Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:02 AM
Best Bets - Darlington
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Each week during the Monster Energy Cup Series (MENCS) regular season through the Chase, we'll take a look at the best Fantasy plays, as well as Futures and Wagers when applicable, to get you ready for the upcoming race week.
The MENCS heads to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles Southern 500. The green flag will drop at 6:00 p.m. ET and the race is televised on NBC Sports Network.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin (6/1) is the defending champion at Darlington, averaging a 132.761 mph speed last season en route to his second checkered flag at 'The Lady in Black'. He posted a top speed of 173.571 in qualify to take the pole for Sunday's race, so he is primed and ready to try and repeat his victory on Sunday evening under the lights. NASCAR's Loop Data shows him listed in second place with a 111.4 Driver Rating across the past five starts at Darlington, running out in front for the pack 197 times while running 98.3 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, third-best among all drivers during the span. He leads all drivers with a 5.8 Average Finish Position (AFP) in 12 career starts, winning twice while posting seven Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with 551 laps led. His worst finish is 19th, so he'll be a highly-coveted driver at both the betting window and for DFS players this weekend.
As expected, Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick (5/2) is among the favorites and he is ready to make noise at 'The Track Too Tough to Tame'. Yeah, Darlington has THAT many nicknames. Harvick has rattled off five consecutive Top 10 finishes at the South Carolina run, including a victory in the 2014 race. He slipped to ninth last season at Darlington, but Loop Data shows him No. 1 in Driver Rating (125.9) across the past five starts with 518 laps led, including 186 fastest laps. He has also run a whopping 99.8 percent of his laps inside the Top 15, so he'll be a slam-dunk selection at the betting window. He hasn't always dominated at the track, as he has just one win with six Top 5s in 21 career starts with a rather paltry 15.3 AFP. However, as mentioned above, he has figured out lately, and that's what matters most. He is set to go off from the 22nd position, too, so DFS players will flock to him since he'll likely rack up plenty of Place-Different points.
It's now or never for Hendrick Motorsports driver and seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson (66/1). Vegas doesn't think much of the chance for the No. 48 machine, as he is considered a long shot. My, how the mighty have fallen. He could conceivably miss the Chase this season if things break a certain way, and he can officially punch his ticket with a win. He has snagged the checkered flag three times before at Darlington, posting a strong 10.5 AFP in 19 career starts, second-best among all drivers with at least five career starts under their belt. Like Hamlin, J.J. has led the pack for 551 career laps while finishing outside of the Top 20 on just three occasions. DFS players might find value in Johnson this week since he is in the doldrums. Johnson goes off 20th on Sunday.
Furniture Row Racing's Martin Truex Jr. (7/2) is just two years removed from his first-career win at Darlington. He has been a quick study at the difficult oval, which races more like a short track. In 12 career starts he has two Top 5s, six Top 10s and 11 of his starts have resulted in a Top 20 finish. His worst-ever finish was 27th in the 2014 race. He ranks third among all active drivers with an 11.3 AFP, so MTJ will again be a popular choice at the window and for fantasy players. He ranks sixth in Driver Rating (103.9) across the past five starts at the run.
The JGR stable of drivers will be highly coveted this weekend. In addition to the pole sitter Hamlin, all eyes are always on Kyle Busch (13/4). Rowdy has been 11th or better in each of his past eight starts at Darlington, and he has an impressive 5.8 AFP over his past 10 stops at the track. He hasn't done the celebratory burnout since taking checkers at the Dodge Avenger 500 back in May 2008 in Darlington, but he is always a threat. In 13 career runs he has eight Top 10s while leading 598 laps with a 12.0 AFP. The track just seems to fit Busch's temperament, and he is a great choice for both bettors and DFS players.
Also in the JGR stable, Erik Jones (16/1) made his Cup debut with a fifth-place finish at Darlington a year ago. Jones is a driver low on experience, but one which has quickly risen to the occasion and been a quick study. Ganassi Racing's Kyle Larson (7/2) is also in the same boat. He has just four-career Cup starts under his belt in Darlington, but he has never finished lower than 14th. He hasn't won, but he has led 172 laps with three Top 10 finishes and a stellar 8.8 AFP. There is something about Darlington which scratches that itch for Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon (150/1), too. The driver of the No. 3 machine has four Cup starts under his belt, finishing inside the Top 20 on three occasions. While he has never led a lap at Darlington, Dillon has a strong 12.3 AFP and is a value play for DFS players.
Dillon's RCR teammate, Ryan Newman (100/1) always seems to be lurking at Darlington, too. He has never been to Victory Lane at the track, but he has 19 career starts under his belt with a strong 11.7 AFP, fourth-best among all active drivers with at least five starts. The 'Rocket Man' has finished outside of the Top 10 on just six occasions, so Darlington is undoubtedly one of his favorite tracks. Another underrated driver might be Leavine Family Racing's Kasey Kahne (1000/1). This will be Kahne's final appearance at Darlington, at least as a full-time driver, as he has announced his intentions to retire. While he won't likely challenge for a victory, he could easily exceed his low DFS salary expectations. He has 15 career starts at Darlington, posting 353 laps led with three Top 5s, five Top 10s and a solid 15.7 AFP.
It's never a good idea to forget about the Penske Racing drivers, and Ryan Blaney (16/1), Brad Keselowski (16/1) and Joey Logano (25/1) all represent value. Blaney has had struggles at the trackduring his brief Cup experiences, posting a 13th-place finish sandwiched around a pair of Top 30 mishaps. At the same price, Keselowski is a much better play. He has never won in nine career tries at Darlington, but his 12.5 AFP and 250 laps led suggest he could make a move. He'll go off from the No. 13 spot in Sunday's starting grid. Logano qualified in the eighth position, and he looks to improve on his 18.3 AFP in nine career starts. He has never won at Darlington, while leading just four Top 10s with 85 laps led.
Not eveyone enjoys their Darlington experience, and those you should avoid include Paul Menard (150/1) and his dismal 24.1 AFP in 11 career starts, as well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (150/1) and his 24.6 AFP in five career Cup races at the track. For whatever reason, SHR's Clint Bowyer (18/1) has struggled at the track which seems to suit him. In 12 career starts he has a 21.7 AFP with just one Top 10 finish and 16 career laps led. Bowyer was so-so in qualifying, too, as he'll start from the 17th position on Sunday. Kurt Busch (18/1) is also lurking in the weeds as a moderate betting choice. He has never won at Darlington in 21 career tries, posting a 17.4 AFP with 13 Top 20s and 266 laps led. He was third at the race last season, so he has some sleeper potential.