Goodyear 400 (Cup Series)
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Welcome to another week of NASCAR DFS previews! Before I go any further, I’d like to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all of you out there! Without you, we wouldn’t be who we are today. Personally, it’s my wife’s first Mother’s Day, and I am so proud of the mother she is to our son. Now, as if the day couldn’t get any better, the Cup Series will be racing at one of my favorite tracks, Darlington Raceway! Let’s dig in!
Above are the optimal lineups from the Darlington races in 2020. The 2nd race can be disregarded for the most part since it was the second half of a doubleheader, and the starting lineup was set by an invert from the first race’s finishing position. Regardless, who knows how applicable any of this information is…
This week, NASCAR has decided to use the 750 hp, low downforce package at Darlington, rather than the typical 550 hp, high downforce package usually used at intermediate tracks. What does this mean? Cars will likely be sliding around a little more, brakes will have to be used, and it will be even more imperative for drivers to manage their tires on this abrasive track surface.
So what do we prioritize? Recent form? Track history? Speed in the 750 package? Success at tracks with high tire wear? It’s likely a combination of all of the above. I expect that drivers who are good at Darlington and other high tire wear tracks will continue to be. However, drivers who have struggled thus far in 2021 could easily continue to do so. While I am excited as a fan for more horsepower and hopefully more exciting racing, it is quite frustrating from a DFS perspective, especially without practice data.
Drivers to Target
$10k and above
Kyle Larson (14) – Larson has been by far the best driver this season in my opinion, but he doesn’t have the wins to show for it. Darlington has been historically one of his best tracks given his tendency to run inches from the wall, generating more speed than most drivers. Though he was absent for the 3 races here in 2020, Larson finished 2nd in his most recent race at Darlington in 2019. He also finished 3rd in 2018, leading 284 laps. That was the last time we saw the high horsepower, low downforce package here. It’s back this week…
Denny Hamlin (7) – If Larson hasn’t been the best driver, Hamlin is a strong contender as he leads the points by a wide margin despite having no wins on the season. He did get a win here at Darlington last year and always seems to run well here. However, since 2016, he ranks just 6th in average points scored per race here. Which version will we see today?
Martin Truex Jr. (4) – If you look at his recent finishes at Darlington, you may be wondering why I’d even consider playing MTJ. I’m hoping others think the same thing. He has 2 wins already this season and runs better at Darlington than his finishes would suggest. Since 2016, he has the 2nd fastest laps and 3rd most laps led at the track. Add in his success in the 750 hp package and his tendency to perform well in hot, slick conditions, and MTJ becomes one of my favorite choices to dominate.
Brad Keselowski (1) – The polesitter failed to make the optimal lineup in any of the 3 Darlington races in 2020. However, in last spring’s race, Keselowski also started on the pole and went on to lead 80 laps. If you need another reason to play him, he won the race here in 2018, the last time the package was similar. Unless you are continuing to fade the polesitter until furth notice, Keselowski is a strong contender to lead early and often today.
**Note: I may consider Joey Logano simply due to his success in the 750 hp package this year. He ranks first in PEER. The issue is that this package is not really seen at tracks that would correlate well.
$8k to $10k
Alex Bowman (19) – Bowman has looked strong to start 2021. We know that he tends to do well at tracks with high tire wear, such as Atlanta, Auto Club, Chicago, and Darlington. His finishes in last year’s races here were 2nd, 13th, and 6th. Since 2016, he has the 4th fastest laps here as well. I think he is a little overpriced and I do worry about the different packages, but his place differential upside makes him a great cash play.
Chase Elliott (6) – I don’t think many will click on Elliott this week given his recent struggles in 2021, but he could be a sneaky dominator option. He finished 4th here last spring and was running in the top 5 in the other 2 races here before being wrecked. The 750 hp package would appear to suit him as he dominated in it last season all the way to a championship. If throttle control is going to result from the added horsepower, Elliott’s expertise at braking could come in handy.
Kurt Busch (17) – He has not had the speed he typically has yet this season. However, he has top 10s in 5 of the past 6 Darlington races. This season, he also finished 8th at Homestead and was running in the top 5 at Atlanta before wrecking out. Busch always seems to find a way at these high tire wear tracks. He needs a top 5 to hit 6x value which would be a ceiling-type performance but it’s not out of the question.
Erik Jones (26) – People in the industry have gone back and forth on this play all week. Most say he’s overpriced, but I’ll happily take the lower ownership if that’s the general consensus. Since arriving to the Cup Series, Jones has not finished outside the top 10 at Darlington. Yes, he was in JGR equipment for most of them, and his Petty Motorsports car isn’t nearly as fast. However, Wallace ran decently in this car here last year, and Jones still finished top 10 in the #77 Furniture Row car 3 years ago. Oh, and he has 3 wins in a row at Winchester Speedway, the closest track we have to Darlington. He needs a top 10 to hit 6x value, and I think he gets it done.
**Note: I will likely fade KB18 and Harvick, despite their strong track history. You might as well call it “Harvington Raceway” as he’s won 2 of the past 3 races here, but he hasn’t been himself thus far in 2021, even at tracks he normally runs well at. Byron could be a sneaky option, similar to Elliott. He did pull off the win at Homestead, another high tire wear track, but his results at Darlington have not been very impressive. Almirola is a decent pivot off of Jones and Kurt if you need the salary or want to lower exposure to them. He provides plenty of place differential upside, I expect him to finish around 12th.
$6k to $8k
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (28) – Though he finished dead last here last spring after wrecking in turn 1 on the first lap back from the pandemic break, I still like Ricky this week. The results haven’t been there, but this track type should fit him well given his dirt background. Also, he is running better so far in 2021 than in recent years and finished 12th here in a similar package in 2018.
Cole Custer (24) – I get a little nervous playing SHR drivers given their struggles this season, but Custer is sneaky good here at Darlington. He finished 12th here last fall and had finishes of 1st and 2nd in his last 2 Xfinity starts here. Though it’s a different series, others that will be touted (Bell, Reddick, Briscoe) were in those races and can’t claim the same success. Beware though; he has finished worse than 18th in 7 of 9 races in 2021.
Ross Chastain (18) – He is starting a little higher than I would like, but there’s no denying Chastain’s obvious improvement in 2021, finishing top 20 in 8/10 races. He finished top 15 at Atlanta, another high tire wear track, and was contending for a top 5 last week at Kansas before poor restarts near the end caused him to drift back to 14th. He’s a little risky, but given the lack of value plays, I’m willing to give Chastain a shot.
**Note: I will also be playing Tyler Reddick as this track should fit his driving style. He is basically “Kyle Larson Lite” attempting to run higher lines than anyone else on the track. He also got to test out the Next-Gen car here earlier this year. Though it’s a different car, the track time in a year without practice is huge. He is just starting too high for me to write him up. Briscoe can also be considered.
$6k and below
Ryan Preece (29) – This is the only driver I will be playing in this price range as the others will likely not be able to gain many positions, if at all unless there are many wrecks. Preece has a similar upside to his teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and a top 15 finish would not surprise me. He has 2 top 20 finishes in his 4 starts at Darlington and should be able to pay off his salary if he can just avoid trouble. Preece will likely be chalky as others try to fit multiple high-priced dominators.
As previously mentioned, give hugs and tell the moms in your life that you love them. Do everything you can today and every day to show them they’re appreciated. The next best thing you can do today is play Kyle Larson. Do those things, and you’re sure to have a great day.
Best of luck, everyone! If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter (@dsmaybin0308) or join the FREE Fantasy Sports Degens slack chat!