The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway this weekend for one of the biggest races at one of the more challenging tracks. Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 is one of the crown jewel events in the sport, but winning at NASCAR’s original superspeedway means managing tires for 500 miles while running within inches of the outside wall on Darlington’s narrow, abrasive racing surface.
Darlington’s 1.366-mile, egg-shaped layout is unlike any other track on the schedule, and while it remains to be seen how the reduced-horsepower, high-downforce package will impact the racing here, I think we can look at the results from the 1.5-mile ovals as potential indicators. If that’s the case, then passing could be difficult, and we could see a lot of the same drivers hang up front all night.
Ironically, that was already the trend we saw in last year’s Southern 500. Every driver who finished 11th or better earned points in at least one of the stages, and each of the Top 8 finishes earned points in both stages. Given last year’s results and what I expect to see with the current rules package, I plan to be aggressive with my fantasy lineups.
It’s actually easy to load up lineups in Fantasy Live. We are down to just two races remaining in the regular season portion of the contest, so you if you still have some starts from the top options, you should be using them. I like to manage my starts over the course of the year, so I’ll be stacking my lineup this weekend. If you have burned through all your starts from the top drivers, reach out to me at @BPolking, and I can give you some potential alternatives.
Even in the Driver Group Game, I am going with an aggressive approach for this one for the most part. I do like the idea of using one high-end Group B option and one conservative play, but for the rest of my lineup, I am going for big point totals.
Check out all my Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Bojangles’ Southern 500, and enjoy a Sunday evening of racing on a holiday weekend as the regular season winds down.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
Not only has Hamlin been the best driver in the series over the last couple of months, but he has also been the most reliable driver at Darlington. He has seven Top 5s, 11 Top 10s and a series-best 6.2 average finish in 13 starts at “The Lady in Black,” and he has finished third or better in the last five races this season. Starting in the Top 10, another big point total should be on tap.
Martin Truex Jr.
He led 30 laps and finished third in Stage 1 at Darlington last year, but a pit road penalty just shy of halfway left him fighting an uphill battle. Truex has led more than 20 laps in each of the last three races here, winning in 2016. He was also out front with three laps to go in the 2017 race when he cut a tire. Even though he is starting 22nd, I expect him to be right back in the mix for another win and plenty of stage points Sunday night.
Keselowski is the defending winner of this weekend’s race, and he also finished in the Top 5 in both stages. He has led laps in five straight at Darlington, and this season, his two wins and four Top 5s at the 1.5-mile ovals are both the most in the series. Starting on the front row, I think he is primed for a big point total.
He has a 7.6 average finish in five starts at Darlington, and he was absolutely dominant in last year’s Southern 500. Larson led 284 of the 367 laps, sweeping both stages on his way to a third-place finish. He has led more than 100 laps in each of the last two races here, so he is more than capable of running up front and delivering maximum stage points. Starting third, he may do just that this weekend.
If there is one thing that the No. 24 team has been good at this year, it is piling up stage points, especially when Byron starts with great track position. Well, he is starting on the pole Sunday, I expect Chad Knaus to work pit strategy to ensure another big bucket of stage points.
Garage Driver – Erik Jones
Jones doesn’t have the same history at Darlington as the other heavy hitters in my lineup, but he has been impressive in his two starts here. He finished fifth in his track debut in 2017, and he finished eighth last year after finishing second and fifth in the two stages. If Jones goes out an piles up stage points early, I will slide him in if any of my big names are underperforming.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Kevin Harvick (A)
It was tough to decide between Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., but Harvick’s numbers at Darlington with Stewart-Haas Racing were too good to ignore. He has cracked the Top 10 in all five starts here with SHR, posting a 4.2 average finish and logging four Top 5s. Starting 11 spots higher than Truex with doesn’t hurt either.
Denny Hamlin (B)
Starts from Hamlin are precious, but using the hottest driver in the series at his best track is a no-brainer decision, especially after a Top 10 qualifying effort. He is riding a streak of six straight Top 5s heading into Darlington, and in 13 starts here, he owns a series-best 6.2 average finish to go with 11 Top 10s and seven Top 5s.
Ryan Newman (B)
While it was tempting to go with another high-upside option like Erik Jones or Alex Bowman, I’m going to go with the high floor of Newman. In 20 career starts at Darlington, he has a 12.1 average finish, notching 13 Top 10s and 17 Top 20s. He has a 10.8 average finish and seven Top 10s in the last 10 races here alone, and Newman should be able to flirt with another Top 10 Sunday while allowing me to save a start from one of the elite Group B drivers.
Chris Buescher (C)
I’ve been saving Buescher’s starts for the mile-and-a-half ovals because he has been head and shoulders above the rest of the Group C options at this type of track. In the seven races this year, he has a 13.0 average finish and four Top 10s, and his 179 driver points scored are 76 more than any other option. He has also finished 17th or better in all three of his previous starts at Darlington. After a 12th-place effort in qualifying, I’m expecting at least a Top 15 out of Buescher this weekend with the potential for more.
Fantasy Racing Online Slingshot Fantasy Auto
Kyle Busch ($13,500)
An engine issue of some sort has Busch starting back in 33rd, and despite the massive salary, I can’t pass up a driver with a legitimate chance to gain 30-plus sports and earn 60-plus place differential bonus points. Busch has finished 11th or better in nine straight starts at Darlington, finishing seventh or better seven times in that span. Worst-case scenario, he should gain 20-plus spots and finish in the Top 10.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,600)
Truex has been in the mix to win the Southern 500 in each of the last three seasons, and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. Joe Gibbs Racing continued its trend of lackluster qualifying runs at the bigger ovals, but they seem just fine on race day. Starting 22nd, Truex should pad his score with differential points and finish as one of the top scorers.
Aric Almirola ($9,500)
He was already starting in the back after a practice crash, and after qualifying 30th, Almirola is in great position to exploit the place differential category. I’m not expecting many stage points, but he does have a 10.7 average finish in the seven races at 1.5-mile ovals this year, finishing 16th or better in every start. He should gain 15-plus spots Sunday.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,100)
I normally shy away from Stenhouse in season-long contests, but he was fast in practice this weekend, and he has been surprisingly solid at the high-speed intermediate ovals this year. He has an 11.4 average finish in the seven races at mile-and-a-half ovals, finishing 12th or better five times. Starting 21st, he even has some differential points available. I just need him to not knock down the outside wall.
Matt Tifft ($6,100)
Tifft is a source of cap relief first and foremost, but I do think he is capable of posting a modest point total. He starts 32nd, but he has finished 27th or better in the last seven races this year, notching five Top 25s. Tifft should at least move forward a bit Sunday.