This article is part of our DFS NASCAR series.
Cook Out Southern 500
Location: Darlington, S.C.
Course: Darlington Raceway
Format: 1.37-mile oval
The NASCAR Cup Series championship playoffs begin this week with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The 16 drivers fighting for the championship must quickly get over the drama of last week's regular-season finale at Daytona and hit the ground running at Darlington. This weekend's race will be the third time the series races at the 1.36-mile oval this season after the pandemic forced a rework of the 2020 schedule. Championship favorites Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin won the two races at the track earlier this season when in-person racing returned, but Chase Elliott may still feel like one of those victories slipped through his fingers. A win from him or any of the other playoff drivers would secure their spots in the next elimination round that will get underway in Las Vegas.
Key Stats at Darlington Raceway
- Number of races: 118
- Winners from pole: 20
- Winners from top-5 starters: 70
- Winners from top-10 starters: 99
- Winners from 21st or lower starters: 6
- Fastest race: 141.383 mph
Previous 10 Daytona Winners
2020 II - Denny Hamlin
2020 I - Kevin Harvick
2019 - Erik Jones
2018 - Brad Keselowski
2017 - Denny Hamlin
2016 - Martin Truex Jr.
2015 - Carl Edwards
2014 - Kevin Harvick
2013 - Matt Kenseth
2012 - Jimmie Johnson
Darlington Raceway is a notoriously difficult race track. Fantasy players will hear drivers and teams talk about racing the track more than racing the competition. That means setups for cars will be a challenge and, most likely, a compromise. The different corners on each end of the track make optimizing a car difficult. Drivers may need to take the high line at one end while using the low end at the other to maximize lap time. Passing is difficult, and moving off strategy to gain track position is a gamble. Teams will almost always opt for four fresh tires, and track position may not be enough to hold off contenders with fresh rubber. The winner of this race typically starts toward the front of the field, and with all 16 playoff contenders starting in the first eight rows, the action is sure to be intense.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
DraftKings Tier 1 Values
DraftKings Tier 2 Values
DraftKings Tier 3 Values
DraftKings Long-Shot Values
MY PICKS THIS WEEK
Lower-Risk Lineup ($50K Salary Cap)
Kevin Harvick (DK $10,900, FD $14,200) won the first visit to Darlington earlier this season. He also won at the track in 2014 and hasn't finished lower than ninth there since 2012. Kyle Busch (DK $10,000, FD $11,000) still hasn't had his first win this season, but he was the runner up in the second Darlington race earlier this year. He knows he has no margin for error in the playoffs and only finished lower than 11th once there since 2009. Brad Keselowski (DK $8,800, FD $12,600) won this race in 2018 and has three top-five finishes in his last four starts at the track. Ford driver Matt DiBenedetto (DK $7,400, FD $9,400) achieved his goal of getting into the playoffs after surviving a tense race last week. He has two Darlington top-10s from seven career starts. Both of those finishes came in the last three races. Tyler Reddick (DK $7,000, FD $9,000) had impressive races at this track earlier this season as a rookie. He loved the high line at the track and went from 29th to seventh his first time out. Chris Buescher (DK $5,700, FD $6,500) will start 20th Sunday night and has two top-15 finishes from six circuit starts.
Higher-Risk Lineup ($50K Salary Cap)
Denny Hamlin (DK $11,400, FD $13,500) won the second edition of Darlington's return to racing earlier in the season. Having two other Darlington wins on his resume makes him a positive choice for fantasy players this weekend. Chase Elliott (DK $10,600, FD $11,700) was actually the more likely driver to win the latest Darlington race before colliding with Kyle Busch as he was chasing down the leaders in the final laps. Despite that finish, he also has two top-fives and three top-10s from his seven total starts at the track. Jimmie Johnson (DK $8,400, FD $9,700) no longer has any pressure after missing out on the playoffs last week at Daytona. All he has to worry about is going for wins. He has three Darlington wins and finished eighth at the circuit last time out. Clint Bowyer (DK $8,100, FD $9,200) actually led 77 laps in that race, too. Bowyer only has two top-10 finishes from 16 career starts at the track, but the 71 laps led in the last race there could suggest he has the car to compete for a top-five finish on Sunday. Christopher Bell (DK $6,900, FD $8,000) is another rookie who had a very respectable Darlington visit earlier in May. He raced from 24th in the second race to finish 11th and will start 21st this time. Finally, Brennan Poole (DK $4,500, FD $3,500) would be the last available option given the current salaries. Poole will start 23rd, but is a driver who works to get to the finish and is capable of a top-25 finish this week.