The 70th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 is this weekend, and things already got off to an interesting start with qualifying on Saturday. First, Kyle Busch had some sort of issue and ended up being really slow, ending up 33rd-fastest. Then, his teammate, Martin Truex, Jr., just didn’t have a great lap and will roll off the grid from 22nd when we go green on Sunday night. And then we had Aric Almirola qualify 30th, partially because he wrecked in Happy Hour on Friday. The #10 team went to a backup car, so Almirola will have to start from the rear on Sunday night, but he will still be scored from 30th in NASCAR Fantasy games.
Click here for the starting lineup for Sunday night’s race at Darlington. You can also find the speeds from Practice #1 on Friday by clicking here. For speeds from the second practice (Happy Hour), click here.
*Please note: the picks and suggestions below are my opinions and strategy for the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest. These are not meant to sway your thinking in any way, but rather give you insight into the drivers I am most likely to pick on Sunday.*
Bojangles’ Southern 500 Slingshot Picks
Kyle Busch ($13,500) – Kyle Busch will start from 33rd for this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, and that’s assuming his team doesn’t change the engine and/or transmission after their little issue in qualifying on Saturday. Either way, Kyle will be scored from 33rd in the Slingshot Fantasy Auto Contest, so he’s going to be one of the highest-scoring drivers in the race yet again (unless, of course, he wrecks). As usual, Rowdy will be a popular pick in this game on Sunday night, so there’s an opportunity to go against him and hope something happens, but that’s unlikely. Busch has finished 7th or better in six of the last seven Darlington races and the exception during that span was an 11th-place result. Kyle hasn’t finished worse than that at “The Lady in Black” since 2009. Speed-wise, all of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have great long-run speed, and that’s going to pay dividends on Sunday night.
Denny Hamlin ($11,600) – I’m going to go with two heavy hitters at the top of my Slingshot lineup this weekend. This #11 team is red hot right now, and sports books are taking notice: with his fourth win this year, Denny Hamlin’s odds move to +600 and he becomes a top five contender. As far as Darlington goes, don’t be surprised if Hamlin is sitting in victory lane after the checkered flag waves on Sunday night. He has a series-best 6.2 average finish here and has finished 6th or better in seven of his last nine starts here, with wins in 2010 and 2017 included during that span. Denny showed top 5 speed in both practice sessions here on Saturday and with his 9th-place starting spot, he has room to get some place differential points this weekend in addition to the Stage and finish points.
Aric Almirola ($9,500) – Here’s a chalk pick. I’m not in love in Aric Almirola this weekend, but he comes with a sub-$10,000 price tag, and he’s starting back in 30th. This is one of the safer Slingshot picks of the weekend. Before he wrecked his primary car, though, Almirola showed speed during practice, as the #10 Ford was 3rd-fastest in the opening session on Friday and 13th-fastest (with the 9th-best five-lap average) in Happy Hour. In his first start here with Stewart-Haas Racing last season, Aric came home in 14th, and I think that’s about where he’ll end up in this weekend’s race as well.
Ryan Newman ($9,000) – Six of the last seven Cup Series races have ended with Ryan Newman inside the top 14, and that should be seven of the last eight once the checkered flag waves here at Darlington on Sunday night. “The Lady in Black” has always been a track that has complimented Newman’s driving style well, and his career average finish of 12.1 here actually ranks 8th-best among active Cup Series drivers. Additionally, five of the last six Southern 500s have ended with Newman in 13th-place or better, and four of those were top 10s. The #6 Ford didn’t look blazing fast during practice here on Friday but Newman’s teammate, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ($8,100), was the fastest car in Happy Hour so it’s not like there’s no speed there for these Roush cars.
David Ragan ($6,200) – What I’m hoping here with this pick is that David Ragan has similar speed to his teammate, Michael McDowell ($6,500). The latter qualified 23rd while Ragan will start from 26th, and with a little luck I could see both moving up during the 500 miles here on Sunday night. As far as track history goes, David Ragan finished 18th here last season with Front Row Motorsports and has ended up 25th or better in each of the last three Southern 500s. This is another Slingshot pick that I’m not overly in love with, but Ragan is a relatively safe option and he has some place differential upside this weekend.