The first race of the Cup Series playoffs is here and takes place at Darlington Raceway. The drivers will go 367 laps for 501 miles on the 1.366-mile oval track. As I mentioned in Saturday’s Xfinity article Darlington is an extremely tricky track and one that the drivers often find themselves dealing with turn two, one of the toughest corners in NASCAR. With this weekend came a new wrinkle as the often-patched turn two was completely repaved. This came into play during yesterday’s as drivers took some time adjusting. Three Cup regulars had a run on the track on Saturday with Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Tyler Reddick getting the extra seat time. This is the time of the year NASCAR fans wait for as we get the playoffs going!
Most comparable tracks: Homestead and Atlanta Motor Speedway
Note: all pricing is DraftKings focused
These are the drivers that we can typically expect to, you guessed it, dominate the race. When we think dominator we are looking for guys that will be in a position to lead a hefty amount of laps as well as be able to turn over fastest laps.
Denny Hamlin ($9,500)
Hamlin is one of the drivers that had extra seat time on this track on Saturday and despite a late penalty he was still able to finish 12th and lead 43 laps at a track he’s had past success at. The driver of the 11 car has three wins and five top five’s in 18 career cup races at Darlington. Starting second at a strong track and priced at jut $9,500 I expect Hamlin to be popular.
Kyle Larson ($11,500)
In his last three races at Darlington Larson has finished third, second, and second and in two of those races, he’s led 284 and 44 laps respectively. Despite an incident in last week’s race causing him to finish 20th Larson has still been the class of the series, especially from a dominator standpoint with 1,566 laps led on the season. The only concerns I have with Larson are his salary and his sixth-place starting position which could cause him to take some time to get to the front. All things considered, Larson is a prime dominator candidate on a track in which he has had success in a season he has been bad fast.
Martin Truex, Jr ($11,000)
Starting 10th is worth noting here for Truex as a dominator. Just like Larson above, it could take Truex some time to get out in front but as history has proven for him at Darlington, once he gets out to a lead he tends to stick up there for a while. Earlier this season Truex won at Darlington in a race that he started fourth and led 248 laps. Last September at this very track Truex led 196 laps but finished 22nd. All things considered, when looking at his history here at Darlington and at Homestead, there’s no reason to not consider him as a prime dominator candidate.
Chase Elliott ($9,200)
Place Differential Targets
Brad Keselowski ($10,400)
With one career win and an average finish of 11th at Darlington, Keselowski begins his quest for a second Cup championship starting 16th on Sunday night. Typically I’ll dig deeper for P.D. options and there will be some below that are starting farther back in the field, but taking into account Brad’s aggressive driving style and ability to maneuver corners well, we could feasibly see him move up as well as accumulate dominator points as the race goes on.
Chris Buescher ($7,800)
Buescher starts way back in the field at 34th and should be one of the more popular P.D. options. Earlier this season he finished ninth, his best career Darlington finish. I wouldn’t expect that kind of upside with Buescher but a top 18 finish isn’t out of the question, his average finish at Darlington over his career.
Matt DiBenedetto ($7,700)
Like Buescher, Matty D starts back in the field except he’ll start 30th. In his last five races at Darlington DiBenedetto has an average finish of 14.2 with four of those races coming in the 21 car, a ride that he won’t have next season which brings me to my final point on Matty D. He’s not in the playoffs but he’s racing for a ride next season. The 29-year-old is a driver to keep an eye on for the rest of the season because he genuinely has nothing to lose.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($6,800)
Chase Briscoe ($6,300)
Daniel Suarez ($7,300)
Dark Horse Driver
Tyler Reddick ($8,000)
Reddick found his way into the playoffs and also lucked out with having extra seat time at Darlington this weekend. He starts seventh and is, in my mind a contender to win this race. As I touched on yesterday, Reddick is one of the best drivers at running the high line (no pun intended) as close to the wall as you can. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Reddick contending for the win when all is said and done.
Driver I have most exposure to: Denny Hamlin
Driver I’m fading that worries me: Chase Elliott
Driver I have zero interest in: Kyle Busch