jordan & RotoDoc

Darlington NASCAR DraftKings Driver 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 six different ranking systems. Also factored in 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.

DriverDK SalaryAvg Proj FPTSProj OwnStarting PositionAvg. Projected FinishDollar Per FPT
Kyle Larson$11,40070.4334.54%704.5$162
Joey Logano$9,80067.3823.98%106.3$145
Martin Truex Jr$9,50060.9537.57%1707.7$156
Kyle Busch$10,20059.4321.95%506.3$172
Chase Elliott$10,70057.2729.49%2308.3$187
Denny Hamlin$11,10053.7223.67%1107.7$207
Ross Chastain$10,00050.8024.54%1207.5$197
Daniel Suarez$8,00048.8048.07%3615.8$164
Tyler Reddick$10,50046.9015.61%408.7$224
Christopher Bell$8,70046.2214.79%207.3$188
William Byron$8,90043.6814.36%308.3$204
Kevin Harvick$8,50043.5530.31%1810.7$195
Erik Jones$7,20039.4318.74%1512.0$183
Chase Briscoe$7,90036.9814.94%1915.2$214
Chris Buescher$6,90036.8025.44%2717.8$188
Ryan Blaney$9,20036.7710.38%910.8$250
Alex Bowman$8,20035.5316.80%1613.8$231
Brad Keselowski$6,70031.9716.86%2518.5$210
Austin Cindric$7,60027.836.43%613.8$273
Cole Custer$5,50027.8330.94%3022.2$198
Bubba Wallace$7,30027.008.43%814.8$270
Ty Gibbs$7,10026.9714.65%2118.2$263
Ty Dillon$5,80025.1713.96%2922.7$230
Aric Almirola$6,40024.1711.59%2220.0$265
Corey Lajoie$5,40022.3325.78%3426.7$242
Austin Dillon$7,80018.736.07%1319.5$416
Ricky Stenhouse Jr$6,50018.3313.94%2022.5$355
Todd Gilliland$5,30017.5011.23%3128.0$303
Michael McDowell$7,50017.004.30%1018.8$441
Daniel Hemric$5,90016.508.53%2423.8$358
Harrison Burton$5,70016.008.29%2827.0$356
Justin Haley$6,20010.586.38%1423.7$586
JJ Yeley$5,10009.832.09%3332.3$519
BJ McLeod$5,00008.001.24%3534.5$625
Cody Ware$4,90007.171.05%3233.0$684
Landon Cassill$6,10004.832.88%2631.7$1,262
Kurt Busch$7,00000.000.18%000.0#N/A
As someone who has always been obsessed with numbers, Fantasy NASCAR has been the perfect fit with me. I pride myself on the quality of my analysis for each race, and am glad that I have been able to help others along the way. I've been a serious Fantasy NASCAR player for over 10 years now, and I'm just getting started.