The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to action after the final off weekend of the 2019 season, and Darlington Raceway will be the site of Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500. The 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval has as much history as any track on the schedule, and the race has become one of the crown jewel events of the sport, one that every great driver wants to win.
Darlington is also one of the toughest tracks on the schedule. Between a narrow groove that forces drivers to run within inches of the wall and one of the rougher surfaces, putting together 500 clean miles of racing isn't any easy task. Throw in the intensity that comes with such a prestigious race and the pressure of the looming playoffs, and there is definitely a chance for some high attrition Sunday night.
When constructing DFS lineups for Fanduel, it is going to be a balancing act. The 500-mile distance equates to 367 laps, so you can't afford to ignore the laps led category, even in Fanduel's scoring. In fact, you may need to roster two drivers who have a chance to run up front. History says a couple of drivers could lead triple-digit laps Sunday night, and there is a decent chance someone leads 200-plus laps.
At the same time, you have to try construct a balanced lineup of drivers who can survived to the finish. Not only does the distance of the race boost the value of the laps led category, but it makes the laps completed category more valuable, as well. You can't afford to have a driver head to the garage early.
The good news is that there are several potential lap leaders who are reasonably priced this weekend, and I think you should be able to build a blend of consistency and upside into your lineups without having to lean on high-risk punt plays.
Make sure to check back after qualifying for updated picks and lineup strategies, but in the meantime, I've highlighted the drivers who I expect to build around at Fanduel for Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Denny Hamlin ($14,000)
Hamlin might be in the middle of the best stretch of his career, reeling off six straight Top 5s and five straight Top 3s heading into Darlington, a track that happens to be one of his best. In 13 starts at "The Lady in Black," he has 11 Top 10s and a series-best 6.2 average finish, winning twice and logging seven Top 5s. Hamlin has also led laps in nine of his 13 starts here, leading double-digit laps in each of the last four races. He has to be considered the top dominator candidate heading into the weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,500)
He has been locked in at Darlington recently, leading at least 28 laps in three straight starts here and winning the 2016 race. Even those numbers are misleading because he was leading with three laps to go in 2017 when he cut a tire and was running second last year when he received a pit road penalty. Truex should be one of the main contenders for the win Sunday.
Kevin Harvick ($12,000)
Harvick has been a DFS force at Darlington since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, showing the ideal blend of consistency and upside. He has a 4.2 average finish in his five starts here for SHR, and he has led more than 20 laps in four of those starts and more than 200 laps twice. I'm expecting a Top 5 run and plenty of laps led points out of Harvick this weekend.
Difference Makers and Value Plays
Kyle Larson ($11,500)
It's been a disappointing year for Larson overall, but he's been gaining momentum in recent weeks and has an excellent track record at Darlington. He has a 7.6 average finish in his five starts at Darlington, and he has led laps in four of those races. In fact, he led 124 laps here in 2017, and he led a race-high 284 laps and finished third in last year's race. Larson has No. 1 scorer potential and is the ultimate boom-or-bust option this weekend.
Brad Keselowski ($11,000)
Not only is Keselowski the defending winner of the Southern 500, but he's just been a solid all-around performer at the track. He has three Top 10s in the last four races here, including a pair of Top 2 finishes, and he has led laps in five straight starts at the track. Throw in the fact that Keselowski is someone who can go out and dominate a race on any given week, and $11,000 looks appealing.
Erik Jones ($10,200)
Jones has reminded everyone of his Top 5 upside with his performance in recent weeks, and he should be a a mid-priced stud again Sunday night. In two starts at Darlington, he has finishes of fifth and eighth. Jones actually had one of the best cars in last year's Southern 500, ranking in the Top 5 in average running position, driver rating and green flag speed. He looks like a great value at this price.
Alex Bowman ($9,600)
A 10th-place run at Michigan is his best finish over the last seven races, but I wouldn't sleep on Bowman this weekend. The Cup Series has been visiting a variety of tracks in recent weeks, but Bowman has been doing his best work at the high-speed ovals. Prior to this seven-race swoon, he was celebrating in victory lane at Chicagoland. He also had second-place runs at Dover and Kansas earlier in the year. Bowman had a fast car at Darlington last year before suffering a tire failure, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is back in the mix for a Top 5 Sunday.
Ryan Newman ($8,400)
Newman has been the model of consistency at Darlington throughout his career, compiling a 12.1 average finish in 20 starts while notching 13 Top 10s and 17 Top 20s. He hasn't exactly been slowing down either, logging seven Top 10s and posting a 10.8 average finish here over the last 10 races. He should be an ideal, mid-priced cash option this weekend.
Austin Dillon ($7,500)
It has been a brutal stretch for Dillon, but as bad he has been, he could actually be worth a roll of the dice this weekend at Darlington. In five starts at the track, he has a 13.0 average, finishing 16th or better four times with three finishes of 12th or better. I wouldn't recommend him for cash games, but he could be an X-factor in one of the big GPP contests.
Chris Buescher ($7,200)
Buescher has come alive at the high-speed intermediate ovals this season, and he has already shown he can handle himself at Darlington. In three starts here, he has compiled a 15.7 average finish, and he has gained an average of 10.0 spots per race. Breaking it down even further, Buescher has finished 17th or better and gained at least six spots in all three of those starts, so he has consistently delivered solid results. If he qualifies in the back half of the field, he should be a bargain.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($7,000)
While not identical to a 1.5-mile track, Darlington does qualify as a high-speed intermediate oval, and Stenhouse has been locked in at those types of tracks with this year's rules package. In the seven races at mile-and-a-half ovals in 2019, he owns an 11.4 average finish and ranks 10th in points scored. Stenhouse could be a low-priced gem this weekend.
Matt Tifft ($3,000)
While his ceiling is definitely limited, Tifft is priced near the minimum this weekend, and he is one of just two drivers below the $5,000 mark who are averaging more than 40 fantasy points per race at Fanduel. He's also been enjoying a steady stretch for a lower-tier option, finishing 27th or better in six straight races and completing 98.96 percent of the laps in that span. If you want to use a punt play this weekend, I'd consider Tifft if he qualifies around the 30th spot.
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