DraftKings DFS NASCAR Picks: Southern 500
The Sprint Cup Series heads to the Dirty South, as the NASCAR boys try to tame ‘The Lady in Black’. And, anyone who has been to the historic track in northeastern South Carolina knows very well, Darlington is the track ‘Too Tough to Tame’. Now that we have all of the track slogans out of the way, let’s talk DFS.
I love this track, by the way. It is an intermediate track with a short track feel. There isn’t a lot of room from wall to wall, causing tempers to flare hotter than the brake rotors and summer days in the upstate of the Palmetto state. And, if you ever do attend a race here, make sure never to use the Port-a-Potty. The temperatures are so hot inside it is like being on the surface of the sun, and the smell is so bad that it almost smells good. But that’s neither here nor there. Plus, the tailgating crowds are so amazing and friendly. Me and a buddy sat next to a truckload of Jeff Gordon ($8,400) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($8,300) fans grilling out of the red Sunoco gas can, sharing prawns, portabello mushrooms, filet mignon and, of course, washing it down with ice-cold beer. Who said NASCAR fans aren’t sophisticated?
Speaking of Gordon, this is his final start at Darlington. He leads all active drivers with seven victories in 34 starts, and no one else is even close. Gordon has also finished inside the Top Five in 19 of his 34 runs, while bringing it home in the Top 10 on 23 separate occasions. Sure, he has crashed out six times, but with 1,744 laps led, he is a DFS force at Darlington, and will likely race with a little extra intensity in his final appearance at the historic track. He has an 11.4 Average-Finish Position (AFP), which ranks third among all active drivers with at least two starts. Gordon is set to start from inside Row 3.
Little E hasn’t had as great of success at the South Carolina run. He has never taken checkers in 20 career starts while finishing inside the Top Five just four times. In fact, with a total of just 176 laps led, this figures to be one of his most difficult tracks on circuit. While he has shown some improvement over the past five years, checking in eighth in NASCAR’s Loop Data, he has led just six laps during the span and that screams stay away for DFS purposes. He will start 26th after a dismal qualifying performance given his equipment.
We all know Jimmie Johnson ($9,300) is a DFS stud at must tracks, and Darlington is no exception. Oddly enough I was in attendance at The Showtime Southern 500 in 2010 when Johnson left on a wrecker, his only DNF in 16 career starts. He has finished inside the Top Five nine times, and outside of the Top 20 just twice. He is a solid DFS play at this price level, and while he was just so-so in practice Friday, he is as solid as they come at Darlington when the lights come on.
Going by Driver Ratings, it’s no wonder why Kyle Busch ($10,600) sits atop the salary list. He has a 115.9 Driver Rating over the past five stops, leading 416 laps and sitting inside the Top 15 in 91.5 percent of his laps. He qualifies well at Darlington, and he finishes well, averaging a 6.8 AFP in the past five years. This is a place he didn’t master until recent years, but coupled with his hot run lately he makes for a safe DFS play if you can squeeze him under the cap.
Rowdy’s teammate Denny Hamlin ($9,500) has been dominant at Darlington, and he comes a little less expensive than Busch. He has led 98.9 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 since the 2010 Darlington race, and he has led a respectable 163 laps while leading all drivers with a 6.0 AFP. He has won just once in nine career starts at Darlington, but he has also never finished outside the Top 20. That includes seven Top 10s. In other words, the No. 11 is a must-play, especially in GPPs.
Stewart-Haas Racing was very prepared upon arriving for practice Friday. Kurt Busch ($10,100), Tony Stewart ($8,000) and Kevin Harvick ($10,500) finished 2-3-4 in the first practice at the track. Busch continued his solid showing in the second practice, racing to a 175.723 mph speed to placed third in the second session Friday evening.
Even Danica Patrick ($7,100) showed well in the evening session, checking in ninth with a 174.538 mph speed. However, she was upset with a qualifying crash which sent her to 30th to start, and she’ll now change to her backup car and go to the back of the field. As such, she could be a big value Sunday since she showed plenty of speed in practice, potentially picking up valuable Place Differential points. SHR cars will be the ones to watch Sunday night, and you could make a strong argument that a lineup featuring all four of those cars while mixing in a few others is the way to go.
Penske’s Brad Keselowski ($10,000) has never won at Darlington in six career starts, but with five Top 20s he has always been solid. And he posted a 174.718 mph speed in the first practice session before topping the field with a 175.880 mph speed in Happy Hour Friday night. The Blue Deuce looks to be on a mission this weekend as he tries for his second checkered flag of the season. He took the pole in qualifying, so obviously he is very tuned in.
Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano ($10,300) hasn’t fared as well over the years at Darlington, as he is still earning his chops. In six career starts the Double Deuce has just two Top 10 finishes with one DNF and a rather mediocre 23.0 AFP. Logano did turn a 175.472 mph lap in practice, finishing seventh in the afternoon session Friday before slipping to 12th in the evening run. Logano then posted a solid qualifying effort, grabbing a spot in Row 2. Can he finally solved Darlington after a handful of uneven results? This season he has won in places he never has done well before, so history doesn’t always mean everything. Still, he is a driver you should start at your own risk until he proves he has solved the track.
ON THE DOWN LOW
Paul Menard ($7,700) looked great in both practice sessions Friday, placing sixth in the afternoon run and fourth in the evening session. However, practice is one thing, and the race is another. He has made eight career starts at Darlington and he has never finished better than 13th, averaging a dismal 25.9 AFP. Menard is a cheap DFS play, and based on his practice turns he would appear to be solid. However, it hasn’t been a place he has run well over the years and it is a bit of a leap of faith to include him in your starting six. Plus, his qualifying effort wasn’t nearly as sharp as practice, as he will go off 12th.
Austin Dillon ($7,500) has made just one start at Darlington, finishing 11th last season. That isn’t very telling, but the fact he has experience from the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series helps. Plus, he raced to a 175.453 mph speed in practice Friday night, good for fifth among all drivers. You can certainly do worse for your fifth or sixth driver. He will start 29th, and there is a lot of potential for Place Differential points which serve DFS players well.
Ryan Newman ($7,800) has a nightmare in practice Friday, running 20th in the afternoon session and a dismal 32nd in Happy Hour at just 171.986 mph, nearly four miles per hour worse than Keselowski. Newman also qualified 23rd, so he has his work cut out for him. However, that doesn’t really mirror Newman’s results on track when the races matter. He has 16 career starts at Darlington, and while he has never won he has 11 Top 10s and 12 Top 20s and a 12.1 AFP, which is good for fifth among all drivers with at least two starts. He can be a DFS bargain, and he should pick up valuable DFS points in the Place Differential category, too.
Clint Bowyer ($8,200) made headlines this week concerning his future team plans. If he is to make headlines on the track at Darlington with good results, it would be very uncharacteristic. He has made eight starts at ‘The Lady in Black’, but he has never won and has posted just one Top 10. His dismal 20.1 AFP means you need to stay away, especially since he has two DNFs. His practice results (21st Friday afternoon, 33rd at night) show he hasn’t shown much improvement this week. Bowyer will go off 28th.
Jamie McMurray ($7,900) finished 27th in each of the practice session Friday night, as he just couldn’t find any speed. It isn’t surprising considering Darlington isn’t one of his best tracks. He has made 14 career starts at Darlington, posting just three Top 5s with one DNF and a rather mediocre 16.1 AFP.
It might be a good idea to take a chance on Chase Elliott ($6,600), who like Dillon has plenty of experience in Nationwide at Darlington. He was a respectable 19th in the Happy Hour practice with a 173.277 mph run, and as your sixth driver a Top 20 showing would be great when the dust settles Sunday night. He will start 22nd on Sunday night.
Lastly, Matt DiBenedetto ($5,200) had a surprising qualifying effort, as he starts one spot ahead of Earnhardt in the 25th position. While it’s always a risk to use youngsters like Elliott and DiBenedetto because of their unfamiliarity and inexperience at a track as difficult as Darlington, the fact they are green could also help since they haven’t had any bad memories here, either.