FREE NASCAR DFS Cup Series Darlington 2 Breakdown, Cheat Sheet and Core Plays

Welcome to Run Pure Sports’ FREE NASCAR DFS breakdown for today’s crown jewel event: The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. There’s nothing quite like the excitement a Cup Series race brings to the “Track Too Tough to Tame.” The story of the night will undoubtedly be tire wear, setting the stage for a dynamic race filled with comers and goers. As tires degrade, drivers will edge closer to the wall—often referred to as “rim riding”—to find the fastest line around the track. But tread carefully; one minor error and the “Lady in Black” will gift you the infamous Darlington stripe. Buckle up and let’s explore how to approach today’s DraftKings slate in this adrenaline-packed race.

Breakdown

Darlington Raceway stands out as a historic, one-of-a-kind venue on the NASCAR circuit. One key factor that makes it unique is its notoriously rough track surface, which has earned it the moniker “The Lady in Black.” Tire management is not just a strategy here—it’s a necessity. This track chews through tires like no other, making it a crucial element to navigate for a successful race.

As tires degrade, the race becomes a dynamic spectacle filled with comers and goers. Those who smartly conserve their tires early in a run can find themselves gaining significant track position later on, as tire fall-off can exceed two seconds per lap. This sets the stage for thrilling position battles and strategic plays throughout the afternoon.

When it comes to today’s race, experience at Darlington is invaluable. Knowing how to navigate this unique track can be the difference between victory and defeat. But experience isn’t the only metric to consider. It’s also essential to look at the speed drivers have shown on intermediate tracks so far in 2023. While practice speeds are generally important for making roster decisions, they take on an even greater role here due to the tire wear factor. Specifically, pay close attention to those 15-20 lap averages or higher; they can offer a more reliable gauge of a driver’s long-run performance and stamina.

The Southern 500 is a grueling endurance test, with drivers pushing their cars to the limit over 367 laps. Dominators—drivers who lead many laps and accumulate key points—play a significant role in this race. In the last five Southern 500s, 14 drivers have scored more than 20 dominator points. 10 of those performances came from drivers who started inside the top six. The pole sitter and the driver starting second have each accomplished this feat twice in those 5 races.

An outlier worth noting is Kyle Busch, who started 33rd in the 2019 Southern 500 and still managed to score 48 dominator points. However, in the Next Gen era, starting position seems to matter even more. In the three Darlington races of this era, eight drivers have scored 20+ dominator points; none started worse than 17th, six out of eight started in the top five, and the pole sitter accomplished it in every race.

Position differential will also be a key factor in today’s slate. There are several drivers with the potential to gain 15-20 position differential points. The aggressive tire wear at Darlington introduces speed disparities among drivers over a run, creating opportunities for significant movement through the field as tire conditions change and the race progresses.

Historically, drivers making big gains in position have performed well in DraftKings scoring. In the last five Southern 500 races, there have been 12 performances of 15+ position differential points and all of those landed inside the top 10 in DK scoring, with eight of those making it into the top six. Incredibly, a driver starting 22nd or worse has finished in the top five in four out of the last five Southern 500s. What’s more, three of the last five winners have come from starting positions of 13th or worse. It’s a testament to the idea that at Darlington, it’s not about how you start—it’s about how you finish.

To succeed in today’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, your DraftKings strategy should focus on a mix of dominators and drivers with strong position differential potential. Place particular emphasis on drivers starting within the top six for those dominators, as they’ve historically been more likely to rack up fast laps and laps led. However, there are also a TON of PD options that offer significant upside, landing on the right mix between PD and Doms will be key, with Drivers that can offer both being the most valuable. Remember, this is a race where experience and tire management are paramount, so lean into drivers with a strong track record at Darlington and on intermediates and lean on 15-20 lap averages in practice speeds, as these offer insights into how well a driver will manage tire wear over a run. Good luck!

Cheat Sheet

Introducing my Cheat Sheet for this evening’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway! This resource compiles all the essential data you’ll need to make informed roster decisions. Starting from the left, you’ll find lap averages from yesterday’s practice session. I’ve chosen to omit Fastest Lap data, as I don’t find it particularly relevant for this track. Next, the sheet features statistics from the three Darlington races in the Next Gen era, followed by data from intermediate tracks raced on in 2023. Drivers I’m particularly bullish on are highlighted, with those in pink signifying potential under-the-radar picks, making them excellent choices for GPP tournaments.

Core Plays

Top Tier

Favorite Top Tier: Truex, Bell, Larson

Favorite Top Tier Pivots: Chastain, Hamlin, Byron

Truex is basically a free square today. If you are fading, it’s strictly do to ownership and game theory hoping something goes wrong. Truex is one of the best at saving tires here at Darlington. Finishes have not been great recently here, but he has scored north of 30 Dom points in 2 of the last 3 here, and dominated here in the spring. The #19 and JGR in general have been the strongest on intermediates through the Summer month’s this season.

Bell will be the popular choice to lead laps early, and his price tag comes in at a point where he easily fits in combo with some of the Top tiered PD plays on the slate. Bell/Truex will likely be the chalkiest pairing of the slate. The pole Sitter has scored north of 20+ Dom points here in each of the 3 Next Gen era races so far this season. If I was making an argument against him, it would be that he has never led more than 10 laps here in 8 career starts and only has 1 Top 5 here. He also has not had more than 11 fast laps here in the Next Gen era, this is while starting 2nd and 3rd in both races last season. Plus… does chalk Bell ever work?

Larson is another play that probably does not need much explanation. Very few are as good at riding the high line as Larson and he showed awesome long run speed in practice yesterday. Expect him to move forward quickly and I think he is another guy, like Truex, that offers both Position differential AND Dominator upside.

Chastain and Byron both make solid pivot options off the chalkier PD plays of Truex and Larson. Don’t get me wrong, these guys won’t be low owned by any stretch, but they should be lower than Truex and Larson. Chastain has not turned a lot of heads recently and perhaps the lack of speed through the summer, combined with all the other PD options in this range, will keep his ownership suppressed today. His long run speed in practice looks great and he and Truex are the only 2 drivers to have scored north of 10 Dom points in all 3 Next Gen era races at Darlington. Byron, the winner here in the Spring, also gives us a ton of PD upside today. We did not get to see his long run speed in practice, but Byron has the BEST Avg Pos and Avg Finish amongst all drivers in the 3, Next Gen era Darlington races.

Hamlin makes a great dominator pivot off of chalk Bell. The price tag here coupled with all the PD options in this range is likely going to really keep ownership down on Hamlin today, despite being one of the best at Darlington. Hamlin has 2 Wins and 5 Top 5’s in the last 10 Darlington races. He has scored north of 10 Dom points in 2 of the last 3 races here while not starting higher than 8th in either of those races. His 2nd place starting position today is his best Darlington starting spot since the 2021 Southern 500, he led 146 laps in that race on his way to the victory.

Mid Tier

Favorite Mid Tier: Wallace, Stenhouse, Dillon

Favorite Mid Tier Pivots: Jones, Blaney

I LOVE some Bubba Wallace today. Great price tag for a guy that brings Top 5 upside with the potential to score 10-15 PD points. Bubba has the 7th best Avg Pos in the 3 Next Gen era Darlington races, finishing Top 10 in 2/3 which includes a Top 5 finish in the Spring earlier here this season. His speed looked good in practice and it has also been there for Bubba all season long on intermediates, having finished Top 5 in 4 out of 7 races.

When it comes to conserving tires, both Stenhouse and A Dillon have shown the ability to be able to make theirs last at Darlington. In 10 career starts at Darlington, Dillon has 4 Top 10’s and has only finished worse than 20th here one time in his career, which was in the Spring this year when he wrecked. Ricky, has also only finished outside the top 20 here once in the last 6 races here. That stretch includes an 8th and 13th place finish in the last two Spring races here. He wrecked out of this race last season but was running well prior.

When you come to Darlington you have to give some love to Erik Jones, the 2 Time Southern 500 winner and the winner of this race last season. Legacy Motorsports has been a bit of a dumpster fire for a lot of the 2023 season, but this 43 team gotten thing together on intermediates of late with Top 10 finishes at Michigan, Pocono, and Nashville. That speed should bode well coming to a track that Jones has excelled at his entire career.

A riskier mid tiered pivot for today is going to be Ryan Blaney. Blaney starts inside the Top 5 today which we know is key to scoring dominator points at Darlington. Fords showed up with speed in practice yesterday and Blaney was the best of the bunch, he was also the top Ford in terms of Dom points and fast laps here in the Spring earlier this year. His potential ceiling for only $8600 makes him a great tournament play IF he ends up finding the front.

Value Tier

Favorite Value Tier: Burton, Preece, Haley

Favorite Value Pivot: Cindric

Burton comes in as my favorite value option today. Solid speed in practice and he has not finished worse than 21st in his 3 career starts here. Those results include a 14th place finish in the Spring here last year, and an 6th place finish in the Spring race this year. The price tag is just way too cheap here for Burton today.

Haley is also another young driver who has shown to have what it takes to take care of his tires and equipment at Darlington. He has not finished worse than 19th here since moving over to Kaulig. He has 2 Top 10’s in those 3 races and he started 22nd or worse on his way to both of those Top 10 finishes, proving he knows how to navigate through the field to be there at the end for a good finish, despite a poor P&Q session.

Preece is another solid value PD option on the slate today. Most of the Fords looked to have speed in practice, so I expect Preece to be better than what he showed in P&Q. In his most recent Darlington race in the Spring, he finished 15th after starting 32nd. Prior to 2022, he raced 6 races here for JTG-Daugherty, he finished inside the Top 20 in 3 of 6 races, and only finished worse than 25th once.

This is a risky pivot down in this range, but Cindric could provide us some solid value today despite starting P14. Like his Penske team mate Blaney, Cindric had a TON of speed in practice. He’s been decent but not great in 3 races here with an average finish of 17th. The season has been a disaster for Cindric and he is due to finally have a good run. Will likely need to finish Top 10 to compete with the PD plays in the range, but even if he finishes around where he starts, he could pay off if the chalkier options find trouble.

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