DraftKings’ daily fantasy NASCAR game returns as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway. It is throwback weekend in one of the sport's most prestigious events, the Bojangles’ Southern 500. The green flag flies Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Cars hit the track Friday afternoon for first practice. Drivers then battle for the Coors Light Pole Award at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
ELITE TIER: $9,500 and up
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,700)
Darlington: 11 starts, one win, two top fives (18.2 percent), five top 10s (45.5 percent)
Average finish at Darlington: 11.6
The Cup Series point leader and defending race winner at Darlington may be the safest pick this weekend. He has two straight top-10 finishes at the track and five overall in 11 starts.
Truex has also finished inside the top three in three of the last four races this season. That includes a win at Watkins Glen, registered earlier this month which has left him on the verge of the regular season points title.
If Truex starts inside the top 10, he is a heavy dominator favorite. Get him on your roster!
Kyle Larson ($10,300)
Darlington: Three starts, one top five, three top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 7.0
Larson has emerged as a serious championship contender in 2017. He has three wins this season, including his victory two races ago at Michigan. Earning two straight top-10 finishes, he comes out of the off week ready to rumble with his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
Larson has three races under his belt at Darlington, with finishes of third, eighth, and 10th. That third-place finish came a season ago after leading 45 laps in that race. His move into the top tier of drivers only backs the potential to land in Victory Lane Sunday night.
Denny Hamlin ($9,900)
Darlington: 11 starts, one win, six top fives (54.5 percent), nine top 10s (81.8 percent)
Average finish at Darlington: 6.3
Hamlin has the best average finish of all active drivers at Darlington. He has one win at the track (2010) and has finished inside the top five in four of the last five races. He has only one finish outside the top 15, a 19th-place result in 2014.
Joe Gibbs Racing has gained momentum the past few weeks, just in time for the playoffs. Hamlin is the most consistently successful of the bunch and a sneaky pick for your roster among the Toyota crowd.
ALL-STAR TIER: $8,000 – $9,400
Brad Keselowski ($9,200)
Darlington: Eight starts, two top fives, four top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 12.1
Keselowski fans are hoping the off weekend ends the run of bad juju over the past three races. He has three straight finishes of 15th or worse, including 29th at Bristol two weeks ago where he finished seven laps down.
Keselowski led the most laps from the pole position in the 2015 Darlington race, but lost the lead to Carl Edwards with just over 10 laps to go. He again led laps last year after starting second; in the end, he sealed a second straight Darlington top 10.
Keselowski has run up front three races in a row at the track, leading laps in all three. While not securing the win the Southern 500 trophy is high on his bucket list. Expect the No. 2 Ford to come on strong this weekend as they begin preparation for the playoffs in just two weeks.
Averaging a 12th-place finish through eight races, this Team Penske driver should be a cheaper alternative to the top-priced drivers this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson ($9,100)
Darlington: 18 starts, three wins, nine top fives (50 percent), 12 top 10s (66.7 percent)
Average finish at Darlington: 10.4
Johnson’s three Darlington victories top the charts among active drivers. His most recent win came in 2012, and he followed that up with two more top-five results.
A wreck on lap 215 ended Johnson's shot at another top five last season, giving him one of his worst finishes ever at the track. But that should prove to be little more than a random dose of bad luck. Through 18 starts, Johnson has a Darlington average finish just outside the top 10. He ranks second behind Hamlin in that category among active drivers with five or more starts.
As we move towards late in the year, Johnson is the best driver around, and maybe the best in history. How he closes the deal is made evident by those seven championship trophies on his mantle.
It’s time to jump on the Johnson train.
Joey Logano ($8,600)
Darlington: Eight starts, two top fives, four top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 18.4
Like teammate Keselowski, Logano has had a recent run of success at Darlington. Earning two straight top-five finishes, he was fourth in 2015 before registering a fifth last year.
Logano is another driver who needed a break in the schedule to kill off his run of bad luck. He has not finished inside the top 10 since Indianapolis, dropping out of playoff contention and now needing a win to make the postseason.
He may not get that Sunday at Darlington. But the No. 22 Ford was dominant this time last year, and it is only a matter of time before they get their spark back.
BARGAIN TIER: $4,500 – $7,900
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($7,600)
Darlington: 21 starts, four top fives (19 percent), 10 top 10s (47.6 percent)
Average finish at Darlington: 14.0
Darlington is one track where Earnhardt has run well the past few years. In 2013, he picked up his first top 10 at the track in five seasons. The veteran followed that up with a runner-up performance in 2014. In 2015, he started deep in the pack and worked his way to an eighth-place result.
Earnhardt is running out of options if he plans to make the playoffs in his final Cup season. He will be all boom-or-bust on DraftKings the next two weeks as his team looks to work some magic to get him that win.
Austin Dillon ($7,400)
Darlington: Three starts, two top 15s
Average finish at Darlington: 15.0
Aside from his win at Charlotte midseason, Dillon has only finished inside the top 10 twice this year. That is a big falloff from the 10 he had at this point in 2016. All things considered, Dillon is in the playoffs and will be looking to put himself in the best position to succeed once that time hits.
Dillon has run three races at Darlington throughout his career. He finished 11th in his rookie season back in 2014. In 2015, he finished 22nd after starting 29th. Last season, Austin finished 12th.
He is priced among the lower tier of drivers on DraftKings, but his potential this weekend makes that a great bargain. Adding Dillon allows more budget for top-end drivers. If he can run inside the top 15, or pull off a top 10, it will definitely be worth it.
(Top photo by ASP Inc.)