The Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is the penultimate race before the playoffs begin. This week, Cup Series drivers take on this unique 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval known for its wrecks and tire issues. Drivers starting further back will take advantage of such factors to gain points from Place Differential.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,700 on DraftKings) continues to prove why he deserves the highest salary each week. He leads all drivers in Average Running Position at 8.2, Fastest Laps at 846, and Driver Rating with a113.5 this season. Truex has finished 12th or better in five of the last six Darlington races and he is the defending winner. Truex was fourth in final practice and starts second. It will be no surprise to see Truex compete for the win and lead laps this week.
Last race, Kyle Busch ($10,600) showed that he is one of the biggest competitors for the title by winning his second event of the season and leading the second-most Laps at 156. In his last 12 Darlington starts, Kyle Busch has the second-best ARP of 9.1, the most Laps Led at 592, and the second-highest DR of 104.2. He starts third and was first in final practice. Kyle Busch has been one of the best performers in 2017 and do not anticipate that to change at Darlington.
Kyle Larson ($10,300) is one of the best options for this week’s race. He has recent momentum both at the site and in the last few races this season. In three starts at Darlington, Larson has three Top 10 finishes, the fourth-best ARP of 11.6, and the fifth-best DR of 96.6. He also has Two Top 10 finishes in the last two races in 2017. Larson starts fourth, was fastest in first practice, and had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average.
Denny Hamlin ($9,900) is not seeing as much success as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, but he is quietly having a solid season as well. Hamlin has three Top 4 finishes in the last four races and 13 Top 10 finishes this season, which is tied for fifth-best of active drivers. In his past 11 starts at Darlington, Hamlin has the best Average Finishing Position of 6.3, the best ARP of 8.3, and the best DR of 107.9. Hamlin was second in first practice, fifth in final practice, and starts ninth. Hamlin’s practice speeds indicate a finish in the Top 5, making him a very good pick.
Kevin Harvick ($9,700) has become a master at Darlington since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. In the last three Darlington races, Harvick has the best AFP of 2.7 and led the most laps in two of them. Harvick has 15 Top 10 finishes this season, the second-most of all drivers. He was fifth in first practice, second in final practice, and will start first. Watch for Harvick to lead some laps and compete for a Top 3 finishing position.
Matt Kenseth ($9,500) has been on a nice run of consistency with five Top 10 finishes in the last six races this season. Since 2005, Kenseth has the third-best AFP of 10.7, the seventh-most Fastest Laps at 141, and ranks 11th in DR at 92.9. Kenseth was eighth in first practice, 11th in final practice, and starts 11th. Kenseth’s practice speeds indicate a finish around his starting position.
Chase Elliott ($9,300) is one of the more favorable options at his price range this week. Elliott has one Top 10 finish in two starts at Darlington. He has three finishes in the Top 15 in the last four races and 13 Top 10 finishes overall this season. Elliott starts 20th, was seventh in first practice, and had the sixth-best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice. Elliott’s practice speeds signify a finish around the Top 10, ahead of his starting position.
Brad Keselowski ($9,200) has never won at Darlington, but has been solid at the site. In eight starts at Darlington, Keselowski has four Top 10 finishes, which include his two most recent starts. Keselowski has the 10th-best ARP of 12.7, the ninth-most Fastest Laps at 116, and the seventh-best DR of 95.5. Keselowski starts sixth, was third in first practice, and sixth in final practice. Anticipate that he will finish in the Top 5.
MID-RANGE PRICED PICKS
Erik Jones ($8,800) will be making his Cup Series debut at Darlington. He has looked great in the past four races, with four Top 10 finishes, including a career-best finish of second at Bristol most recently, where he led the most Laps. Jones was 11th in first practice and will start 10th. Even if he is inexperienced, his consistency at a variety of track types in recent races proves that he is very capable of a Top 10 finish, something he has accomplished twice in the Xfinity series.
Ryan Newman ($8,100) is one of the most consistent drivers at Darlington. In 18 starts, Newman has the fifth-best AFP of 11.9 and has finished 13th or better in his last four starts at the site. Newman starts 17th, was 10th in first practice, and 15th in final practice. Newman will score an easy Top 15 finish based on his practice speeds.
Daniel Suarez ($7,800) has never raced at Darlington in the Cup Series. He has two starts at the site in the Xfinity Series, and finished third both times. Suarez has four Top 10 finishes in the last six races this season. He was 19th in first practice, 10th in final practice, and starts 19th. Suarez will finish ahead of his starting position in the Top 15 as indicated by his practice speeds.
Austin Dillon ($7,400) is one of the better options in the lower mid-tier price range. In three starts at Darlington, he has two Top 12 finishes and has never finished with a negative PD. Austin Dillon starts 13th and was eighth in final practice. Based on his final practice speed, Austin Dillon will finish around the Top 10.
Ty Dillon ($6,800) always seems to finish around the Top 20 or better regardless of track type. He has finished in that range in five of the last six races this season. He will be making his Cup Series debut at Darlington. Ty Dillon was 24th in first practice, had ranked 21st in the 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice, and starts 25th. His practice speeds are indicative of a finish in the Top 25, but ahead of his starting position.
Danica Patrick’s ($6,200) best finish at Darlington is 22nd. Patrick has two Top 25 finishes, but she has finished with a positive PD in four of her five career starts at the site. Patrick starts 33rd, was 31st in first practice, and 22nd in final practice. The practice speeds displayed by Patrick point to a finish in the Top 25, making her a favorable play for PD points.
Matt DiBenedetto ($5,700) is the best option for a cheap bargain to finish the race. In two starts, Dibenedetto finished 25th and 26th. He has never finished with negative PD at Darlington. He was 27th in first practice and starts 28th.
TOP DRIVERS IN EACH PRICE RANGE FOR BOJANGLES’ SOUTHERN 500 – BASED ON COMBINATION OF PROJECTED PERFORMANCE AND VALUE
$10,000 – Plus Range
1: Martin Truex Jr. ($10,700) – He is the defending winner and was very fast in final practice. He will compete for the win and lead several laps.
2: Kyle Busch ($10,600) – He led final practice and has momentum from winning at Bristol.
3: Kyle Larson ($10,300) – He had the best 10 Consecutive Lap Average in final practice and was fastest in first practice.
$9,000 – Plus Range
1: Kevin Harvick ($9,700) – He has looked fast throughout practices and he starts first. Expect him to lead laps and compete for the win.
2: Denny Hamlin ($9,900) – He has looked very good throughout practices and starts ninth. He will pick up a few points from PD as he will finish in the Top 5.
3: Chase Elliott ($9,300) – His practice speeds looked much better than his starting position, so expect him to gain points from PD.
$8,000 – Plus Range
1: Ryan Newman ($8,100) – He has favorable history at this track and has been faster in practices compared to his starting position.
2: Erik Jones ($8,800) – Jones has plenty of recent momentum and has done well at Darlington in the Xfinity Series.
3: Jamie McMurray ($8,500) – McMurray was third in final practice and has 12 Top 10 finishes this season, which is eighth of all drivers.
$7,000 – Plus Range
1: Daniel Suarez ($7,800) – Suarez looked decent in final practice and has two third place finishes in the Xfinity Series at this track.
2: Austin Dillon ($7,400) – He looked fast in final practice and has never finished with a negative PD in three starts at Darlington.
3: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7,600) – He looked decent in practices and starts 22nd. Expect a Top 20 finish, ahead of his starting position.
Below $7,000 Range
1: Danica Patrick ($6,200) – Her practice speeds have looked better than her starting position.
2: Ty Dillon ($6,800) – He has five Top 20 finishes in the last six races and has practice speeds that are a little better than his starting position.
3: Matt DiBenedetto ($5,700) – Dibenedetto has finished no worse than 26th at Darlington.