NASCAR is back in action this Sunday (3:30 pm ET) at Darlington Raceway. It’s been nine weeks since drivers turned laps during a live competition, with Darlington the first stop on a modified schedule that seeks to complete a full season by November.
NASCAR has implemented format changes that will minimize the amount of time spent at the track. Notably, the starting order has been set by a random draw based on owner points as there will be no practice or qualifying preceding the race.
Here are my picks for NASCAR’s return to action.
Note: Odds from Caesars Sportsbook as of Thursday unless otherwise noted.
Chase Elliott (8-1)
Last year at Darlington, Elliott briefly found the lead toward the end of the first stage but experienced below-average speed in the third quarter of the race and underachieved his way to a 19th-place finish. There’s good reason to believe this year will yield a better outcome. Hendrick Motorsports has seen a significant improvement in speed thus far this season. Each of their four cars rank within the top 10 according to my speed rankings derived from green-flag lap times at non-drafting ovals. Elliott sits atop those rankings, no doubt a result of considerable laps led at both Las Vegas and Phoenix.
With his speed and proven ability to lead, Elliott is a safe bet to improve upon his 11th-place starting position and contend for a win.
Joey Logano (9-1)
Beginning with Logano, you are going to notice a trend: I really like a trio of Team Penske-affiliated drivers that have the right amount of anticipated performance to go along with attractive odds.
Logano had a disappointing 2019 Labor Day Weekend at Darlington that produced a deceiving 14th-place finish and the 11th-fastest car on paper. Logano dug himself an early hole from which he never recovered after getting into the wall and cutting down a tire at the halfway point.
If misfortune can be avoided this week, Logano can easily emerge out front in a car that was third-quickest earlier this season on two occasions (Las Vegas and Phoenix). He won both of those races by working the field with superior third-quarter speed that set him up to lead the majority of his laps in the final quarter.
Logano is my pick to secure a trip to victory lane this Sunday.
Ryan Blaney (25-1)
If you happen to be looking for something with more value, look in the direction of Logano’s Team Penske stablemate Ryan Blaney. He topped the speed charts in Week 2 at Las Vegas and followed up on that showing by leading 54 laps with the second fastest car at Auto Club Speedway, trailing only race winner Alex Bowman. Blaney has also been fast on restarts which should benefit him this weekend in a race that will likely see multiple yellow flags on top of the scheduled competition caution and stage breaks.
The 25-1 odds here are undoubtedly due to his average finishing position outside the top 15. You can capitalize on this because Blaney is anything but a dart-throw for both upcoming races at Darlington.
Matt DiBenedetto (45-1)
DiBenedetto has enjoyed consistent speed in his first season with Team Penske-aligned Wood Brothers Racing. In the three races following Daytona, he was 12th, 13th, and 11th-quickest respectively. Last season at Darlington, he scored an eighth-place finish for Leavine Family Racing in what was the 16th-fastest car that evening. DiBenedetto enters Sunday with a third-place starting position which means he will be carrying the longest odds of all drivers beginning the race inside the top 12. There’s a substantial amount of uncertainty that comes with the modified race weekend, providing a chance for DiBenedetto to capture his first Cup Series win. It’s unlikely you’ll find a better time than now to seek a sizeable return at an exceptional value.
Austin Dillon (100-1)
I was tempted to select Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (150-1) as my long shot but was deterred by his 23rd-place starting position in the 24th overall fastest car. Like Stenhouse, Austin Dillon rode pit strategy to a top-five finish earlier this season at Las Vegas. This is where I’m fine with taking a long shot and hoping for a lengthy green-flag run late in the race that will allow some strategy to play out. I’m primarily giving the edge to Dillon due to his starting position of 16th in a car that was 13th quickest at Las Vegas and 17th overall. At 100-1, it won’t take much to cash out if Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander get the opportunity to do some gambling of their own.
Best DFS plays for DraftKings
The following presents drivers across a range of salaries who have an optimal mix of starting position and expected results to bolster your DFS lineups come Sunday.