The Playoffs kick off this weekend for both the actual NASCAR Cup Series as well as the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest fantasy game. That means we have ten weeks left to crown a champion in both. The first race up of those ten is at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night, the Cook Out Southern 500.

Darlington is a high wear race track and we raced here already once this season (back in May) with Martin Truex, Jr. dominating the entire day. It’s worth noting, though, that Darlington decided to repave turn two recently, and not a lot of people (drivers included) really know exactly how that’s going to affect the racing. NASCAR is rolling with the 750hp package this weekend and last week’s winner, Ryan Blaney, is on the pole. You can click here to see the full starting lineup for this year’s Southern 500.

*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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Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest Picks for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington

The Safe

Kyle Larson ($12,500) – Getting Kyle Larson with a little bit of place differential potential is amazing in this Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest, and to have that at one of his best tracks, it makes him a knockout punch in this NASCAR Fantasy game. Even though “Yung Money” has never won at “The Lady in Black,” Larson is an elite performer at this race track and has ended up 3rd or better in four of his last five starts here. In the first race at Darlington this season, the #5 Chevrolet wasn’t great all day, but the team got it adjusted correctly by the end of the race and Larson probably could have won if that race as 10-20 laps longer. In the 750hp package this season, Larson has the best average finish (6.0), and on high wear tracks in 2021, he’s got the best average running position (5.4).

Martin Truex, Jr. ($12,000) – The #19 Toyota might not have the Auto Owners paint scheme this weekend like it did in the first Darlington race this year, but that doesn’t mean that Martin Truex, Jr. can’t dominate and win this race on Sunday night. Looking at the last two races at “The Lady in Black,” MTJ has won all four Stages and has also led a total of 444 laps… over two races! This weekend, Truex starts back in 10th, so there’s some built-in place differential, and looking at the high-wear tracks this season, he has the best average finish (4.0) and the 2nd-best average running position (6.7). At $12,000 in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest, Martin Truex, Jr. is a great anchor for your lineup Sunday night.

Chris Buescher ($8,200) – For the salary this weekend, Chris Buescher is a great value pick in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. He’s going to start way back in 34th on Sunday night, but Buescher has legitimate top 15 finishing potential in this weekend’s Southern 500. On the high wear tracks this year, the #17 Ford has probably been even better than you think; Buescher’s average running position of 11.8 on them is tied for 9th-best, and his average finish of 12.8 is 11th-best. He’s a great mid-priced driver to pick in this game due this weekend due to the high upside in finishing potential.

The Risky

Denny Hamlin ($12,200) – If you listened to the Stacking Dennys podcast this week, you know that I think that Denny Hamlin is going to turn it on and get several wins in these Playoffs. I also think that his first win of 2021 comes this weekend at Darlington. Is that a guarantee? No, not really, and Hamlin isn’t the favorite according to Las Vegas and sportsbooks. However, Denny is a three-time winner at “The Lady in Black” and has been a consistent top 5 threat over the years at this track. Over the last 14 races here, Hamlin has finished 6th or better ten times. So why is he a “risky” pick in the Slingshot game this weekend? He starts 2nd, and with place differential plays like Larson and Truex in a similar price range, there’s definitely more risk in taking Hamlin.

Christopher Bell ($9,500) – I talked about Christopher Bell for quite a bit in the Slingshot video this week (above), so make sure you check that out. If you remember back to the first Darlington race this season, CBell was on track for a top 5 finish but he ended up hitting the wall late and had to make a pit stop, relegating him to a 14th-place finish. That makes it four career Cup Series starts at this track for Christopher Bell with a grand total of zero top 10s. That would scare most fantasy players off, but you know my rule: often times you need to zig while everyone else zags. Bell has an average finish of 9.4 in the 750hp package this season (8th-best) and this #20 Toyota was great here with Erik Jones behind the wheel. Christopher Bell is more talented than Erik Jones.

Tyler Reddick ($9,000) – It’s the same song and dance for Tyler Reddick this weekend as it is with most races: the upside is there, but the potential to disappoint is definitely there as well. Darlington Raceway is one of Reddick’s favorite tracks on the schedule, if not his absolute favorite. He finished 7th in his first ever Cup Series start here and has three results of 13th or better in his four attempts. Earlier this year, Reddick was really strong out of the gate (he finished 3rd in Stage 1) but then faded as the race went on, finishing 8th in Stage 2 before ultimately coming home 12th at the checkered flag. With an average finish of 11.5 on high wear tracks this season, Reddick ties for 10th-best in that category, and that includes finishes of 2nd at Homestead and 6th in the second Atlanta race.

The Winner

“Race Winner” Pick = Denny Hamlin – Sticking with what I said on the podcast this weekend. Give me Hamlin for the win, although the algorithm thinks it’s going to come down to Kyle Larson or Martin Truex, Jr.

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.