Bojangles Southern 500 Playbook

Darlington Raceway

Perhaps the most historic southern track in NASCAR, Darlington Raceway plays host to the Southern 500, one of the crown jewels of the schedule. The “Track Too Tough to Tame” or the “Lady in Black” is also perhaps the most challenging track to make it around for just one lap let alone 367 of them. Two distinctly different corners make the track a bit egg-shaped and shorten the track to a 1.36-mile length instead of a more common 1.5-mile length.

The two corners are banked at different degrees as well with the Turns 1 & 2 being banked at 25 degrees and Turns 3 & 4 at 23 degrees and the sharpness of the second set of turns creates a nearly blind entry into pit road which can cause even the most experienced drivers to miss pit road occasionally, like Denny Hamlin last year. Missing pit road can cause a major issue under green flag conditions when tires are of such import here with the way the track surface just eats through tires at a prodigious rate. On Friday in practice several cars lost a half a second of lap time in just five laps.

When you look over the Track Breakdown piece you will notice that a select few have led more than 100 laps in the last four races combined and only two have 200+ laps led and that’s reflective of the fact that few drivers have a +6 position differential or better in that span, all of which indicates it’s hard to pass here and even tougher to pass for the lead and keep it. However that doesn’t mean that it’s all smooth sailing and green flag lap after green flag lap, or did you miss the track’s moniker as “Too Tough to Tame.” Three of the last four races here have had double-digit cautions including 18 in 2015, so there are lots of chances for restarts and to gain position that way but under green flag conditions it’s tough to pass. The best passing zone on the track is the three different lines a driver can take in Turns 3 & 4 with the bottom/apron being one, the middle of the track being the second, and guys like Kyle Larson will take the outside right up against the wall.

The strategy this week is similar to a 1.5-mile track in that a laps led dominator will be key to the high scoring lineups by race’s end. Please note that Jamie McMurray will be starting in the rear of the field after blowing an engine in the first practice but will be scored from his qualifying spot of P31 for DraftKings and FanDuel purposes.



Kyle Busch

DK: $12,400  FD: $14,000

The break in the season seems to have recalibrated the pricing algorithms, especially on FanDuel where Busch is an astonishing $14K this week. At Darlington it’s a tale of two different Busch’s with his 10 race history showing a win, three top-fives, and seven top-10s, all while leading the most laps in that span at 597 and having 248 fastest laps. However recently here, Busch has struggled a tad with one top-five and three top-10s in the last four trips with just 10 laps led. He has a car that has shown up and down speed this week with topping the chart in 10-lap average in Happy Hour but being just 10th over the practice as a whole and single-lap speeds have been up and down as well. At this price tag I’d like to see more consistency.

Kyle Larson

DK: $12,100  FD: $11,800

Larson and Busch have similar finishes to each other in the last four races but the major difference is the fact that Larson has 172 laps led and 80 fastest lap in that span compared to 10 and 34 for Busch. A +4.5 PD here in that span is respectable too. He has better short run speed this week than long run speed, at least to this point, and that helped him to qualify P2 for Sunday. Again at this price point I’d like to see more top-end speed but his history suggests that he should be able to still lead quite a few laps even if he doesn’t win.

Kevin Harvick

DK: $11,400  FD: $13,400

As mentioned in the Track Breakdown Harvick has owned Darlington in the last four races with a win, three top-fives, four top-10s, and 518 laps led and 179 fastest laps. The next three drivers in laps led have combined for just 100 more laps led than Harvick has by himself. However this week he has struggled to find that consistency again with very good long run speed but iffy short run speed that sat outside the top-12 in each session. He will start P22 and there is a lot of upside from him and being able to move up through the field, but that far back might make it tough to lead a lot of laps unless cautions and pit strategy fall his way.

Martin Truex Jr.

DK: $10,900  FD: $12,200

Truex took home the Southern 500 trophy in 2016 and has three top-10s in the last four along with 104 laps led and 93 fastest laps. Truex will start P3 on Sunday which is better than his average of 7.3 but his speed has only equaled his starting spot when factoring the average of all laps run in Happy Hour practice. Other than than his short run speed has been lacking and his long-run speed hasn’t been great either but Cole Pearn and company are known to figure things out come race time, in addition to the race being at night with cars reacting differently than 100 degree daytime practice conditions. He’s a GPP play for that reason.

Chase Elliott

DK: $10,200  FD: $11,000

Elliott has had three cracks at the legendary track in the Cup series and has one top-10 and two top-15s in that span while finishing on average 20.7 in that span. This week he has shown top-10 speed in short run and long-run practice runs before qualifying P11. I see him sticking near the top-10 or inside the top-10 much of the race but not much else. He provides a solid floor option but not much else in terms of laps led or win potential unless things break his way in a big way.

Denny Hamlin

DK: $9,900  FD: $11,600

Hamlin won this race a year ago, as well as the Xfinity race last year before sitting on the pole for Sunday’s race. At practice he has shown top-five short-run and long-run speed which should mean he has a great chance to upgrade his win, three top-fives, and three top-10s in the last four races along with his 197 laps led which are third most in that span. Hamlin is also the only driver to have won twice here since 2010 and in the last 10 races here he has six top-fives and eight top-10s which are the best in the field in both categories. His price is a big discount and makes him a must play in either format.

Ryan Blaney

DK: $9,600  FD: $9,500

Starting right next to Kevin Harvick in the starting grid is Blaney starting P21. That starting spot belies the speed he’s shown this week at practice in both short and long-runs with P8 and P9 single lap speeds and P4 10-lap average in the final session. His history here isn’t great in the three races he’s run here typically moving back 11 spots and only one top-15 finish in that span. However the price and speed combo are too good to not take a chance on him in a GPP this week.

Brad Keselowski

DK: $9,300  FD: $9,900

A top-five, two top-10s, three top-15s, 250 laps led, and 101 fastest laps are his record here in the last four races making him second in laps led and fastest laps. Keselowski qualified P13 for the race after running P3 and P16 in single lap speeds at practice and P19 in 10-lap average in Happy Hour. His history here suggest he can lead laps, but typically he is starting closer to the front as his 3.5 average start shows. But if he can harness that P3 speed there is upside here but only for a GPP lineup.

Clint Bowyer

DK: $8,900  FD: $10,300

Bowyer, who has possibly the best throwback paint scheme this weekend with Ned Jarrett’s scheme from when he won the Southern 500 by 14 laps, will start P17 on Sunday after running that or faster at practice. His history here has been decent but not spectacular with one top-15 in the last four races but so are a lot of other drivers. Bowyer needs to find a bit more momentum before heading into the playoffs and this week could be a week he finds it with some upside in position differential.

Erik Jones

DK: $8,700  FD: $10,000

Jones has just one race here in the Cup series but it was a top-five finish after starting 10th. That trend carries over from Xfinity where he has two races here and has finished P6 and P4 after starting on average 10.5. He will start P7 on Sunday after showing speed around there in practice with long-run speed coming in at P14. As a mid-tier priced driver on both sites his history in Cup and Xfinity is comforting enough to expect a top-five finish for the driver of the 20-car.

Jimmie Johnson

DK: $8,300  FD: $10,100

JJ hasn’t exactly found the speed like the rest of his team has seemed to in the last few weeks but he has shown some in practice this week with a P7 and P3 showing in single laps and P10 in 10-lap average and P4 in full lap average in the final practice. That’s before qualifying P20 giving him solid upside but his history here in the last four has been a bit checkered with one finish in the top-five but only two in the top-15. He has won here multiple times and once in the last 10 races but mainly he’s on the list for his PD upside on Sunday at this price point. **UPDATE: He has been moved to the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments and will start 40th but will be scored by DK and FD from his ORIGINAL spot of 20th. Only play him in GPP contests now.**

Aric Almirola

DK: $8,100  FD: $9,000

Almirola, like most in this price range, has a decent history here with one top-15 in the last four (though most of it in inferior equipment) without anything else to mention. However this season has clearly shown that it was the equipment holding Almirola back and this week he has shown top-10 speed in short and long run speed while qualifying P12 for the race. One other thing of note is that Almirola holds the track record for fastest lap in the Cup series at sub-27 seconds meaning he can find a fast way around the track for sure. He is now the only SHR car without a win this year and that hunger can really help find speed as well. He’s worth a play in a GPP format and is a low-end cash play in this range.

Alex Bowman

DK: $7,600  FD: $8,500

Bowman has had one of the fastest cars all weekend in both short and long-run speeds easily running inside the top-five much of the weekend. He qualified P4 for the race which ups his value too. Then factor in that he has a +8 PD mark in the last two Cup races he’s run here and finished near where he started in the Xfinity race he ran too. The Chevys as a whole have been fast here in recent races and with Larson, Bowman, Elliott, Johnson, Newman and others showing speed, it looks to be the case again this weekend in South Carolina.

Ryan Newman

DK: $7,000  FD: $9,300

Three top-10s, a +5.8 PD mark, nine laps led, and 10 fastest laps is what Newman has brought to the table the last four races here and he has four top-10s in the last five races here and seven in the last 10 at Darlington. Newman qualified P6 and ran in the top-five in single lap speeds at practice along with P7 in 10-lap average in the final practice. That combo of very good history here and speed this week and price on both sites (though better on DK) is hard to pass up in any lineup, especially since he still needs a win to make the playoffs and his team specializes in caution heavy pit strategy races (a la Phoenix last year).

Matt Kenseth

DK: $6,800  FD: $8,100

A top-five and three top-10s with 22 laps led and 35 fastest laps are what Kenseth, now a part-time driver, brings to the table this week. This season it has generally been a struggle for Roush-Fenway Racing in terms of finding consistent speed but this week it seems like the 6-team is putting things together. Kenseth ran the sixth-fastest lap in the Happy Hour session before qualifying 15th for Sunday’s race. He hasn’t shown what long-run speed he may have to this point but with that flash of speed and history here it’s worth taking a shot on him in GPP formats at this price.

Kasey Kahne

DK: $6,300  FD: $6,200

Kahne has a top-10 and two top-15s in the last four races here along with 25 laps led and 23 fastest laps. Due to a big time wobble in his qualifying run he will start P29 after running P7 and P11 in practice and showing the 16th best 10-lap average in practice. In post-qualifying interviews Kahne seemed excited about the speed they have in the car which makes him a very intriguing play in both lineups on either site.

Michael McDowell

DK: $5,800  FD: $5,400

We have reached the budget-play section of the playbook as McDowell has a good history of moving up in the field in the last few races here. He along with Ty Dillon and Landon Cassill were mentioned in the Driver To Watch section of the Track Breakdown for the same reasons but McDowell qualified the highest of those three at P26 and Dillon at P28 and Cassill at P35. Another name in this budget section is Matt DiBenedetto who along with McDowell and Dillon showed single-lap speeds in the 20th-25th range. All four of those guys can be played interchangeably as money saving options at the bottom of a lineup.