And just like that, it’s time for the Playoffs. Even though the season was in doubt earlier this year thanks to the pandemic, the 16 drivers that will contend for this year’s Cup Series trophy will start the journey on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. Yes, the same Darlington that we raced at back in May. This time, though, we have the annual Southern 500 race, which means we should see some awesome throwback paint schemes.
With the teams already having two races at Darlington under their belt this season, we should have a very good idea of who will be strong on Sunday. Goodyear is also using the same tire combination from the Homestead race this season, so you can throw that in to the occasion. You can also expect all of the Playoff drivers to be very strong, and they’re all starting in the top 16 as well. You can click here for the Cook Out Southern 500 starting lineup.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on race day.*
Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest Picks for Darlington Sunday Night
Kevin Harvick ($13,200) – It’ll be surprising if Sunday night’s race doesn’t come down to Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin. Those two won the first races here at Darlington this season, and they’ve consistently had the best cars not only on this similar tire package, but also just overall in the season. Now that we’re in the Playoffs, expect these two to turn it up a notch even more (which is kind of scary). Between the two, I like Harvick over Hamlin in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest simply because he starts further back and has more place differential potential. However, I don’t mind the salary savings by going with Hamlin. If you can make a lineup that you really like that features Denny, go for it. I’m going with Harvick but both of these drivers should have a big fantasy points day on Sunday. As far as track history, Harvick has eight top 5 finishes in the last nine races here, two wins during that span, and no finish worse than 9th here since 2012.
Kyle Busch ($11,900) – …maybe now that the Playoffs are starting we’ll get the old Kyle Busch back? Or am I still being too optimistic? Even so, there’s no way I’m passing up Rowdy in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest at a track like Darlington when he starts in the mid-teens. Busch is a constant single-digit-finisher at “The Lady in Black” and even came home 2nd in the most recent race that we have ran here. That’s three top 3 finishes in the last five Darlington races for Busch. Additionally, I feel like Rowdy is a lot closer to his “normal” self than people realize; before he wrecked at Daytona, Busch had four top 5s in the last eight Cup Series races.
Erik Jones ($10,700) – Ugh, the constant heartbreak of picking Erik Jones… Last week at Daytona especially hurt, because the #20 Toyota was capable of challenging for the win, but alas: Tyler Reddick decided to pull one of the dumbest moves I’ve seen since Quin Houff at Texas. However, I’m right back here targeting Jones. Here’s the thing: the kid is really good at Darlington. So much so that he has the best average finish here (5.4) of any active Cup Series driver. Over his five career starts here, Erik has never finished worse than 8th at “The Lady in Black,” and he even won the Southern 500 last season. He’s starting back in 30th this time around which means he has major place differential upside as well. He’s a lock for me in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest.
Chris Buescher ($7,500) – Confidence-wise, I’m not at the top of that scale with this pick for Sunday night, and let me explain why: Chris Buescher has disappointed in both Darlington races this season, plus at Homestead. His best finish in those three races has been 23rd. But let me explain why I kind of like rolling the dice here. First, Buescher has been strong at Darlington in the past, with four finishes between 12th and 17th in his six career starts here. Additionally, this #17 team is running a lot better right now than earlier in the year, and heading into Sunday they have six straight top 20 finishes. If Buescher can pull off a teens finish here on Sunday night he will be worth the $7,500 Slingshot price tag, in my opinion. If you’re not feeling good about Buescher, you could go with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($7,300) here for a place differential play, but he’s not great at Darlington by any means.
Ryan Preece ($6,600) – If you have watched this NASCAR season, you know how risky it is taking Ryan Preece, but with him starting outside of the top 30 here on Sunday night, there’s also some high potential for a big points day for him (relatively speaking). Additionally, Preece finished 20th in the first race here this season, so that’s obviously not too terrible. If you want a safer option, though, consider Ty Dillon ($6,900) in this spot, as he’s never finished worse than 21st in five career Darlington Cup Series starts. That would require you rolling with Stenhouse, though, if you keep the same first three drivers.
Another lineup I’m considering is going with a more central approach, so instead of paying up for Kyle Busch and taking the chance with Chris Buescher and Ryan Preece, adding Tyler Reddick ($9,000), Jimmie Johnson ($8,800), and Ryan Newman ($8,200) alongside Jones and Harvick.