The NASCAR Cup Series will travel to Darlington to compete at “The Track Too Tough to Tame.” Can the race on Mother’s Day top what we had in Kansas last week? It will go down as one of the best races for NASCAR if it does. Darlington wears out tires quickly and produces some good racing. I expect it to be a fun race to watch and a good race to play a DFS lineup in. The GoodYear 400 can be seen Sunday at 3 pm ET on FS1.
DARLINGTON PRACTICE SPEEDS
The Cup Series had a 20-minute practice Saturday to shake down their cars for Sunday’s race. Some of the drivers were able to make some long runs, so we do have some data to work with this week. The cars lined up for qualifying after practice, and the teams are only allowed to make minor adjustments before the race starts Sunday. The track conditions will be warmer, but the speed from practice should help us predict who will be fast in the GoodYear 400.
Here are the practice speeds for the GoodYear 400 at Darlington…
CUP SERIES STATS AT DARLINGTON
The Cup Series raced twice last year in the Gen-7 car at Darlington Raceway. It is a good idea to look at the data from those two races and combine it with the data from the four intermediate track races this year (Kansas, Las Vegas, Auto Club and Dover). This should give us an idea of which drivers are good in the Gen-7 car at Darlington and which drivers are good with the current aero package on the intermediate tracks.
Here are the driver’s average DFS Points from the two races at Darlington last year and the four intermediate tracks in 2023…
The race Sunday is scheduled for 293 laps. That means there are 73.25 points available for leading laps and 131.85 points available for fastest laps (205.1 total dominator points). The trend in the Cup Series race at Darlington is for one driver to lead roughly 100 laps and score 30 fastest laps (38.5 dominator points). A second driver leads 50 laps and scores 28 fastest laps (25.1 dominator points). A third driver leads roughly 30 laps and score 22 fastest laps (17.4 dominator points). A fourth driver leads around 28 laps and cores 20 fastest laps (16 Dominator Points). We need to have at least two of the four dominators in our lineup Sunday. I plan to pay up for the drivers who I think can lead the most laps at Darlington.
The drivers with the best chance to dominate the race Sunday include Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick
The drivers with the best chance to score place differential points are Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Corey LaJoie and Todd Gilliland
DRAFTKINGS MODEL (Prediction Based on Stats)
Finish = Finishing Points PD = Position Differential Fastest = Fastest Laps Led = Laps Led
* The number in front of the driver is his projected finishing position based on stats.
FANDUEL MODEL (Prediction Based on Stats)
CORE DRIVERS FOR DARLINGTON
TOP-TIER DRIVERS: KYLE LARSON (DK $10.9K / FD $14K), DENNY HAMLIN (DK $10.7K / FD $13.5K), MARTIN TRUEX JR. (DK $10.5K / FD $13K), WILLIAM BYRON (DK $10.3K / FDK $12K), KYLE BUSCH (DK $10.1K / FD $11K), TYLER REDDICK (DK $9.9K / FD $12.5K), CHASE ELLIOTT (DK $9.6K / FD $10K), ROSS CHASTAIN (DK $9.4K / FD $11.5K), CHRISTOPHER BELL (DK $9.2K / FD $10.5K)
VALUE-TIER DRIVERS: KEVIN HARVICK (DK $8.8K / FD $9K), BUBBA WALLACE (DK $8.6K / FD $8.2K), RYAN BLANEY (DK $8.4K / FD $8.5K), BRAD KESELOWSKI (DK $8.2K / FD $8K), TY GIBBS (DK $7.7K / FD $7K), CHRIS BUESCHER (DK $7.6K / FD $6.8K), CHASE BRISCOE (DK $7.3K / FD 5.5K), ERIK JONES (DK $7.1K / FD $7.8K), AJ ALLMENDINGER (DK $6.6K / FD $4.2K), MICHAEL MCDOWELL (DK $6.1K / FD $4.8K)
PUNT PLAYS: AUSTIN CINDRIC (DK $5.9K / FD $6K), TODD GILLILAND (DK $5.5K / FD $2.5K), COREY LAJOIE (DK $5.4K / FD $4.5K)
DRAFTKINGS CASH CONTEST LINEUP
KYLE LARSON ($10,900): I will play two dominators in my Cash Contest lineup and it will start with Larson. The only driver who can ride up against the wall as well as Larson is Tyler Reddick. Both drivers should be rim-riding and passing a lot of cars. Larson has the fastest car after 25 laps were run in practice. The No. 5 car should score well in DFS contests this week.
MARTIN TRUEX JR. ($10,500): I typically do not play drivers who start on the pole in my Cash Contest lineups, but Truex typically does not qualify well. When he does, he typically dominates a large portion of the race. I expect the same Sunday. Truex should score a lot of dominator points and be a good pick for all contests at Darlington.
CHASE ELLIOTT ($9,600): Elliott was the driver that surprised me the most in practice. The No. 9 car went out and ran the fastest lap in practice and Elliott was fast on the long runs too. He got loose in qualifying so now he starts 21st. Elliott finished fifth and seventh in his last two spring races at Darlington. He will be a great pick for Cash Contest lineups if he can finish in the top-10 Sunday. I think he can do it.
ERIK JONES ($7,100): Jones was not feeling well Saturday, but he wanted to get into his car and run a few laps in practice. He turned the second-fastest speed so the car is fast. Jones did not put a lot of effort into qualifying so now he will start 28th. Jones will be a great pick if he is healthy Sunday (the infield care center should get him fixed up). Jones won the last race at Darlington and he won at 2019 too. This is by far his best track.
MICHAEL MCDOWELL ($6,100): Starting McDowell in a Cash Contest lineup when he starts 19th probably does not sound like a good idea. What if I told you McDowell finished sixth and seventh in the two races in the Gen-7 car at Darlington last year? Can he do it again Sunday? McDowell was seventh-fastest in practice, so he should be a good pick for a top-15 finish at Darlington.
COREY LAJOIE ($5,400): I was hoping LaJoie would not qualify well because I want to use him in the race. He got loose in turns three and four in qualifying, so now LaJoie starts 34th. He has been my “punt play” this year and he has not let me down. LaJoie has a 17.8 average finishing position this year. He will score 46 DK Points if he can finish at his average Sunday (17th). That is a lot of points for $5,400.
DRAFTKINGS TOURNAMENT SINGLE-ENTRY CONTEST
KYLE LARSON ($10,900): I will play my top-three dominators Sunday and try to capture as many bonus points for leading laps and fastest laps as possible. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have been awesome at Darlington, they looked fast on the long runs in practice and the qualified up front. Larson will be highly owned, but I will eat the chalk in the Single-Entry Tournament contest.
DENNY HAMLIN ($10,700): The No. 11 car did not set the track on fire in practice, but he had a few things going against him. He was in the wrong group (Group B) and he waited to talk to Bubba Wallace about the track before he made any laps in practice. Hamlin is going to run up front. That is what he does at Darlington. I will play the No. 11 car as my second dominator in my Single-Entry Tournament Contest.
MARTIN TRUEX JR. ($10,500): I have a run in Fantasy NASCAR and in DFS contests… Make sure Truex is in your lineup whenever whe looks fast in practice and qualifies up front. Truex has a history of looking horrible in practice and qualifying outside the top-15. When the green flag is waived he immediately goes to the front. He typically dominates the race when he looks fast in practice and wins the pole. He should be one of the top scoring drivers in DFS contests Sunday.
ERIK JONES ($7,100): I will play Jones in Cash Contests and Single-Entry Contest and fade him in Multi-Entry Tournament Contests. Everyone knows Jones is very good at Darlington. His ownership is going to be high, but so are his chances of scoring over 40 DK Points. I am not so worried about ownership in Single-Entry Tournament Contests, so I will play “That Jones Boy.”
COREY LAJOIE ($5,400): LaJoie has been a good pick whenever he qualifies outside the top-25. Now he starts 34th Sunday. LaJoie was 10th fastest in practice and 19th-fastest on the long runs. LaJoie has the speed to finish in the top-20 Sunday.
TY DILLON ($5,100): I played Dillon last week when he started 26th and finished 22nd. That was good enough for 24 DK Points. Now Dillon starts 33rd Sunday. He should be able to move up 8-10 spots because of the wrecks in the race. Dillon should be a good “punt play” Sunday.
DRAFTKINGS TOURNAMENT MULTI-ENTRY CONTEST
WILLIAM BYRON ($10,300): Kyle Larson is going to be a popular pick because of his history at Darlington. Chase Elliott will be popular because of his speed in practice and his ability to score place differential points from the 21st starting position. I will pivot to their teammate (William Byron). The No. 24 car nearly won the last race at Darlington. Byron posted the third-fastest speed in practice with the fastest 10-lap average speed. Byron should be a good pivot from Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.
KYLE BUSCH ($10,100): Busch had the last race at Darlington won but his car blew up in the final laps. Now he is out of that car and into the car that finished second and third at Darlington. Busch also won the race at the track (Auto Club) that eats tires like Darlington. Busch was one of the fastest drivers in his Group Saturday. Rowdy will have a good chance to be one of the dominators in Sunday’s race.
TYLER REDDICK ($9,900): Reddick was the best driver last year in the Gen-7 car at Darlington. He finished second and third in the two races. His car looks fast again this week. Reddick posted the fourth-fastest speed in practice, with top-10 long run speed. Reddick will be up against the wall, passing a lot of cars Sunday.
CHRISTOPHER BELL ($9,200): Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will get a lot of ownership Sunday. I expect Bell will be left off more lineups than he should be. Bell finished fifth and sixth in the two races at Darlington last year. His crew chief is pretty smart too. I expect Adam Stevens to get Bell the track position he needs to lead some laps. I will play Bell as my fourth dominator in this lineup.
COREY LAJOIE ($5,400) & TY DILLON ($5,100): LaJoie and Dillon are my two favorite “punt plays” this week. They are no risk and all upside since they start so deep in the field. I do not need them to do much as long as the four drivers listed above dominate a portion on the race Sunday.
FANDUEL CASH CONTEST LINEUP
FANDUEL TOURNAMENT CONTEST LINEUP
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