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Gas-N-Go: NASCAR DFS Picks for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on DraftKings + FanDuel

Phillip Bennetzen

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The field is set for Sunday evening’s race at Darlington with Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin on the front row. There are a lot of big names left in the field fighting for cup position, and some are already out of the picture so our NASCAR DFS predictions could be a bit tougher than normal this week. But with so much talent all around, building lineups should be solid. Thus, let’s jump into the top NASCAR DFS picks, on DraftKings and FanDuel, for the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Motor Speedway.

Cook Out Southern 500 NASCAR DFS Picks for DraftKings + FanDuel

Ryan Blaney, 1st ($8,500 DraftKings, $9,800 FanDuel) GPP (Dominator)

Fresh off his second-straight victory, Blaney may be the hottest driver in NASCAR right now. With momentum on his side, the question for DFS players is he and his car capable of being a dominator from the pole position?

In Blaney’s short career, this is only his eighth career start from first. In those seven previous races, he has led at least 10% or more of the race in three races. As per Darlington, in nine career starts, Blaney has led zero laps with his best finish coming last spring (eighth) and an average finish of 19th. He has been super reliable to finish on the lead lap, but career-wise, that’s been the peak of his performance, unfortunately.

Track trends-wise, the case can be made both for and against rostering Blaney. Here’s the history of the polesitter at Darlington since 2013:

Laps Led Fastest laps ARP Finish
2013 69 9 8 14
2014 238 77 2 1
2015 196 41 2 2
2016 214 48 2 2
2017 22 20 5 9
2018 11 9 8 10
2019 0 11 10 21
2020-1 80 26 4 13
2020-2 0 0 29 39
2020-3 114 42 3 22
2021 4 28 20 24

Thus, the decision point is can a driver with a subpar history at Darlington do what Chase Elliott did last year in this race and take advantage of the preferred groove and clean air? Or, will he fall back, finish in the top 10 but fail to garner enough dominator points to be worth rostering? Blaney’s career numbers at Darlington suggest no. The seven races, of 2021, run in the high-horsepower/ low-downforce package suggest no as well, with only one race (Richmond — 107) wherein the polesitter led more than 19 laps.

That said, Blaney did run well in the last race (New Hampshire) utilizing the 750-horsepower package and all he really needs is a better start than Hamlin and some clean air to turn the tide on this story. Plus, his DraftKings salary is super enticing at a $1,500 discount compared to his teammates.

Kyle Larson, 6th ($11,500 DraftKings, $14,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP (Dominator)

This week’s outright betting favorite (+275 at BetMGM) rolls off the grid in sixth. Despite a stellar history with Chip Ganassi, which included four straight Darlington races where he led 44 or more laps, with three third-place or better finishes, Larson “only” managed to finish second in the spring with zero laps led. Larson’s lack of dominator points can easily be explained by Martin Truex Jr.’s performance that day and his average running position of 1.5. When one driver hogs the lead that much, it really does hamper what Larson was capable of doing that afternoon.

Regardless, the No. 5 team obviously learned something about the package at a high-tire-wear venue as they went to Dover the following week and led 263 laps, finishing second. Furthermore, this knowledge carried over into Nashville as Larson started fifth, took the lead early and went on to lead 264 laps with 133 fastest laps. Sunday evening is lining up, once again, for Larson to put on a clinic as he can either ride the wall and pick up the fastest laps or maintain the bottom groove and lead the majority of laps.

Tyler Reddick, 7th ($8,000 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel) GPP | Aric Almirola, 8th ($7,000 DraftKings, $8,200 FanDuel) GPP

When drivers mind their manners at Darlington, the laps can start ticking off fast. When the laps start ticking, then drivers start getting lapped. A lapped driver is a capped driver as their ability to accrue place differential, and consequently, more finishing position points get hampered. Thus, the key for large-field tournaments is going to be able to find drivers, at low ownership, who can stay on the lead lap all night and finish with a top-10.

This was the case in the spring with Chris Buescher, who started 11th, finished ninth and scored 40 DraftKings points. His salary was in a range ($6,500) where he got overlooked as more obvious place-differential plays were available, such as Chase Briscoe, who started 22nd and was $300 more.

In four career Cup starts at Darlington, Reddick has brought home three top-13 finishes. As per Almirola, he’s the most recent winner of a race utilizing this package (New Hampshire). Before wrecking out on lap four in the spring, Almirola did have back-to-back top-10 finishes at Darlington — both races that transitioned from afternoon into the evening. Furthermore, at Nashville, Almirola finished fourth, showing that there was an improvement in the No. 10 camp versus how this team started the season.

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Austin Dillon, 21st ($8,300 DraftKings, $8,500 FanDuel) Cash, GPP | Matt Dibenedetto, 30th  ($7,700 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel) Cash, GPP

Now that Dillon is firmly out of the playoff picture, he has nothing left to focus on for 2021 but finishing well. Especially in lieu of this being the final year of the Gen-Six car. With just 10 races remaining in the life of this car, there is nothing left to learn about it. This, in turn, gives drivers like Dillon the motivation to go out and aim high since this car is going the way of the dinosaurs.

Darlington was already a track that Dillon had performed well at, with no finish outside of the top 20 since 2018 and a stellar second-place finish in this race last season. In the three races at high-tire-wear tracks, using this racing package, Dillon was a top-16 driver each time. Now that he’s not point chasing, expect him to improve on his 16th-place finish in the spring. For reference’s sake, at BetMGM, Dillon’s outright odds (+6600) is higher than Aric Almirola’s (+8000).

Interestingly enough, Matt Dibenedetto’s outright odds are exactly the same as Dillon’s. This suggests something similar to the viability of Dibenedetto to forego worrying about points and focus on a win. Dibenedetto’s track will always be Bristol but Darlington is somewhat similar, as per banking. Dibenedetto’s numbers this year in the high-horsepower package are fairly lacking, however, the majority of those were before the crew chief change that reignited his 2021 season. Not to mention, there is underlying motivation on Dibenedetto’s part to show out if he has hope of landing a Cup ride in 2022.

Ross Chastain, 23rd ($7,500 DraftKings, $8,000 FanDuel) Cash, GPP

While the majority of mid-tier to lower-echelon teams continue to show splits favoring the lower-horsepower package, Chastain exhibits the opposite. Never one to shy away from a perceived challenge, Chastain has driven better in the high-horsepower setup, especially in the few races at high-tire-wear venues. In those races, he has finished 15th (Darlington), 15th (Dover) and second (Nashville), while following that up with an eighth-place effort most recently at Loudon. Considering Larson’s stellar past at Darlington, addressed above, it makes sense that Chastain should excel once again and be a respectable play in both cash games and tournaments.

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Phill Bennetzen is a father, husband, and Catholic as well as a self-professed annoying fitness guy. Phill heads up NASCAR content at Awesemo.com. You can contact Phill by emailing [email protected].

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