Darlington Raceway – Bojangles Southern 500

Bojangles Southern 500

Darlington Raceway, known by many nicknames, “The Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough To Tame” among them, hosts its traditional Labor Day weekend NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader this week.  The historic South Carolina track has been a NASCAR staple since the very beginning of the sport hosting its first race on September 4th, 1950. The 1.366-mile speedway is among the most unique on the calendar.  Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 is considered a crown jewel of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, among the likes of winning Daytona. 

For those fans who are more interested in a deeper than just DFS look at the sport, Nascar hosts a “Throwback Weekend” here each year where teams and cars will be displaying colors, paint schemes and logos from some of the sport’s most famous eras.

Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver in the series now with two wins in the last five races. He’s also a former two-time Bojangles’ Southern 500 winner who would love to roll into Victory Lane again at Darlington.  “This FedEx team is on such a roll right now,’’ said Hamlin, whose No. 11 JGR Toyota will carry a paint scheme honoring a former No. 11 driver, three-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.  The pole position has produced the most winners (20) at Darlington…Kevin Harvick was the last to win from the pole in 2014 – race held in April. 

There are just two races remaining in the regular season and the battle to make the playoff field of 16 drivers is intense. Ryan Newman (+14), Daniel Suarez (+2), Clint Bowyer (-2) and Jimmie Johnson (-26) are the quartet of drivers near the cutoff trying to secure their berth in the post-season.  None have what would be considered standout history here, at least in the last four to five races.  Any of the four drivers could end up making the playoffs.

Past winners entered this week are Johnson (3), Hamlin (2), and Keselowski, Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch all with one win apiece. 

As always, my articles are directed at DK gpp formats, but I will be around in chat to discuss FD options and cash plays for those players interested.  Let’s get to it.

A quick note about this week’s race – Darlington is dominated nearly every year by big name drivers, and while there are a few that stand out each year, any number of them could end up being the winner.  Rarely do underdogs finish among the leaders, and that means picking the right big name driver from a sizable number of possibilities is critical.  Therefore I advise not over-playing in a difficult week where there are no clear favorites among the big dogs.  It will be of utmost importance to pick the top 1 or 2 drivers and get them right, and the odds are against us this week with so many possibilities.

Denny Hamlin

At “The Lady In Black” Hamlin is a two-time winner who’s finished in the top five 54% percent of the time, in the top ten 85% percent of the time and has only once finished worse than 13th. His overall average finish of 6.2 is stellar.  Over the last four combined races at this egg shaped oval he has a 4.5 average finish.  Hamlin is currently the hottest driver in the series, and is heading to a track that he’s dominant on.  Last year at Darlington, Hamlin finished 10th, and had an 8th place average running position. In 2017, Hamlin was the class of the field, and raced his way to victory lane. In the race he earned the best driver rating, and led 124 laps.  In 2016, Hamlin finished 4th.  In 3 of the 4 Darlington races prior to that he finished in the top 3.  He’s fresh off a win, and over the last five races heading into the weekend he’s finished in the top 3 every race and has a 1.8 average finish.  He was near the top of the speed charts in practice, and rolls off 9th.

Kyle Larson

Darlington has been a great track for Larson, and over his combined starts his average finish of 7.6 is among the best.  In his five combined races here he has 4 top tens with the only result outside of a top ten being 14th.  Last year, Larson was the class of the field, and if there wasn’t a late caution he likely would’ve won. The restart cost him the lead and then he didn’t have time to make it up over the last short run.  He led 284 laps, and earned the best driver rating by a wide margin finishing 3rd.   In 2017, Larson had one of the best cars, leading 124 laps, but finished a misleading 14th due to mechanical failures.  In 2016 he finished 3rd, and led 45 laps. In the two races prior to that he had results of 10th and 8th.  In the last two races at Darlington, Larson has led 408 of a possible 734 laps (55.6 percent of the laps led). His average of 46.5 points in that stretch is best among all drivers in Sunday’s field. He also enters the weekend with four straight top 10s in 2019 and an average of 36.5 points over that stretch.  Larson starts up front, so he’s not the best leverage positionally, but expect a fair share of dominator points.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex won in 2016 and if 2017 was 4 laps shorter he would’ve won 2 of the last 3 races here.  Over the last three Darlington races, Truex has the best driver rating, and a 6.7 average finish.  Last year, Truex finished a misleading 11th.  A pit stop miscue cost him any chance at the win despite his leading 30 laps prior to the penalty.  In 2017, Truex had a great run. He led 76 laps, but finished a misleading 8th after suffering a flat tire with 3 laps to go.  In 2016 Truex raced his way to victory lane.  Truex has been near the top of the speed charts in practice, and rolls off 22nd on race day, which gives him opportunity both positionally, and as a dominator.  He’s a great play this week.

Erik Jones

Darlington has been a good track for Jones, and over his two combined starts his average finish is 6.5. Last year he finished 8th, and earned the 5th best driver rating.  In 2017, Jones had a great track debut, finishing 5th.  Jones has been top ten in practice this week.  He starts 15th, leaving some room for positional gain as well.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick has fared very well at Darlington, which has been a great track for him.  Over the last six races at “The Lady in Black”, he has the best driver rating, the best average finish (4.3), the best average running position (4.5), and has led the most laps (518).  He’s also finished in the top 9 every race. Last year, Harvick started back in 22nd but still finished 4th.  In 2017, Harvick started on the pole and finished 9th, while leading 22 laps.  In 2016, bad pit stops on a few occasions killed his chances of winning.  At race’s end, he had the best driver rating, finished 2nd, and led 214 laps. In 2015 he finished 5th and led 44 laps. In 2014 he dominated the race from start to finish. He started on the pole, earned the best driver rating, and led 238 laps.  Harvick qualified 11th which makes him a dual threat to gain some positions as well as be a dominator.  His salary is amazingly below 10k which makes him a very solid play.

Kyle Busch

Busch is a former winner who’s run well here recently.  Over the last five he sports a 6.6 average finish and an 8.4 average running position. Last year, he ran well and when the checkered flag waved he finished 7th.  In 2017, Busch had a great car, finishing 2nd.  In 2016 he finished 11th.  In the four races prior to that he had results of 7th, 6th, 6th and 4th.  Busch had issues in qualifying and as a result he rolls off 33rd.  The positional gains he could get are staggering if he can have a solid run on race day.  He’s pricey, and will cost you in a week where we need every penny, but I’ll have a few shares.

Ryan Newman

Newman makes no secret of the fact that Darlington is his favorite track.  His average finish is 12.1 and he’s finished in the top ten 65% percent of the time.  Last year, Newman was running in the top ten with 56 laps to go when he was involved in a wreck and that led to his 19th place finish.  In the five Darlington races prior to that he had 4 top tens, with his lone result outside the top ten a 13th.  In 2017, Newman finished 7th.  In 2016 he finished 8th.   He has 13 top 10s here with seven in his last 10 races at the South Carolina track.   Newman qualified 24th on a track that favors veterans.  Feel free to fire him up this week.

Matt Tifft

I’m sure some of you are reading this and saying “Matt Tifft?”.   Tifft didn’t look that bad in practice, and at his salary and starting position (32nd), he provides a solid measure of salary relief that allows us to fit in all of the big names we need this week.  At Darlington, Tifft has never made a top series start.  Last year in the lower series at Darlington he finished 8th.  I have his ceiling somewhere in the mid-twenties and if he can get there, he’ll more than pay off value on himself as well as give us that salary relief we need.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is the defending champion at “The Track Too Tough To Tame”.  Over the last four combined races he has the 2nd best driver rating, a 6.8 average finish, and he’s led 270 laps. Last year, Keselowski swept both the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series.  He didn’t necessarily have the best car last year, but used pit strategy to get the lead late and hang on.  In 2017, he finished a misleading 15th after getting into the wall late.  In 2016 Keselowski finished 9th and led 47 laps.  In 2015 he started on the pole, finished 2nd, and led 196 laps.  Keselowski has looked good in practice this week, and qualified up front, which isn’t ideal, but the opportunity for dominator points at his low salary of $9600 this week is fantastic.  I didn’t originally have Keselowski in my write-up other than in the “other drivers I like” section below, but I found after building lines, that I used him quite a bit alongside other big name drivers and was able to get the other drivers I wanted as well.

Other drivers I like are Bowman, Stenhouse, and Kurt Busch.

Salary-savers (sub-7k) this week are Menard, Stenhouse, McDowell, Ty Dillon, Matt Tifft, and Bubba Wallace.

Dominator potentials this week are Larson, Keselowski, Hamlin, and Harvick.

Movers this week are Kyle Busch, Truex, Almirola, and Newman.

Fades for me this week are Suarez, Hemric, and Preece.

My pick to win the race this week is Kyle Larson.  He’s been nothing short of dominant here for the past two races, and he completely dominated the speed charts in practice Friday.  He barely missed the pole in qualifying, and if he can keep it off the wall on race day, look for him to be up front when the checkered flag waves.