May 8, 2013

FANTASY: Oh My Darling

Bojangles' Southern 500 Fantasy Preview


Jeff Gordon heads to Darlington in need of a win and
has seven victories at the track in his career. (Getty)
NASCAR is in its southern swing right now.  The past two races have ended in green-white-checkered finishes.  Front Row Motorsports won last week's race at Talladega, and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing nearly did the same the previous week.  Both teams did that with drivers running well outside the top-20 in this year's standings.

As the trip through the South continues and the Sprint Cup Series unloads in Darlington, S.C., is there any reason to think that a track nicknamed "Too Tough To Tame" will be the one that provides a rare dull race?  I doubt it.

The drivers have to be excited about leaving a Talladega track known for its big wrecks and heading to the egg-shaped oval that holds clearer expectations for their performance.  In preparation for the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing week, let's take a look at this week's favorites:

The Track


Darlington Raceway has a few nicknames.  "Too Tough To Tame" being one and "The Lady in Black" being another.  It's one of the series most historic tracks, having hosted the Cup Series since 1950.  The 1.366-mile length qualifies Darlington as an intermediate, but it is far from the cookie-cutter variety.  When it was built by Harold Brasington, it was done so with the agreement that it wouldn't disrupt the former land owner's minnow pond on the west side of the track.  This resulted in the turn 1 and 2 area being much tighter than in turns 3 and 4, so as not to extend into the pond.

The X-Factor


Being as this is a unique set up and hosts only one race a season, adaptation to the track will be important.  The irregular lay out will take some getting used to, even for the drivers that have visited it often over the years, as it simply isn't an intuitive shape for a driver.  It's referred to as "The Lady in Black" because its white walls get so blackened with tire marks from sliding cars by the race's end.  The addition of the Gen-6 car will only create a greater need to adapt before the competition.

Fantasy Strategy


When considering drivers at the track "Too Tough To Tame," it's probably best to stick with those who have actually shown an ability to tame it and stay away from those that haven't.  Regan Smith denied logic when he won in 2011, but this race isn't likely to produce an unexpected winner.

A-List


Start

  • #11 Denny Hamlin - His full-time return to the car couldn't have come at a much better time.  Hamlin has a 5.9 average finish at Darlington.
  • #24 Jeff Gordon - It's hard to ignore a driver that has won seven times at a track, like Gordon has at Darlington.
  • #48 Jimmie Johnson - The Magic Mile Power Rankings notwithstanding, Johnson has been the dominant driver this season.  He visits a track this weekend where he has three wins and seven top-fives in 14 starts, good for a 9.1 average finish.


Park

  • #20 Matt Kenseth - If Kenseth holds onto his undeserved top billing in the Magic Mile Power Rankings, he will have actually earned it this week.  He has just one top-five in 19 starts at Darlington.


B-List


Start

  • #16 Greg Biffle - I honestly feel like there are better weeks to start the No. 16, but it's hard to undermine a driver that has won two of his 12 starts at "Too Tough To Tame."  I just wish he'd tamed it enough to have more than just three other top-10s in that time.
  • #39 Ryan Newman - Bad luck has taken Newman out of three races this season, but he's finished 15th or better in six of the other seven and has four top-10s.  If there's a place for his luck to change, it could be Darlington, where he has seven top-fives in 14 races (a stat comparable to Johnson).
  • #56 Martin Truex Jr. - His 11.3 average finish at "The Lady in Black" is the highest average of any B-List driver, and he's been on a hot streak lately with three top-10s in the last four races.
  • #99 Carl Edwards - Consistency has been key for Carl Edwards in 2013.  He's recorded five top-fives in the first 10 races and is the only driver with the mathematical ability to take over first place in the standings this weekend.  That's unlikely, as Johnson would need to finish 38th or worse for it be possible, but with six top-10s in nine Darlington starts, Edwards should still have a good week.


Park

  • #15 Clint Bowyer - The driver of the No. 15 has more DNFs (two) than top-10s (one) in seven Darlington starts.
  • #27 Paul Menard - He's been standing strong in the top 10 of the Sprint Cup Series standings, but he has a 24.5 average finish and no top-10s in six Darlington starts.


C-List


Start

  • #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - He's never raced at Darlington in the Sprint Cup Series, but he did register two top-10s in three Nationwide Series starts at the track.
  • #51 Regan Smith - His win in 2011 makes him a clear option on the shallow C-List.


Park

  • #10 Danica Patrick - The female gets no advantage from a track nicknamed "The Lady in Black."  She finished six laps off the lead in 2012, so hoping for a lead-lap finish might be about the loftiest goal to set for her this week.


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Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.

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