For a few years, the idea of shortening the NASCAR season so it wraps up before football has been bounced around. One of the ideas that has gained traction is to hold races midweek at slightly shorter distances than ones offered on weekends.
Due to the COVID pandemic, NASCAR has adopted this strategy, at least for the short term. It may be a glimpse into the future of NASCAR, but for now DFS contestants will have to cram their preparation for the second race at Darlington Raceway in 3 days for the Toyota 500K.
Here’s everything to know about the race before filling out a DraftKings lineup.
2020 (Last Sunday) – Kevin Harvick
2019 – Erik Jones
2018 – Brad Keselowski
2017 – Denny Hamlin
2016 – Martin Truex, Jr.
Darlington Raceway is a time capsule to the classic days of NASCAR and offers a much different test than the cookie cutter quad oval 1.5 mile tracks that are seen numerous times on the schedule. Darlington Raceway first held a NASCAR race in 1950 after Harold Brasington purchased 70 acres of farmland in Darlington, South Carolina and built a track. For years, the track would host two races a year, one in the spring and one on Labor Day weekend, which was one of the crown jewel races of the year. The Southern 500 was a race many drivers coveted to claim victory, with NASCAR including it as part of their Grand Slam and Winston Millions prize pool.
Darlington Raceway is a demanding 1.3 mile hairpin asphalt oval. The track hasn’t had too many alterations over the year with the exception of flipping the front and back stretch in 1997. Known as “The Track Too Tough To Tame,” Darlington is one of the more difficult tracks on the schedule due to the stress the track puts on the tires of the car, as well as asking the drivers to run a preferred line against the wall in the corners. There’s also only two racing groves on the track which will eliminate any three wide passing on the track. The combination of excessive tire wear throughout a long run and debris that collects on the high groove often leads to drivers hitting the wall at any given notice. Aptly enough, many cars will don a “Darlington Stripe” like it was a badge of honor by the end of the race.
Other Race Notes
1. Last week qualifying was determined by a random draw based on owner points. For this week, the Top 20 from Sunday’s race are inverted for their starting positions on Wednesday. This means 20th place Ryan Preece will start on the pole, while Sunday’s winner Kevin Harvick will start 20th. The remaining 21st through 40th positions will be slotted based on their finish on Sunday.
2. Kevin Harvick dominated the race to claim his 50th win of his career. Harvick led 177 of 293 laps and was the fastest car on the track for 77 of them. But by the end of the race it seemed as though the Hendrick and Joe Gibbs cars got stronger and stronger and may have figured out the right setup for Darlington. Hendrick drivers Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott and Joe Gibbs cars Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin recorded the fastest lap in 12 of the final 14 laps of the race.
3. Three cars starting towards the back of the pack that bear watching are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. Like the other Joe Gibbs cars, Kyle Busch showed well towards the end of the race but a late cut tire derailed his chances for a good finish. Jimmie Johnson was very strong in the early going but got tangled up trying to pass one-lap down Chris Buescher on the final lap of Stage 1 to end his race. And William Byron won Stage 1, but a loose wheel early in Stage 2 sent him into the wall and ended his day prematurely. With points awarded for differential in starting position, having at least one of these fast cars starting deep in the grid into your lineup is adviseable.
4. Rain is unfortunately in the forecast on Wednesday, with a chance of thunderstorms throughout the day and early evening. The good news is this race is much shorter than normal at 500 kilometers, meaning only 228 laps will be run that evening. With the tight turnaround to Charlotte on Sunday, NASCAR may do all it can to at least get to halfway to call the race official.
Denny Hamlin – $10,700: As the track began to cool, the Joe Gibbs cars seemed to have figured out the right combination. All the cars posted very fast laps in the closing stretch of the race and have momentum to the night race on Wednesday. Hamlin is $400 cheaper than Truex Jr., which will help bolster the end of a DFS lineup when utilizing a stars and scrubs strategy. Hamlin also has the benefit of starting in the middle of the pack, giving him high potential to pick up bonus positional points for a lineup.
Chase Elliott – $10,300: Tying Hamlin to Chase Elliott, another fast car at the end of Sunday’s race, works if you’re looking to tether two dominant cars that’ll lead lots of laps and post lots of fast laps throughout the race. Like Hamlin, Elliott’s car seemed to hit its stride late in the race and starts in the middle of the pack to give him a great shot of bonus positional points by the end.
William Byron – $8,900: Before crashing out, Byron had one of the only cars on the track that looked like it could go toe to toe with Harvick. The Hendrick cars should share across the teams what worked towards the end of the race, meaning he can combine his fast car with these key adjustments to try and post a better finish. Starting 34th, the possibility for bonus positional points is very high.
Matt DiBenedetto – $7,000: DiBenedetto had a quiet yet solid day at Darlington on Sunday. Overall the Penske cars were very lackluster but despite his strategic partnership with them he was much better than both Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. His team should be able to make adjustments to the car to be better on Wednesday. He’s been rock solid all year and provides a relatively safe floor at this price.
Cole Custer – $6,600: Some people who are looking to dumpster dive may look towards John Hunter Nemechek, who’s $400 cheaper and was great on Sunday. It’s probably doubtful he can catch lightning again, meaning Cole Custer might be an optimal pivot. Custer is in a better funded team than Nemechek and has a higher driver pedigree. While Harvick won’t share all his secrets, he’ll probably give enough information to the rest of his Stewart Haas teammates so they stand to benefit as well. Custer was about as mediocre as could be on Sunday, but he could bounce back for a better finish with a little help from his teammates.
Ryan Newman – $6,400: Some wondered how Newman would fare in his first race back after the scary accident in Daytona, but he drove a pretty stress free race to a 15th place finish. Now that the rust is off he’ll look to post another solid finish, and like DiBenedetto he has a fairly safe floor at this cheap of price.