NASCAR at Darlington DraftKings Picks & DFS Strategy: Analysis & Tips for Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400

NASCAR at Darlington DraftKings Picks & DFS Strategy: Analysis & Tips for Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 article feature image

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Axalta Throwback Chevrolet, races Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer/Big Buck Hunter Ford, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

  • Are you taking your crack at DraftKings' $1 million DFS contest for Sunday's The Real Heroes 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX) at Darlington Raceway?
  • Find out Nick Giffen's favorite NASCAR at Darlington DFS picks as he breaks down the entire The Real Heroes 400 field.
  • Also learn more about optimal DraftKings and DFS strategy for Sunday's NASCAR race.

The starting lineup for Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway is set. With no practice on the horizon, it’s time for a full breakdown of the slate.

If you’re new to NASCAR DFS, this primer should get you set up on strategy. Strategy is important, but specific driver picks can make or break a weekend. Let’s go through the lineup and find out which drivers are good plays, and which ones we might want to avoid.

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NASCAR at Darlington DraftKings DFS Picks

1. Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is the pole sitter and the 2018 winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington. These two items should boost his ownership. Pole sitters often come with increased ownership thanks to their potential to dominate the early portion of the race.

But remember, Keselowski isn’t a traditional pole sitter. He didn’t earn this spot on speed, nor has he shown any strength in practice, because there is no practice.

I like going underweight on Keselowski. That means, if you play just one lineup, I’d probably leave him out. If you play multiple lineups, try having him in only a small percentage of your lineups. That way if he doesn’t dominate, he’ll hurt relatively fewer lineups of yours compared to other DFS players.

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2-4. Alex Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto & Kyle Busch

My top pick here is Kyle Busch and I actually think he could be the driver that dominates the early portion of the race. Busch starts fourth, on the outside of the second row. That is actually the preferred place to be at Darlington and it could see him vault into second place with a shot at Keselowski in the early going. Busch has strong results at Darlington, with a third-, seventh- and second-place finish in each of the past three years.

DiBenedetto is a complete fade for me as an upper mid-tier driver. That means he’s almost surely going to lose several spots and put up a sizable negative number in the place differential column.

Bowman is a driver you could sprinkle in if you multi-enter, with the hopes he somehow takes the early lead. But use him sparingly.

5-8. Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney & Jimmie Johnson

Blaney and Almirola have struggled at Darlington, so their track history makes me uncomfortable using them.

Harvick has one finish worse than fifth at Darlington since 2013 (a ninth-place finish in 2017), and won the 2014 race. He’s been dominant this year as well, leading 92 laps at Las Vegas and currently leading the points. It’ll be hard to play both Harvick and Kyle Busch together, but he’s very usable in your non-Busch lineups.

Jimmie Johnson is a hard one for me to pinpoint. He’s seen a resurgence in performance so far in 2020, but his recent Darlington history is dreadful. But if we throw back to 2014 and earlier, Johnson has a strong Darlington history.

Coincidentally this is also when they raced at the track in the spring. Still, more weight should be given to recent performance. I’d probably avoid using Johnson in most of my lineups.

9-12. Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott & Matt Kenseth

Some big names fall into this bucket and the slate could hinge on decisions you make here. Logano has two wins and some good performances at Darlington. But at his price tag ($10,100) you’re looking for a top-three finish from him. It’s certainly possible, so he’s a driver you can consider, but by no means is this a slam dunk.

Denny Hamlin falls into a similar boat, but is even more expensive ($11,100). He is very good at Darlington, with seven top-six finishes over the past 10 Darlington races, including five finishes of third or better. Interestingly, because of how the starting lineup shook out, Hamlin almost certainly will be the lowest-owned driver above $10,000. I like going overweight on Hamlin, but don’t go crazy. Using him in 15%-20% of your lineups is enough.

Elliott has never really been dominant at Darlington, with only one finish better than 10th in five races. He’s a driver you can use sparingly, hoping he pulls off another top five, but the better alternative is the next driver, Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth replaces Kyle Larson in the No. 42 car, so we know he’s in fine equipment. He’s priced at a modest $7900 and is very good at the steep asphalt tracks of Homestead and Darlington. If he pulls off a strong finish, he’ll definitely be in the winning lineup at his price tag. Starting 12th isn’t ideal, so don’t go crazy, but he’s certainly usable on Sunday.

13-16. Clint Bowyer, Cole Custer, Martin Truex Jr. & Austin Dillon

Martin Truex Jr. will garner a solid ownership just by staring back in 15th, but I like going underweight on him. His price tag means he’ll have to have a good day, and there’s no guarantee of that, especially with his struggles early in the 2020 season. He’s very good at Homestead and has a win at Darlington, but that ownership boost by starting back in 15th is where I’ll pivot off him and onto Hamlin.

Custer is very good at steep tracks and is at a low price tag of $6300. In top-tier Stewart-Haas equipment, he’s one of my favorite plays on the slate.

I don’t see much need to play Bowyer or Dillon with better options on the slate.

17-20. Bubba Wallace, William Byron, Corey LaJoie & Erik Jones

Thanks to NASCAR’s quirky way of setting the starting lineup, we can write off Wallace and LaJoie as plays. They are lower-tier drivers starting too far forward.

Jones is an obvious play on Sunday, but I do have some caveats. It’s true, he is fantastic at steep tracks, and he is the defending Darlington race winner. But that means he’ll pull in an ownership premium. So while he’s a good play, there is strong merit to being underweight on him with his early 2020 struggles and so much uncertainty around this event.

Byron, the star of NASCAR’s iRacing events, has not been as successful on the real life version of NASCAR’s steep tracks. You can probably sprinkle him in if you multi-enter, but I prefer other better plays.

21-24. Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. & Chris Buescher

Kurt Busch is a great play. He’s solid at steep tracks, is in top equipment, starts back in 22nd and carries a modest price tag of $8500. He’s one of my favorite plays on the slate.

Buescher is an interesting play, starting back in 24th. He’s consistently outperformed his equipment at Darlington, and is now in the best equipment of his career. I like using him at $7000.

Ryan Newman is the feel-good story, coming back to race after his horrific wreck at Daytona. He also has some upside, with up-and-down results at both Darlington and Homestead.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is only a pivot play to differentiate your otherwise chalky lineups. He’s not very good at Darlington.

25-36. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good: Christopher Bell will probably be the one of highest-owned drivers on the slate. He starts back in 28th, but is easily a driver that could contend for a playoff spot. He also has a good track record at other steep tracks, like Bristol, Dover and Homestead, in the XFINITY and Truck series.

Tyler Reddick starts one spot farther back than Bell, and is very similar to Kyle Larson. Larson is fantastic at the steep tracks, so I’d expect similar from Reddick. He’s also a top play on the slate, but will also be highly-owned.

Ty Dillon in 33rd is immediately usable at a cheap price tag ($5600) and with several slower drivers in front.

John Hunter Nemechek (34th, $5900) is in a similar boat to Ty Dillon.

Michael McDowell (31st, $5400) is playable as well, but I prefer Dillon and Nemechek. They will be higher-owned, so McDowell could be a good pivot in tournaments.

The Bad:

Ryan Preece (25th, $6100) hasn’t shown that he’s capable of anything more than an 18th-place finish in the Cup Series without some major attrition taking place.

Brennan Poole and Reed Sorenson probably are sprinkle plays at best if you pair a couple of highly-priced drivers together.

The Ugly:

Garrett Smithley (25th), Quinn Houff (26th) and JJ Yeley (30th) are immediate write-offs as back-markers starting too far forward thanks to the random draw.

37-40. Non-Charter Teams

Suarez should be able to move forward a few spots with Smithley, Houff and Yeley in front of him, so he’s playable at $6200. But there are other drivers I prefer that are either cheaper or near his price range.

Timmy Hill, BJ McLeod and Josh Bilicki aren’t worth playing except in the rare lineup with multiple high-priced drivers.

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