After quite a shakeup in the NASCAR Cup Series schedule due to COVID-19, we've returned to a somewhat normal timeline beginning with the sport's playoff opener (as normal as normal can be under 2020 circumstances). So let's get your NASCAR DraftKings lineups set for the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday, Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway.
The site that brought NASCAR back on the track in May also jumpstarts the first round of the playoffs. As teams celebrate and honor some of the sport's champions, running special paint schemes as part of throwback weekend, 16 drivers will begin their quest for the NASCAR Cup title.
As you may recall, Darlington is shaped like an egg and is abrasive on tires. Drivers ride close to the wall — sometimes too close, receiving the infamous Darlington stripe. Most drivers competed at this track a few months ago, so they're more adaptable to the conditions and environment. It's the first time in NASCAR's 71-year history they'll be visiting the track three times at the Cup level.
For daily fantasy, there are more laps in this race than there were in May's two events, which means more points available for fastest lap (183.5) and laps led (91.75). Look at a driver's average green flag speed or how many fastest laps they ran during previous races. Include both Darlington as well as recent events (except superspeedways or road courses) in your research. The drivers in this article can help get you started.
Remember, DraftKings awards 0.50 points for each fastest lap and 0.25 points for each lap led. Additionally, the site adds or subtracts a point for each position a driver gains or loses on track. Finally, the driver in first place scores the most points (46). Second place gets 42 DraftKings points, third gets 41, and so on. The key in daily fantasy NASCAR DraftKings is not only to target the best drivers but the ones who gain the most positions from where they start. Here's a complete rundown of DraftKings' NASCAR scoring rules.
Before I share my picks for this week, let's review what happened at Daytona International Speedway last weekend.
NASCAR DraftKings Score
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both were two of the first drivers who wrecked out after getting caught up in a Big One. However, Denny Hamlin contended for the win late in the race, balancing out the lineup a bit. In the end, it wasn't enough to get over the cash line despite top-six finishes by both Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.
Last week, 224.50 points was the minimum cashing score in the $1 single entry double up (tied with several to earn $1.27). Also, 247.75 DraftKings points were needed to earn $1.55 in the $1 Happy Hour tournament.
DraftKings Daily Fantasy NASCAR Plays/Sample Lineup for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway
Denny Hamlin ($11,400)
Career at Darlington: 16 starts, 3 wins, 9 top fives, 13 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 7.2
It's no surprise I'm choosing Hamlin again, as he has been one of the hottest drivers since returning back from NASCAR's COVID-19 suspension. This season just might be his year to snag the championship, but he'll have to get through each round in order to have a chance. Hamlin won the Wednesday night race at Darlington earlier this year (though it was shortened due to rain). Additionally, he won at the track in 2010 and 2017, leading 124 laps and notching 47 fastest laps in the latter.
This year, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing pilot has not slowed down since May. His most recent win came at Dover International Speedway; he led 115 circuits and had the quickest lap 61 times. Hamlin appeared to have a shot to win the second event of that weekend doubleheader, but pitted on lap 227 for a loose wheel and settled for 19th. That's his worst finish in the last six weeks, showcasing how much momentum this team has. Hamlin's had six top fives and seven top 10s since the All-Star Race, including a win at Kansas Speedway.
Either Hamlin or Kevin Harvick should be the top choice in any winning roster, as both have been astounding. The two favorites for the season title should charge out of the gate strong on Sunday night.
Erik Jones ($9,600)
Career at Darlington: 5 starts, 1 win, 3 top fives, 5 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 5.4
I honestly was hesitant to play Jones, but I couldn't pass on his position differential upside. He's set to start 30th Sunday, and based on previous results at Darlington, he should easily pay off a low salary. He won here last year after leading 79 laps and notching 18 fastest laps. Jones also had 40 quick laps in 2018, though he ultimately ended in eighth with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
I'm mostly concerned with the driver's summer slump. Since the beginning of August, when Jones announced he was leaving this team at the end of the season, he's failed to finish inside the top 10 in any race. Still, two races produced good DraftKings scores due to position differential. He can accomplish the same for your roster this week due to starting so far back.
Hamlin's teammate may not be racing for the playoffs this year but is busy auditioning for 2021. Hopefully that will translate into a good Draftkings score Sunday night.
Brad Keselowski ($8,800)
Career at Darlington: 13 starts, 1 win, 5 top fives, 7 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 10.4
Keselowski has been quietly consistent lately (in a good way). He's earned three straight top 10s and won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on August 2. In that race, he held the top spot for 184 laps and ran 54 fastest laps, which boosted his DraftKings score to 122. Keselowski also won at Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier in the season. The veteran has posted nine top fives and 19 top 10s so far this year, putting him in position to contend for the season title.
In the past seven Darlington events, the No. 2 Team Penske pilot has just two results outside the top 10. In fact, in 13 career starts at the Lady in Black he's only ended outside the top 17 once, a 32nd-place finish way back in 2013. More recently, Keselowski captured a Darlington victory in 2018, while he led 80 laps in the first event held at the track this year.
Team Penske's senior driver has the speed to lead laps, but he'll have to pass Harvick and Hamlin to do it. Either way, it's a good mid-level addition to your roster.
Tyler Reddick ($7,000)
Career at Darlington: 2 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 1 top 10
Average finish at Darlington: 10.0
Reddick hasn't earned a top 10 since NHMS this year and has earned over 30 DraftKings points in just one race since then, but I still want him in my lineup. Why? Because the Cup rookie hasn't started outside the top 20 since before that race. He'll start 23rd this week, and I fully expect him to at least gain five positions on the track. Reddick seems to do well on abrasive ovals with grooves where he can run up against the wall. For example, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he gained 20 spots to end in fourth. Let's just hope he won’t forget what lap he's on at the end.
The No. 8 Richard Childress Racing wheelman also had good results at Darlington in May. In the first race, Reddick earned a seventh, then was 13th a few days later. Additionally, he had 14 total fastest laps in those events. If you think he'll have a similar outcome Sunday evening, lock this talented driver in your lineup.
Christopher Bell ($6,900)
Career at Darlington: 2 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 17.5
Bell has had some rough races since the All-Star Race, but he did earn over 40 DraftKings points last week and in the first race at Michigan International Speedway. He's starting 21st this time and can gain a few positions as the rookie works to keep the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota in contention.
After all, Bell moved up twice earlier in the year at Darlington. While he only rose four places to end 24th in the first race, Bell gained 13 spots to finish 11th in the May 20 midweek event. Even five positions this weekend would help to increase his DraftKings score and help you cash your contests.
Dark Horse Performer
Ty Dillon ($6,000)
Career at Darlington: 5 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 18.4
Speaking of gaining positions, that's exactly what Ty Dillon does at The Lady in Black. In all but his last race there, Dillon moved up at least seven places on the track. In the first event there this season, he started 33rd and finished 19th. Unfortunately, that 19th-place result gave him a very high starting position for the next race, and his car wasn't strong enough to hold on in front. Still, Dillon's tendency to get a few spots is enough for me to want him in my lineup, even with the rumors surrounding Germain Racing's future.
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)