The 2023 NASCAR season turns our attention to the second crown jewel race of the season and we get the Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, and NASCAR Cup Series all in action this week at Darlington Raceway. Last week at Kansas produced arguably the best race for the NASCAR Cup Series’ NextGen car. Denny Hamlin passed Kyle Larson on the final lap to secure his first win of the year while Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain dusted it up on pit road after the race. Hopefully that excitement and momentum can carry over to Friday’s Truck Series race. You’ll hear the usual nicknames thrown around for Darlington this weekend such as The Lady In Black, The Track Too Tough To Tame, The Egg, and you’ll hear about the Darlington Stripe which is almost a rite of passage as drivers tend to scrub the wall and wear the damage on the right side of their vehicle the rest of the race. We see plenty of tradition at this track with the cars and trucks in each series each throwing back to a classic NASCAR paint scheme. And we should fully expect the final announcement regarding the NASCAR 75 list as the sport announces the final driver into NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list. It’s going to be a fun weekend and one worth getting in on some NASCAR DFS action. So let’s dig into Friday night’s NASCAR DFS top picks and plays for the Buckle Up South Carolina 200.
Darlington is truly a one-of-a-kind track. It measures in at 1.366 miles in length with turns one and two banked at 25 degrees while three and four are a bit more shallow at 23 degrees. So if looking at this track overhead it has a distinct egg-shape to it since turns three and four have a tighter turn radius than one and two. It’s surface is asphalt and it’s pretty old too. Darlington ranks as a track featuring very high tire wear so those who can manage tires this weekend may have an edge. Additionally, you can run the higher line along the wall. It can pay off as drivers that successfully run a higher line can generate a bigger run coming out of the turns, but you are at risk of getting into the wall.
I’m excited to get my eyes on this race Friday night, but if you’ve been in the NASCAR Discord channel of late, I’m not thrilled about the contests this week. I usually love playing the Happy Hour ($1, 20-entry max), but the payout structure is awful this week. $1,000 to first place isn’t that bad since the prize pool is $5,000 but tenth place only gets $20. That’s right, tenth place gets 2% of what first place wins. I truly don’t understand it. The $10 Piston contest is okay, but similarly it’s $10,000 to first (16% of the prize pool) while tenth place gets $300, just 3% of first place. The Chrome Horn ($4, 20-entry max) is fairly reasonable this week for Tournaments. It’s $1,000 to first place (10% of the prize pool) with tenth place getting $100, which is 10% of what first place gets. That is a better payout structure for Tournaments this weekend. But again, that contest will cost you $80 to max enter just to potentially win $1,000. Before we even get to practice and qualifying I’m tempted just to do one Cash game lineup and play it in Double Up’s, the Chrome Horn, and maybe the $12 single-entry contest. Overall, the Tournament contests for the Truck Series race are truly pathetic and this might be a race I play light simply because of the payout structure.
Now if you can get past the awful contests for this race, lineup construction is fairly cut & dry for this kind of track. You’ll want to take a two-dominator approach this week. In each of the last four Truck Series races at Darlington there have been two drivers to lead at least 30 laps while there’s been one driver that led at least 65 laps. So you really want to nail those 1A and 1B dominators with four other drivers that either collect PD or finish well. The last two races haven’t seen a ton of drivers gaining significant PD. Only six drivers in the last two races gained double-digit spots and it’s also harder to gauge this field’s potential with four Cup Series veterans in it. So we’ll see how the starting order unfolds and identify the PD targets after practice and qualifying.
NASCAR DFS Driver Pool
As always, since this Playbook is being published before practice and qualifying, I will provide updates in RED once we know the starting order and have seen these trucks on the track.
William Byron ($11,100)
I don’t understand the price tag. I understand Kyle Busch underperformed in this truck at Kansas last week, but it’s arguably still the best ride in the race and Byron could very well be the best driver in the field. I’d rather pay $11,100 for Byron’s equipment than $11,500 for Ross Chastain’s. Will Ross make a few of my lineups? Yeah, probably. Chastain’s truck for Niece Motorsports offers an okay floor, but even last week he fell short of 5X value with a top five finish (he had zero dominator points). Byron’s truck can at least get out front and collect dominator points and it would be Kyle Busch Motorsports’ 100th win in the Truck Series. Given that Busch was $13,500 in this same ride last week, it’s a great discount on Byron who, as of Thursday afternoon, was a +240 favorite to win Friday’s race.
Zane Smith ($10,700)
Plenty to like about Smith each and every week. He’s returned at least 40 points in every race with the exception of Atlanta and Bristol Dirt and those are high variance tracks. 40 points may not sound like much at this price tag, but he’s hit 50+ points on four occasions as well. He’s finished third in each of the last two races coming into Darlington and he might be due for a win once again. He’s never finished in the top five at Darlington and he’s not the greatest driver on high tire wear tracks so I wouldn’t fault you if you maybe went a little underweight here for some leverage in Tournaments. Update: During qualifying, Zane expressed that his truck does need some adjustments. He wasn't the fastest during practice, but he did sound confident they'd be competitive tonight with slight adjustments and he was satisfied with their tire management during practice. He will likely be popular since he's starting outside the top 20.
Ty Majeski ($10,400)
He’s had speed every week and last week was the first time he truly let us down. Majeski finished 25th after leading a dozen laps and collecting just as many fastest laps. But he got in a wreck in stage three with Rajah Caruth and he ultimately finished two laps down. I still expect him to have a top five ride this week and he’s +850 to win this race even in a field with Cup Series talent. He grabbed a top five here a year ago. But what I like is that in the playoffs last year, he led 73 laps and finished third at Richmond. He then led 67 laps at Homestead on his way to a win. Those tracks have higher tire wear similar to Darlington, so I want some exposure to Majeski once again this week.
Bubba Wallace ($10,100)
Bubba was very strong in practice posting some of the fastest times across all the metrics and he has plenty of experience here in other series. I expect him to have plenty of speed in the 1-truck for TRICON. Toni Breidinger got this truck to a top 15 last week in her debut at Kansas. There's some win equity with Bubba and he offers PD starting P15.
Corey Heim ($9,900)
Heim has minimal experience at Darlington. In two races with KBM he finished outside the top 20, but in one of those races he did have the speed to contend but I believe he wrecked out in stage three. His recent form is great as he won at Martinsville and was competitive last week at Kansas where he finished second. And his price tag didn’t budge. He’s finished eighth or better in six of the eight races this season and he’s been logging dominator points of late. I think he’s also a decent bet to win this race at +1800 on DraftKings Sportsbook. Update: Heim won the pole with a great qualifying lap. I'd proceed with caution before really loading up on him in Tournaments as he was outside the top ten on ten-lap averages in practice. But starting on the pole certainly helps with track position.
Grant Enfinger ($9,500)
See what I mean when I say that Enfinger is a dark horse to win sometimes? Because he can go out, like he did at Kansas last week, and lead 65 laps after starting P11 and win the whole race, even dusting the likes of Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain. Enfinger has that kind of upside, but also has the downside of maybe only returning 3X value, which gets us nowhere in a Tournament. Now he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that can go back-to-back and win consecutive races. Darlington is one of his better tracks though. In four races he’s never finished worse than sixth, but he’s only led one lap here. He started and finished third in this race a year ago and was consistently running in the top five the entire race. He’s an experienced driver that knows how to manage his tires as we saw last week, but he also has wins at Richmond and old Atlanta on his resume. Update: He'll start on the front row next to Corey Heim. Enfinger looked to have managed his tires pretty well in practice so should be good in the long run for Tournaments.
Matt Crafton ($8,800)
Crafton has plenty of experience here and in the last three races here he's posted a driver rating of at least 100 in all three. We've only seen three top ten finishes on the season from Crafton but the equipment is still elite. He's finished top five in both Spring races at Darlington the last two years and he rolls off P19 for Friday's race. He'll need a top ten on Friday to return value.
Corey LaJoie ($8,400)
LaJoie starts P29, but there should be speed in this Spire truck. He'll benefit with Zane Smith starting a couple rows ahead. He can just hitch himself to Zane and move up through the field by default. He'll be popular in all formats, but hits value with a top 15 finish.
Parker Kligerman ($8,200)
Kligerman is priced in the low $8K range because he’s finished outside the top 30 in the three races he’s run this year. That’s fine, we’ll take the discount because he’s finished 5th and 6th in his last two Darlington races with this team. Henderson Motorsports won’t be the class of the field, but Kligerman can get this truck inside the top five, but I feel better about predicting a top ten finish. I’m hoping he starts outside the top 15 because he can pay off the price tag with a top ten finish. Update: Starting P21. Viable in all formats.
Carson Hocevar ($8,000)
This is the cheapest Hocevar has been all year. The price tag continues to drop as he’s returned negative fantasy points in four of his last six races. Luckily he does have that win at Texas that’s locked him into the playoffs this year because his other results have been fairly poor. Luckily for Hocevar, Darlington is one of his best tracks. He finished 2nd here last year and in 2021 he finished 11th and 3rd in two races at the Lady in Black. He’s posted a driver rating of at least 98.0 in all three races as well. I don’t think he’s on another level on high tire wear tracks although he was top 12 at both Richmond and Homestead last season, but the price tag is dropping at the perfect time if he can mix in another great finish at Darlington. Update: A great play starting P18 if he can shake off the awful luck he's had since winning over a month ago at Texas. Likely optimal if he finishes top ten.
Jake Garcia ($7,400)
I like that the price tag on Garcia is dropping a bit, but I don’t think this is a week to be extremely overweight in terms of exposure. He’s returned at least 32 fantasy points in six of his seven races this season and he’s never finished outside the top 20 including four straight finishes in the top 13. But if there was ever a track where he could finally wreck out and crush your lineups it would be Darlington. There’s clearly still talent and this team has taken major strides with Christian Eckes and Garcia putting together some great performances this year. Definitely mix him into your player pool, and let’s see where he qualifies on Friday. Update: Starting P5 is a little too high for my liking. Likely fading him and pivoting to Tyler Ankrum in this range.
Johnny Sauter ($7,200)
We need some pivots in this range since too many drivers qualified in the top 12. Sauter's equipment is not very good. But he did start P27 last week at Kansas and finish 19th. There's plenty of experience here with Sauter and he knows how to manage his equipment despite the downgrade from what he's used to. He can return value if he finishes 17th.
Chase Purdy ($6,800)
It’s a week of discounts in the value range and we kick if off with Chase Purdy. In four of his last seven races entering Darlington, Purdy has finished in the top ten. In the other three races he’s finished outside the top 25. So there’s some variance, which is fine because he can still be played in Tournaments. He’s still in elite equipment as John Hunter Nemechek dominated in this truck last year leading 69 laps on his way to a win. Purdy is no JHN, but the price tag is dropping after last week’s wreck at Kansas and there’s top ten upside in this car. Previously at Darlington he’s wrecked in two of three races, but in the race he did finish he was 15th. If he runs a clean race in KBM equipment he can get another top ten for the 2023 season.
Hailie Deegan ($6,500)
Deegan qualified P26 and if she can find the top 20 magic she's had the last six races, she'll pay off the price tag. She was caught up in a wreck here a year ago and hasn't finished better than 20th in three races here so be mindful of that. She just needs to keep the truck clean and finished 18th and she'll return value.
Colby Howard ($6,100)
Probably a little too cheap for Howard, which is the case for several drivers this week. Howard has performed well on the lower variance tracks. He finished 17th at Martinsville, 20th at Texas, and 18th at Vegas. Even at Texas he started P24 and finished 20th for 27 fantasy points. But he was $7,400 for that race. Now he’s $6,100 so a result like that is more palatable. But he’s been getting good results out of this truck and he’s had some top 20 finishes on high tire wear tracks like Homestead, old Atlanta, and Darlington during his time in the Xfinity Series. Even in two races in the Truck Series he finished 13th at Darlington. Now it’s worth adding that we shouldn’t expect that kind of result in a race that’s including Cup drivers like William Byron, Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, and Corey Lajoie. But it’s because those drivers are running that we’re seeing so many discounts on Truck Series regulars and Howard might be paying off his price tag with a top 20. Update: Likely going to be the chalk starting dead last. He's fine as a pay-down option in Cash games. Be disciplined in Tournaments. You want a little leverage on the field and he'll likely be over 40% owned in GPP's.
Rajah Caruth ($6,000)
This price tag is very reactionary on DraftKings’ part. Caruth was flying in last week’s race. It was going to be one of his best results to date, but you know, anything could’ve happened later on so that’s not a guarantee. With about 60 laps to go, Caruth tried to throw a block on Ty Majeski and the two wrecked which ended Caruth’s race. But his truck was fast last week. Caruth was running third at the time after finishing sixth and fourth in the first two stages. I’m hoping the team brings that same speed to Darlington. This is a track I’m hesitant to go all in on a young driver because you can see him getting into the wall and possibly having an issue. But I still want to acknowledge the speed and he’s due to break a NASCAR DFS slate at some point. And we’re actually getting a nice price tag on Caruth in equipment comparable to Grant Enfinger. Caruth was $6,700 a week ago at Kansas, and as I said, he had a top five ride. Previously we’ve also seen him in the $7,000 range on DK and this week he’s a flat $6K. If he offers a little PD then he’s an easy play, but I hope he qualifies well so that lowers ownership for Tournaments (even though the contests suck this week). I really don’t like playing Daniel Dye in DFS but Caruth and Dye are teammates so the equipment is good and the latter is just $5,600 and could pay off his price tag. I don’t want to write him up in full because he could also put his truck in the wall in be done in the first stage. Update: Starting P13. I expect him to go backwards early on as he likely struggles to manage his tires, but he still has top ten upside and will be low-owned in Tournaments. I don't hate Daniel Dye in Tournaments since he's starting P20, but we shouldn't be surprised if he wrecks early on.
Timmy Hill ($5,900)
Timmy Hill is probably going to be the value chalk in this race. In three career races at Darlington he’s started outside the top 20 in all three and he’s finished 16th (2022), 7th (2021), and 9th (2020). Seems odd that a small team has such elevated success here. Keep in mind, his average running position at Darlington is around 20th which tells me that Hill simply does enough to avoid carnage and manage his tires. Others will probably see the average finish results and take that as scripture. But this is a small team so we should look into why he’s potentially finishing there. His average driver rating at Darlington is only 63.7 so there are some other factors that are improving his finishes. So while I won’t pick Hill for another top 16 finish, there’s still a good floor here. He’s finished top 25 in every race this year and has a good 20-point floor, but if he starts pretty far back he won’t need to do much to pay off his price tag. Update: Slight downgrade to Hill. He'll start P23 right behind Zane smith and this might be Hill's ceiling. He'll need a lot of carnage to repeat his previous results at Darlington.
Bret Holmes ($5,800)
Last week Holmes showed what he’s capable of if/when he offers PD and gets a good finish. He’s finished 23rd or better in six straight races, which is great for a smaller team. However, he’s qualified pretty well for a few of those races so we definitely want him starting outside the top 25 like last week. Exposure will depend on where he starts, but at least we know the upside when he starts deep in the field and runs a clean race. Update: I'd ease on the side of caution with Holmes. His hood looked blank with no sponsor during practice and qualifying so I'm not entirely confident the team is competitive tonight. They may just do their best to not wreck the truck. NASCAR's website is listing “Bret Holmes Racing” as the sponsor.
Lawless Alan ($5,400)
As of Thursday, Alan is probably the cheapest I want to go in this race. According to NASCAR’s website Kaden Honeycutt, Brennan Poole, and Dawson Cram don’t have sponsorship for their rides so they could park their trucks early on so they don’t damage the equipment. Now that could very well change on Friday so it’s a wait & see approach with those trucks. But Alan has finished 20th and 27th in two races at Darlington so you’re likely chasing the top 20 results, which might be his ceiling this week. Now he won’t be as obvious of a play as he was last week when he started last, but there’s still potential here for a good day. He’s finished 18th or better in three of his last four races coming into Darlington.
Kris Wright ($5,100)
Wright starts second-to-last and is a good enough dart throw in this range after some of the value plays qualified a little well this afternoon. He may only finish 30th, but if we're punting down here he can't kill your lineups too much.
NASCAR DFS Core Plays
|Cash Games||Top Tier||Mid-Tier||Value Plays|
|William Byron ($11,100; Starting P8)||Corey LaJoie ($8,400; Starting P29)||Colby Howard ($6,100; Starting P36)|
|Zane Smith ($10,700; Starting P22)||Carson Hocevar ($8,000; Starting P18)|
|GPP Pivots||Top Tier||Mid-Tier||Value Plays|
|Ty Majeski ($10,400; Starting P9)||Matt Crafton ($8,800; Starting P19)||Tyler Ankrum ($7,000; Starting P17)|
|Grant Enfinger ($9,500; Starting P2)||Parker Kligerman ($8,200; Starting P21)||Dean Thompson ($6,300; Starting P25)|
|Rajah Caruth ($6,000; Starting P13)|