Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Cook Out Southern 500

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin Sunday in Darlington. How does this alter our DFS approach, and what's the optimal lineup construction for the Cook Out Southern 500?

It has been a hot second since we've had to sell our souls for lap-leaders in NASCAR DFS. The last time we had more than 310 laps scheduled for a race was all the way back in June, a 10-race stretch that feels like a decade ago.

That streak ends this weekend.

Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 in Darlington is 367 laps, leaving us 36.7 FanDuel points for laps led. That's a hefty total, and it does force us to prioritize getting lap-leaders in our lineups.

Lucky for us, this is also the first race of the playoffs. That means the 16 best drivers from the regular season will start in the top 16 spots on the grid. All our potential lap-leaders are in one place; we just have to pick the right ones.

Let's dig more into this race and the impact the starting order has on our strategy. Then, we'll figure out the optimal way to build rosters for Sunday's race on FanDuel.

A Top-Heavy Approach

Any time we prioritize laps led, our lineups will look top-heavy. The drivers most likely to lead laps are those with high salaries, so if you want that upside, it'll cost you.

It's still worth it.

Last year's playoff race in Darlington illustrated this. The two drivers who dominated the race -- Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott -- carried salaries of $12,400 and $11,700, respectively. Both led more than 110 laps. Elliott was the lowest-salaried driver to lead more than five laps, and no non-playoff drivers led even a single circuit.

Truex and Elliott wrecked each other late in the race and didn't finish well. Even with that, though, the perfect lineup still skewed toward high-salaried drivers and those in the playoffs.

Perfect LineupSalaryStartLaps Led
Kevin Harvick$14,200 8th32
Joey Logano$11,200 13th0
Erik Jones$10,500 30th0
Austin Dillon$8,300 12th0
Ryan Preece$5,000 35th0

Those circumstances were the worst-case scenario for people who prioritized lap-leaders. But even with the two dominators wrecking, we still had three drivers at $10,500 or higher in the perfect lineup, and three of the five drivers were among those in the playoffs.

That should illustrate the viability of this approach. If Truex and Elliott don't crash, they become must-have plays who you need in order to cash. Even when things break against us, the approach still pans out. It's why we should come in with a similar mindset this weekend.

Each of the top 14 drivers in my model's projected average running position this weekend is a playoff driver. The top nine drivers in that category all have salaries of $10,000 or higher. The three most likely winners have salaries of $12,500 or higher. If we want upside, we'll have to pay for it.

Perfect lineups from the opening round of the playoffs last year contained an average of 2.7 playoff drivers. Bristol had just two while both Richmond and Darlington had three. As such, given the importance of laps led, we should default to having three playoff drivers in each lineup, and I'm not opposed to squeezing in a fourth, as well. Then we can attempt to scoop place-differential with our other slots.

Those options will be available to us, as well. The drivers ranked 15th and 16th in projected average running position -- Matt DiBenedetto and Ross Chastain -- will start 30th and 23rd, respectively. We'll have decent place-differential outlets for our value plays. We just want to make sure we're not going overboard there, sapping our lineups of guys who can realistically win.

The playoffs definitely alter things for our approach in NASCAR DFS, but at least for this opening round, it plays perfectly into our hands. We need lap-leaders, and the guys most likely to do that will start near the front. Optimal strategy meshing with reality is a luxury, and we should take advantage this week by going all-in on the three-stud approach.