The 2022 NASCAR playoffs kick off tonight with the crown jewel event, the Southern 500 (6:00 p.m. ET, USA).
Darlington Raceway plays host to the 36-driver field. Darlington is a 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval with steep banking. It also sports a very old surface, meaning tire wear is quite heavy.
That makes practice times all the more relevant, as tire falloff becomes evident in the practice data.
Before we jump into my picks, don’t forget all my NASCAR projections can be found in the NASCAR Models on FantasyLabs, complete with floor, ceiling, median, and ownership projections.
Let’s not skip the best part — my Perfect% metric — a metric that tells you how often certain racers appear in the optimal lineup when running 10,000 race simulations.
Keeping all that in mind, here are my NASCAR DFS picks and strategy for tonight’s Southern 500 at Darlington.
Darlington DraftKings DFS Cash Game Picks
Martin Truex, Jr. ($9500): Truex is one of my favorite drivers this weekend in all formats. I’ve invested heavily in him on the betting side, and I think he’s a fantastic play in cash games and tournaments.
Truex was second quickest over the long run in practice with incredibly low tire falloff. Only Kyle Larson had lower falloff than Truex.
Truex is a two-time winner at Darlington since his move to Toyota, and the evening race should play to his favor, as he’s had a statistically significantly better performance in his Toyota career in night races.
Starting 17th also gives Truex plenty of place-differential potential.
Kyle Larson ($11,400): I mentioned Larson had less tire falloff than Truex over the long run, and that means I want him in my cash-game lineups too.
Taking off from the seventh starting position, Larson should be able to work his way to the front pretty quickly.
Larson has led 34.1% of the laps he’s run at Darlington in low downforce years (2016-2018, 2021-2022), and based off his practice times, that trend should continue.
Earlier this year, he led 28.6% of the laps he ran before his day ended with a blown engine.
Chris Buescher ($6900): Buescher starts 27th and comes in at a nice price point, and he should easily be worth his price tag in cash games barring any issues.
Buescher’s low-downforce Darlington results are spectacular.
With his current team, RFK Racing, his finishes are 16th, ninth, and ninth.
Prior to that, with the lower mid-tier JTG Daugherty racing, he finished 13th and 17th.
And with lower mid-tier Front Row Motorsports in 2016, he finished 17th.
He has a great shot at 10-15 places of place-differential potential at a very cheap price.
Darlington DraftKings DFS Tournament Picks
Kyle Busch ($10,200): In addition to Truex and Larson, I love Kyle Busch as a dominator pick.
Busch was fastest over the long run in practice group B, which overall posted slower times thanks to the changing track conditions.
I love mixing and matching dominators between Larson, Truex, and Busch for a good chunk of my portfolio. Then sprinkling in other dominator options like Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, and Ross Chastain.
You should absolutely be using at least two dominators per lineup, and even three in a portion of your portfolio. Busch makes that work very well based off his fastest group speed.
Alex Bowman ($8200): Bowman hit the wall during his qualifying run thinking the car would stick. Unfortunately for him, the grip level wasn’t there, and it just didn’t stick.
Fortunately for DFS players, that means he starts 16th, which is a lot farther back than he should be starting.
I believe with the attention on top-tier drivers like Larson, Busch, Truex, Logano, and Hamlin, that will force DFS players into more of a stars-and-scrubs type of approach.
However, I think “scrubs” in this case will be drivers like Buescher at $6900 instead of true punt plays.
That means the $8k range is ripe for the picking.
Kevin Harvick at $8500 has drawn a ton of attention from the betting world this week, and I expect that to translate to DFS. That’s especially true because he starts 18th, giving him a couple more spots of place-differential potential than Bowman.
That just makes me like Bowman so much more. Bowman was easily faster than Harvick across all metrics in practice, and it wasn’t close.
Darlington DraftKings DFS Paul Menard Pick of the Week
The cheap range is super difficult this weekend. All the drivers are either in bottom-tier equipment or typically struggle at Darlington in their careers.
That leads me to one driver who’s actually good at Darlington and hovers the border between bottom tier and lower mid-tier equipment.
I’m taking Landon Cassill as my PMPOTW.
His performance in both Cup and Xfinity is extremely positive.
Cassill’s driver rating is 24% better than his season-long driver rating in Xfinity, while it’s 7% better in Cup.
He also starts 26th and is priced up at $6100 instead of in the lower $5k range and starting in the 30s. That should keep his ownership to a minimum.
Do I love the pick? No.
But I don’t really love anyone $6100 or less except maybe Cole Custer (who should be in too many lineups).
Besides, we have to have at least one driver from last week’s million-dollar parlay, right?!