Daily Fantasy NASCAR Driver Preview: Bojangles' Southern 500
Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week's track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That's what we're going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form.
Clearly, this isn't to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week's track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we'll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let's check it out. Here are drivers we should monitor for the Bojangles' Southern 500 in Darlington.
Denny Hamlin (FanDuel Salary: $14,000): The big appeal of Denny Hamlin this weekend is his scorching-hot current form, and we'll talk about that in a second. But "The Lady in Black" has always been a welcome sight for Hamlin.
Hamlin has been to Darlington 13 times in his career. He has 11 top-10 finishes, 7 top-5s, and 2 wins, including the 2017 rendition. Five of Hamlin's top-fives here have come in the past seven races, and he hasn't had an average running position outside the top nine since 2009.
That's all well and good, but current form almost always tops track history; the problem is that Hamlin is really freaking good there, too. He has won two of the past four races and has six straight top-fives. He has had an average running position outside the top six once in that six-race span, and that race was actually one of his wins as he had to come back up through the field several times that night. Combine that with his track history, and Hamlin actually shapes up as a bit of a betting value at +800 on FanDuel Sportsbook.
Martin Truex Jr. ($12,500): That 2017 win for Hamlin almost didn't happen. Martin Truex Jr. held the lead with just three laps to go, but an ill-timed Darlington Stripe killed that run.
Hamlin may have passed Truex even without the wall's assistance, but the scuff up sent Truex back to eighth. Still, he finished that race with a second-place average running position and led 76 laps. He also won the year before with a fifth-place average running position, so since Truex turned things on for his career, he has run well at Darlington.
Truex hasn't won since Sonoma, but he has good current form entering the weekend. He has had a top-seven average running position in four straight races, and all four tracks are fairly unique from each other. Truex -- more so than Hamlin -- is someone whose practice times should influence the way we view him, and if he sits near the top of the charts in those sessions, we should view him as a likely contender to get back in victory lane.
Kyle Larson ($11,500): Because the Cup Series comes to Darlington just once a year, we've got a limited sample on younger drivers at the track. As such, Kyle Larson has raced here just five times in his career. But in those five, he has led at least 100 laps twice and has a pair of third-place finishes, so we should be able to say definitively that he can wheel it around this joint.
Even those stats above likely sell Larson short. He didn't lead just 100 laps last year; he led a whopping 284, helping him notch a first-place average running position before eventually finishing third. His 456 laps led in the past four Darlington races top all other competitors by almost 200 laps, and he has converted it into a couple of good finishes. Given that the heavy-tire-wear nature of the track would seemingly suit Larson's driving style, this shouldn't come as a major surprise.
Larson has had an up-and-down season, but he has been much better of late with four top-fives and seven top-10s in the past nine races. He also led 142 laps earlier this year in Atlanta, another track where the tire falloff is significant. If Larson starts near the front, he could be a reasonably salaried outlet for scooping up some laps led and a good finish.
Ryan Newman ($8,400): On its face, Darlington should be a track that suits Ryan Newman well. He makes himself impossible to pass, and there aren't many grooves with which to pass other cars, even if your car is faster than theirs. Newman lives up to the anecdotal edge he should have here.
Even when we look at the more recent years on Newman's ledger -- omitting when he was a higher-end contender in the sport -- he has consistently gotten top-10s at Darlington. He has four top-10s in the past six Darlington races, and in one of the non-top-10s, he had an 11th-place average running position. Those were all in other equipment than what he has now, but Newman has continued to compete even at Roush-Fenway Racing.
Newman's coming off an 11th-place run in Bristol and has finished 12th or better in 7 of the past 10 races. He's unlikely to push for a top-five, but at this salary, you don't need him to. You just need a steady run and a chance at a top-10, and that seems to be firmly within Newman's range of outcomes.
Chris Buescher ($7,200): Chris Buescher and his team seem to have taken a major step forward in 2019, nearly doubling his career top-10 total at non-drafting tracks with still 12 races left to go. That means it's even more noteworthy when the series goes to a track where he excelled before this bump; Darlington is one of those stops.
In his first three Darlington races, Buescher's worst finish is 17th, and he cranked out a 13th-place finish last year. That came with a 14th-place average running position, tied for the best mark he had in all of 2018.
Darlington isn't a 1.5-mile track, so looking at results at those tracks could lead us down a bad path. But those are likely the closest parallels we've got outside of tracks with heavy tire wear. All of Buescher's top-10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks, including in Atlanta, a track that fits in both potential Darlington archetypes. Especially if he qualifies poorly, Buescher is setting up to be a great DFS option once again this weekend.
Erik Jones ($10,200): Erik Jones has a plus history at Darlington, finishing fifth and eighth in his two trips to this track. More importantly, he enters with stout current form, even on the heels of a couple of rough races.
Jones entered last week's bye week with finishes of 18th and 22nd in Michigan and Bristol, respectively. But in both races, he had a top-13 average running position, showing that he just had issues toward the end that put a damper on his day. Before those two races, he had four straight top-four finishes and an average running position of seventh in three of those races. He was consistently at the front of the pack and pushing to get his second career win.
As mentioned earlier, Jones' teammates, Hamlin and Truex, are among the top drivers here, which shows how good Joe Gibbs Racing is at the track. But Jones checks in with a salary that is $2,300 cheaper than any of the other drivers in that stable. He seems likely to join his teammates in the win column soon, and that checkered flag could very well come on Sunday night.
Ryan Blaney ($10,000): Ryan Blaney is $10,000 on FanDuel and +3300 to win at FanDuel Sportsbook, and those numbers don't paint him as being a legit contender at this track. That pessimism likely comes from his poor history at Darlington, and it may be an overreaction.
Blaney's average finish in his four career Darlington races is 22.2. In that same timeframe, Michael McDowell ($4,500) has a better average finish, and Landon Cassill ($3,000) is just a hair worse. That's not ideal company for someone who fancies himself as a weekly threat.
But we're also dealing with criminally small samples given that the Cup Series comes here just once each year, meaning that data is going to come with a ton of flukiness. We should put more stock in current form, and Blaney comes out smelling much better there.
Blaney has had a top-eight average running position in three of the past five races, and he managed to net a top-10 finish in the two other races in that span. He also ran well in Atlanta (leading 41 laps) and Fontana (finishing fifth), two other tracks where tire wear is high. If bookmakers are overvaluing something that doesn't matter too much, we should look to take advantage. It seems like that's happening with Blaney because of his poor history at Darlington, and it makes him a big name to monitor this weekend.
William Byron ($8,200): William Byron's lone Cup Series race in Darlington was not a fun one as he blew an engine and finished 35th. Before that, though, he had run every lap except for one in the top 15, and his average running position was 13th. That one bad run seems to have made his salary lower than it should be.
Byron turned a corner big time back in the spring, and he has carried that into the late summer. He has 7 top-10s and 2 top-5s in the past 14 races, and those good runs have come at a wide variety of track types. It makes sense that a driver in his age-21 season would improve as the year goes along, and it seems like we're seeing that out of Byron.
The lone issue with Byron from a DFS perspective is that he tends to qualify well, which makes him risky. But if he can finish well, he can still easily pay off at this salary. Byron has done that plenty enough recently, meaning he is in play for tournaments almost no matter where he starts, and he'd be in consideration for cash games if he were to slip in qualifying.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,800): On August 13th, Matt DiBenedetto found out he was out of a job for 2019. On August 17th, he nearly won the Bristol night race. And that near-win was no fluke, either.
In the past nine races, DiBenedetto has five top-10 finishes and three top-fives; his best finish prior to this stretch was 12th. He has backed up those finishes with good average running positions, posting marks of 12th or better in four of his five top-10s. He's running well and converting those runs into good finishes.
Darlington will be an interesting test for this team. At every track where DiBenedetto has finished well, the driver has had extra control with there being plenty of time off the throttle. Darlington has off-throttle time, but it's also a track where top-end teams tend to thrive. As such, we should judge DiBenedetto heavily based on his practice times. If he puts up killer speeds in practice again, we should buy into the surge. If not, then we may want to look elsewhere with his salary starting to rise steadily.
Daniel Hemric ($6,500): This will be Daniel Hemric's first Cup Series race in Darlington, which is a bit scary. And in the Xfinity Series, his two finishes here were 18th and 11th, which won't inspire a ton of confidence. But he did have a top-10 average running position in both those races, and he has shown some progress of late.
Hemric's best runs this year have come at big, fast tracks with four of his top finishes coming at Talladega, Michigan, and the two Pocono races. There's not a ton of overlap between them and Darlington. But he did finish 12th last week in Bristol, a track where the driver plays a key role in the outcome. That's not something we had seen much from Hemric earlier in the year.
Hemric's a rookie, so we know that he's going to have bad races that totally tank any roster he's on. That's a risk. But that's largely true for anybody who carries a salary lower than $7,000. Among those drivers, none has the same finishing upside as Hemric, and that has value. As such, take a long look at Hemric's times in practice and qualifying, and if it seems like he's acclimating well to the track, feel free to give him a sniff, at least in tournaments.