Believe it or not, almost a third of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is complete, as we have race #12 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday. Nicknamed “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” Darlington is unique to say the least: 1.366 miles in length, a super abrasive track, and two completely different corners make it very difficult to run well at, especially for rookies. It’d be very surprising if a “young gun” won here on Sunday. With the starting order, it is Brad Keselowski on the pole again this weekend although this time it will be Kevin Harvick joining him on the front row for Sunday’s race and you can click here to see how everyone will line up. Now to the picks!
*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.*
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Jordan’s Strategy Breakdown Video
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Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest Picks for Darlington
Denny Hamlin ($12,500) – Last week at Kansas, Denny Hamlin did what Denny Hamlin does and choked away a win. Yeah, that hurt in the NASCAR Fantasy world, but most of the time when that happens with Hamlin, he doesn’t have such a bad finish, so I’ll go back to this well. My algorithm loves Denny Hamlin for Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington and this #11 Toyota has been one of the best with the 750 hp package this season. Additionally, Hamlin finished 5th, 1st, and 13th in the three Darlington races last season and overall is a three-time winner at this race track. He starts 7th on Sunday so there’s a decent amount of place differential potential as well for this Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest.
Kyle Larson ($12,400) – As mentioned in my breakdown video, my Slingshot lineup for Darlington is starting with Kyle Larson no matter what direction I go with the other four drivers. Yes, there’s a chance that Larson has something crazy happen as we have seen several times over the last month or so, but the upside here is major: he could win both Stages, the race, and lead the most laps. Starting from back in 14th, that’d be a huge Slingshot points day if it happens, and in my opinion, the potential reward here heavily outweighs the risk. While racing for Chip Ganassi, Larson had an average finish of 6.7 at Darlington and led 497 laps over his last four starts.
Kevin Harvick ($11,300) – I don’t think Kevin Harvick has as much upside in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest as most of the other high-priced drivers this weekend, but it’d be a surprise if he doesn’t content for a top 5 finish in Sunday’s Goodyear 400, which is still worth a decent chunk of points in this game even with the possible negative place differential points. Here at Darlington, Harvick has finished 5th or better in nine of his last ten starts with the only exception being a 9th-place finish in 2017. This year on the “high-wear” tracks, Harvick came home 5th at Homestead and then rebounded for a 10th-place finish at Atlanta after an early tire issue. This #4 team seems to be getting more speed out of the car lately as well, so definite top 5 upside with Harvick on Sunday (plus Stage points).
Tyler Reddick ($8,800) – Keep an eye on the weather this weekend. As of Thursday morning, it was supposed to be nearly 90 degrees and partly cloudy in Darlington for the Goodyear 400, which is good news for Tyler Reddick fans. Reddick loves a hot, slick race track and loves to run right up beside the wall, which is what will be fast here at Darlington on Sunday. He finished 7th in the day race here last season and followed that up with a 13th-place result in the mid-week race soon after. Of course, this is still Tyler Reddick we’re talking about, so hitting the wall is still a definite possibility–and possibly even more so at Darlington–so that’s why he gets the “risky” designation for Sunday.
Erik Jones ($8,200) – My rule of thumb with Darlington has always been pretty simple: pick Erik Jones. The guy has an average finish of 5.2 at this race track and over six career starts has one win, four top 5s, and no result worse than 8th. And this weekend he’s starting back in 26th, which would usually make him a top tier Slingshot pick due to the place differential. Key words there: would usually. To put it bluntly, the car that Erik Jones is driving now isn’t even on the same planet performance-wise as the one he was driving for all of those good runs here at Darlington before. And we really have not seen much of anything to give us any confidence in Erik Jones this season at all: his only finishes better than 19th in 2021 thus far were a 14th at that crazy Daytona Road Course, an out-of-nowhere 10th at Las Vegas, and a 9th at Bristol Dirt. You can’t argue with his track record this weekend, though…
Ryan Preece ($6,300) – Unless you go with a more salary-central lineup build, you’re going to have to dig down here and take someone like Ryan Preece. And although this guy does have a tendency to hit the wall, I still trust him more than Corey LaJoie right now. Preece starts back in 29th on Sunday and has decent Slingshot fantasy point potential if he can keep the #37 Chevrolet clean; over his four career starts at “The Lady in Black,” Ryan Preece has finished 22nd or better in all but one of them. He also came home 21st at Homestead earlier this year, which is another “high-wear” track that used the same combination that Goodyear is bringing to Darlington this weekend.
“Race Winner” Pick = Kyle Larson – It’s just hard to imagine Kyle Larson not dominating this race on Sunday. Unless we see NASCAR manipulate the end of this one, it’s very possible that the #5 Chevrolet blows everyone else away again on Sunday, and honestly Larson could end up lapping most of the field. I’ll gladly go all-in on Larson this weekend and if that bites me in the ass then so be it.