Real racing is back! The NASCAR Cup Series returns from a two-month COVID-19 break for The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. The 293-lap race kicks off on Sunday, May 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports and also marks the return of daily fantasy NASCAR.
Darlington is known as the Track Too Tough to Tame, and for good reason. It’s 1.366 miles long and has a unique, egg-shaped oval compared to other racetracks. Many cars literally earn their stripes there, brushing the wall, mistakes which can affect the car’s handling in seconds.
NASCAR’s new COVID-19 policies also should shake up Sunday’s race. Qualifying was through a random draw, based on owner points, and no practice is allowed during this one-day show. Lap 1 will literally be the first time drivers will be on the racetrack, so finding the best drivers for your DraftKings lineup will be challenging.
At least the starting lineup is already known for Sunday’s race, giving you more time to tinker. However, if you choose to play Wednesday’s race, you will need to know Sunday’s results as the top 20 will invert in the lineup. That means whoever finishes 20th will begin first on Wednesday. Those who finish in positions 21-40 will keep their spot for the next race, if they’re entered for it.
Remember, DraftKings awards 0.50 points for each fastest lap and 0.25 points for each lap led. Additionally, the site adds or subtracts a point for each position a driver gains or loses on track. Finally, the driver in first scores the most points (46). Second place gets 42 DraftKings points, third gets 41 and so on. The key in daily fantasy NASCAR is not only to target the best drivers but ones who gain the most positions from where they start.
Now, here are my picks!
Darlington DraftKings: Daily Fantasy NASCAR Roster
Kevin Harvick ($11,500)
Career at Darlington: 23 starts, 1 win, 8 top fives, 12 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 14.3
Harvick has performed fairly well at The Lady in Black; he’s currently riding a seven-race top-10 streak. Six of those results were top fives with his current team, Stewart-Haas Racing, including his lone win in 2014. After leading 238 laps that year, he led 44 laps in 2015 and 214 circuits in 2016. Harvick’s failed to lead laps the past two years but posted back-to-back fourth-place finishes in his No. 4 Ford.
Harvick’s starting sixth on Sunday so he could pass those in front of him and score some extra points. The 2014 Cup Series champion also has had good results this season, notching two top fives and four top 10s. In fact, at Phoenix Raceway, the last race before the break, Harvick finished second behind Joey Logano. He had 57 fastest laps and led 67 laps, boosting his DraftKings score to 87.
Should Harvick continue that consistency, he could help you win your daily fantasy NASCAR DraftKings contests. Let him lead the way in NASCAR’s return.
Erik Jones ($9,200)
Career at Darlington: 3 starts, 1 win, 2 top fives, 3 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 4.7
Jones led 79 laps en route to his victory last year in September’s Southern 500. In three Darlington races, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has not finished outside the top 10.
In fact, Jones’ 4.7 average finish at the Lady In Black is best among all active Cup Series drivers. Although he didn’t have a good result at Phoenix earlier this year, the young talent did finish 10th at Auto Club Speedway and recorded 55 DraftKings points.
Jones is starting 20th on Sunday, so he could earn you a lot of bonus points for each position he gains in the race. Expect him to finish well.
Alex Bowman ($9,000)
Career at Darlington: 4 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 23.5
Let’s face it; Darlington is not Bowman’s best track. The average finish leaves much to be desired for a driver yet to lead a single lap here. However, Bowman won earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway after leading 110 laps. That raised his DraftKings total to 109 points, one of the highest of the year.
On Sunday, Bowman will start second, alongside pole sitter Brad Keselowski. It gives him the ability to lead laps early although he is a bit risky due to both price and track history. But considering the solid 2020 start? That may be a risk worth taking, even if it’s just a top-10 finish.
Tyler Reddick ($7,200)
NASCAR Xfinity Series Career at Darlington: 3 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 2 top 10s
NXS average finish at Darlington: 7.0
Though Reddick hasn’t competed at Darlington in the Cup Series yet, he did finish second and third in the Xfinity Series the past two seasons. He also led 70 laps last year, winning a stage before falling a step behind fellow Cup rookie Cole Custer.
This season, however, has been much different for Reddick. He finished 33rd at Phoenix Raceway when a flat tire ruined his day. It was his fourth straight run outside the top 10 as a Cup rookie, although he ran near the front before that incident.
But when it all goes right, Reddick knows how to make the most out of his equipment — he finished 11th at Auto Club after starting 19th. This week, he’ll start 29th; while it is somewhat difficult to pass at Darlington, a top 20 remains a strong possibility.
Chris Buescher ($7,000)
Career at Darlington: 4 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 14.8
Speaking of top 20s, Buescher has yet to end a Darlington event outside that range. Last year, he was 12th, and the year prior he finished 13th, gaining six positions from his qualifying spot.
Though Buescher is with Roush Fenway Racing now, he comes paired with the same consistency. Buescher opened the year with a podium finish in the Daytona 500 and followed that up with three top 20s. He’ll begin Sunday’s event 24th and could score bonus DraftKings points for place differential.
Not happy with Buescher? Austin Dillon is a pretty similar pick ($7,400); he finished fourth at Darlington in 2017 and 10th last year.
Dark Horse Performer
Ty Dillon ($5,600)
Career at Darlington: 3 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s
Average finish at Darlington: 18.0
Ty Dillon may not be a flashy selection, but at Darlington, there’s a pattern; he ends races better than where he starts. In 2017, Dillon began the race 25th and ended 13th. He gained seven spots the following year and nine positions in 2019.
This season, Dillon has two strong finishes — 10th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and 15th at Phoenix. Why is his price so low? I don’t know, but I’m taking advantage of that. He helps you fit one or two top-tier drivers in your lineup.
Please note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and circumstances beyond our control, the free Frontstretch DraftKings League has been canceled. We apologize for the inconvenience.
About the author
Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor while continuing to write daily fantasy and news articles. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.