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Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway

It was only fitting for Kyle Busch to pick up a victory last weekend in the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway. Busch visiting victory lane has become a bit rarer in recent seasons despite him earning his 58th career Cup Series victory and securing a victory in 17 consecutive seasons. Only one driver holds a longer streak than that, as The King Richard Petty scored a victory in 18 consecutive seasons over the course of his storied career. The win ties him with Kevin Harvick for ninth in NASCAR’s all-time wins list.

Kyle Larson dominated the race once again. Showing he certainly has the dominant car on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Larson drove from the back to the front in no time. He won the race’s second stage and led a race-high 132 laps.

This week we head to Darlington which is a bit different than your typical 1.5-mile cookie cutter track, but I’d be surprised to see Larson and the rest of the Hendrick gang to struggle too much adapting to the oddly shaped Darlington Raceway.

This weekend’s race – The Goodyear 400 – is a 400.2-mile (293 lap) race around the 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. Darlington – which is typically run once per season – was run three times last season due to the COVID pandemic. This year it is scheduled to be run twice, once this weekend and again on Labor Day weekend. Over the past three seasons, five races have been run at the track with winners including Kevin Harvick (twice), Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, and Denny Hamlin. In the three races at Darlington last season, Harvick won twice while Hamlin won once.

Darlington is most like Homestead and Atlanta. Tires will wear out quick and the ability to manage that tire wear will be crucial. Once again I’m looking at Kyle Larson to dominate this race. Darlington fits right into all of Larson’s strengths. A roughly 1.5-mile track, a track where tires wear quickly, a track where running right up at the fence produces the best lap times. This race has Larson written all over it. His career 6.67 average finish is second among active drivers behind just Erik Jones.

A quick glance at the betting market shows that I’m not the only person that thinks this will be a Larson race. Larson opens the weekend as the favorite at +400 with Denny Hamlin closest behind at +600. Other favorites this week include Kevin Harvick (+700), Kyle Busch (+800), Martin Truex Jr. (+800) and Brad Keselowski (+900). Hamlin is the only driver that I believe can beat Larson if he can finally put a whole race together. Hamlin has 13 career top-10 finishes in 17 Darlington races and has won at the track three times. Larson has never won at Darlington, but has finished in the top-three in three of the last four Darlington races he has participated in.

Drivers I Like

Kyle Larson ($11,400)

See last week’s article: “Larson is the most expensive, but I believe he also supplies the best opportunity to earn DraftKings points.” Larson went on to score 100.15 points with Kyle Busch scoring the second most points in the race with 67.90. The same is true this week. Larson has the worst starting position of anyone in the $10K-plus range and therefore the best chance to improve on his starting position and earn DraftKings points. As stated above, Larson has top-threes in three of his last four Darlington races and has the second-best career average finish at Darlington of all active drivers. Don’t overthink this one and pay up for Larson this week.

Alex Bowman ($9,400)

Bowman the Showman was good at Darlington last season, racking up two top-10 finishes in the three races at the track including a runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick in the first race back following the break in the schedule due to COVID-19. Bowman knows his way around Darlington but will have to battle his way through the field from a 19th-place starting position. Bowman has picked up top-10 finishes at both tracks like Darlington this season. He came home ninth at Homestead and third at Atlanta. I expect Bowman to find his way to the front and supply a good finish, especially the way his fellow Hendrick teammates have been running this season.

Erik Jones ($8,200)

Jones gets a chance to stick around in my lineup this week due to his success as a racer at Darlington Raceway. He knows his way around this place just as well if not better than the guys that will be running for the win. Jones holds the best average finish at Darlington among active drivers with an average finish of 5.17 in six career races. Jones has won at the track once and has a career low finish of eighth at the track. Unfortunately, Jones is racing for Richard Petty Motorsports now rather than Joe Gibbs Racing, so the equipment may not be good enough to supply Jones with a car that can compete for a win. He starts 26th which gives him a chance to gain a lot of spots if the team does happen to hit on a setup that can get Jones up battling for a good finish.

Ryan Newman ($7,200)

Newman is priced way too low this weekend for a driver starting 20th with the recent success he has had at Darlington. Newman recorded a top-15 finish in all three races at Darlington last season and has finished top-10 in 13 of 24 career races at Darlington. Newman sports the eighth-best average finish at Darlington among active drivers (12.83) and can be had for an absolute steal at $7,200. Don’t forget that the Roush-Fenway Fords have been running quite well on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Newman finished seventh at Homestead and 13th at Atlanta, the two tracks most like Darlington on the schedule. Newman is a safe bet to supply some solid DraftKings points this weekend.

Ross Chastain ($6,300)

The $6K range is bleak this week, but with spending up on Larson you’re going to have to find one or two guys from here. Enter, Ross Chastain who has never run a competitive car at Darlington in his Cup Series career but has shown some success in the Xfinity Series. Back in 2018 running for Chip Ganassi – who he now races for full time in the Cup Series – Chastain led 90 laps in an Xfinity Series race at Darlington but was involved in a late-race incident with Kevin Harvick that knocked him out of contention. Last season running for Kaulig Racing, Chastain led 43 laps but ended up finishing runner-up behind Brandon Jones. Hopefully, he can carry some of this success over to the Cup Series this weekend. Chastain finished 17th at Homestead and 14th at Atlanta earlier this season, so he has shown some success on high tire wear tracks. He’ll start 18th this weekend.

Drivers I’m Avoiding

Martin Truex Jr. ($10,300)

Truex is a risky choice to fade this week because he does have a victory at Darlington in the past and has led the fifth-most laps of active drivers at Darlington. Truex has eight top-10 finishes in 17 career Darlington races. Truex has had some recent bad luck at Darlington with three of his last four finishes at the track being 10th or worse. I’m fading Truex due to his fourth place starting position which gives him limited chance to improve his starting position. I think it will be tough for Truex to get past folks like Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick to lead early laps. Truex started sixth in the most recent Darlington race and finished 22nd despite leading 196 laps.

Chase Elliott ($9,200)

Its tough to pick against a Hendrick driver, but Elliott has not had great luck at Darlington over the course of his career. In eight career Darlington races Elliott has just three top-10 finishes, only one of which came last season. Elliott owns an average finish of 18.50 at Darlington and starts the race from the sixth on the starting grid. Elliott has also failed to finish top-10 in either of the high tire wear races earlier this season, finishing 14th at Homestead and 38th at Atlanta.

Aric Almirola ($8,000)

Almirola has really been struggling to get things going this season. A few weeks ago, it looked as if the tides had turned in Almirola’s favor after a sixth place showing at Richmond, but things quickly came crashing back down to earth last week when Almirola finished 29th at Kansas. Almirola has finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season of 30th, 38th, 20th and 29th and has never led a lap in 11 career Darlington races. He has recorded just two top-10s in 11 career Darlington races and will have to come from 27th position to do so this weekend.

Matt DiBenedetto ($7,800)

Like Almirola, DiBenedetto has never led a lap at Darlington and has just two career top-10 finishes. He’ll be starting up front this week, though I’m not sure he’ll be able to stay there. DiBenedetto’s career average finish in eight Darlington races is 21.00, though his finishes since moving to the Wood Brothers are 21st, 9th and 14th. DiBenedetto starts eighth this week, so I would expect a low return on investment in DraftKings lineups. DiBenedetto’s results a high tire wear tracks this season are 28th at Homestead and 11th at Atlanta. I believe he will struggle to keep his top-10 streak of three consecutive races going this weekend.

Corey Lajoie ($5,700)

One of my favorite guys to use in the right situation finds himself in a tough situation this weekend. Lajoie has never been that great at Darlington, registering just one career finish inside the top-25 in six tries at the track. Lajoie has never finished on the lead lap at Darlington and though there is room for him to move forward (he starts 30th) he has only finished inside the top-30 in three of six Darlington races. It may be best to avoid Lajoie this weekend despite his potential to improve on his starting position.

DraftKings Lineup

($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)

This week’s DraftKings lineup was looking good for quite a while. Unfortunately, once the cautions started flying at the end, our drivers found themselves on the short end of the stick. Kyle Larson was the highest scoring driver despite almost wrecking himself and Ryan Blaney on the final lap and sliding all the way back to a 19th-place finishing position. Kurt Busch, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain all had decent days, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s involvement in two late cautions – one that also included Erik Jones – caused us to fall out of the money and not bring anything home. Last week’s highlighted drivers: Kyle Larson (100.15 points), Kurt Busch (41.45), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2.20), Erik Jones (19.00) and Austin Cindric (36.00). Last week’s avoid drivers: Joey Logano (38.00), Kevin Harvick (44.90), Aric Almirola (2.00), Cole Custer (4.00), Michael McDowell (20.00).

Last week: 237.80 pts.

1. Kyle Larson ($11,300): 100.15 pts.

2. Kurt Busch ($9,300): 41.45 pts.

3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($8,200): 2.20 pts.

4. Erik Jones ($7,800): 19.00 pts.

5. Austin Cindric ($6,700): 36.00 pts.

6. Ross Chastain ($6,500): 39.00 pts.

Remaining Budget: $200

Last week’s perfect lineup: 369.70 pts.

1. Kyle Larson ($11,300): 100.15 pts.

2. Kyle Busch ($8,600): 67.90 pts.

3. Brad Keselowski ($9,700): 65.10 pts.

4. Chris Buescher ($6,100): 47.70 pts.

5. Tyler Reddick ($6,900): 46.40 pts.

6. Daniel Suarez ($6,300): 42.45 pts.

Remaining Budget: $1,100

Betting Card

We made some profits last weekend after hitting on our third winner of the season. I placed just enough down on Kyle Busch to cover all our other wagers, so anything else was profits. Unfortunately, we only hit on one other prop, as Kevin Harvick’s second-place finish made him the highest finishing ford in the race. We picked up 2.3 units on the week and are now down just 6.55 units on the season.

Kevin Harvick Top-5 (+100, 1 unit)

Erik Jones Top-10 (+235, 0.5 unit)

Christopher Bell over Ryan Blaney (+100, 1 unit)

Austin Dillon over Matt DiBenedetto (-106, 1 unit)

Denny Hamlin to win Stage 1 (+650, 0.25 unit)

Kyle Busch top Toyota (+225, 0.5 unit)

Hendrick Motorsports to win (+200, 1 unit)

Kevin Harvick to win (+700, 2 units)

Brad Keselowski to win (+900, 1.5 unit)

One and Done

*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!

Last week:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. never seemed to have what he needed last weekend as he ran most of the race around the 20th position. In doing so, he was caught up in not one, but two late-race incidents, the second of which knocked him out of the race for good and resulted in a 34th-place finish. Not a great week for the JTG-Dougherty driver. He now finds himself on the outside of the playoff cut line looking in with 15 regular season races remaining.

This week:

Kyle Larson

Who has been the best driver on 1.5-mile tracks this season? It’s Kyle Larson. Who is the best driver at running the fence? Larson. Who is in the best equipment of his young career and making the most of it every week? Okay, that one is a little specific, but once again, the answer is Larson. There is no doubt in my mind that Larson has a solid run at Darlington this weekend and he may even win the race. Larson has never finished worse than 14th in six career races at Darlington and has finished in the top-10 in each of the other five attempts. He has three top-3 finishes in the last four races at Darlington. I believe the only man that stands in his way this weekend is Denny Hamlin. So which driver that has struggled to close out races this season will come out on top?


Race Driver Finish

Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th

Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th

Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd

Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th

Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th

Atlanta Kurt Busch 39th

Bristol Stewart Friesen 23rd

Martinsville Ryan Blaney 11th

Richmond Austin Dillon 10th

Talladega Harrison Burton 20th

Kansas Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 34th

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