NASCAR Picks for Darlington
Length: 1.366 miles
Location: Darlington, South Carolina
Heading into last weekend's race at Talladega, fantasy owners knew there was a good chance things would get ugly; thanks to Kyle Busch, it didn't take long. An ill-advised bump to the rear bumper of Kasey Kahne triggered a massive wreck that leveled more than a dozen cars, including several big names. It only got worse from there, and by the time the checkered flag was in the air, everybody not named David Ragan was probably already looking forward to Saturday night's race at Darlington Raceway.
The track has reached Apollo Creed status when it comes to nicknames and has been called everything from "The Lady in Black" and "The Track Too Tough to Tame" to NASCAR's oldest superspeedway. In recent years, the track's sandpaper-like surface has been smoothed out, but the unique egg-shaped layout and two drastically different corners remain. Overall, Darlington is one of the trickier tracks on the schedule, but after last weekend's carnage, I don't think anyone is complaining about the change of scenery.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
He is the defending winner of this weekend's race, and he is a three-time winner at Darlington. Meanwhile, his 9.1 average finish is the second best in the series, and in 14 starts, he has 10 top-10 finishes. He has also finished fourth or better seven times, making him a safe bet to deliver an elite finish this weekend.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Hamlin is planning on running the full race this weekend, and given his track record of handling adversity, I expect a big performance. Of course, it helps that he is a former winner at the track and has a series-leading 5.9 average finish. Hamlin has never finished worse than 13th in seven starts at Darlington, and he has finished seventh or better in five of his last six starts at the track.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
In nine starts at Darlington, Edwards has logged six top-10 finishes and seven top-15s. He has also finished second and seventh in his last two starts at the track and has two second-place finishes for his career. After managing a top-10 run at Darlington during a disappointing 2012 campaign, a top-five finish seems very possible now that he is back up to speed in 2013.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Penske Racing [Yahoo Class A]
His 9.3 average finish at Darlington is the third best in the series, and Keselowski has never finished outside the top 15 at the track. Granted, he has only made four starts at the track (so the sample size isn't huge), but considering he has been running well at Darlington since his rookie year, I don't see him slowing down now that he has become one of the top drivers in the series.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Gordon is one of the most-accomplished drivers in track history, and he hasn't slowed down much in recent years. In his last nine starts at Darlington, he has tallied eight top-12 finishes, including an impressive seven top-five finishes. There is something about "The Lady in Black" that brings out the best in Gordon.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Kahne has come full circle at Darlington. After opening his career with three strong finishes at the track, he went through a five-race slump when he didn't finish better than 20th. However, Kahne has finished fourth and eighth in his last two starts at the track, and the best could be yet to come now that he drives for a Hendrick Motorsports organization that has been excellent at Darlington.
Martin Truex, Jr., #56 NAPA Auto Parts, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Darlington might just be his best track on the schedule. He has finished in the top 15 in six of his seven starts, and Truex has never finished outside the top 20. His 11.3 average finish at Darlington is the fourth-best among active drivers; and in his last two starts, he has finished 10th and fifth.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He is a former winner at Darlington, and even though he was up and down at the track early in his career, Busch has been rock solid recently. He has a 7.3 average finish in his last three starts at Darlington and has finished 11th or better in all three starts. Not to mention the fact that Busch owes fantasy owners a strong run after leveling a dozen quality drivers at Talladega last weekend.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Darlington has never been Kenseth's best track, but he has actually been running much better at "The Lady in Black" recently than his 17.5 career average finish suggests. He has cracked the top 15 in six of his last seven starts at the track, picking up five top-10s during the stretch. I wouldn't bank on a top-five finish from Kenseth this weekend, but a top-10 sounds about right.
Greg Biffle, #16 3M/Bondo, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Biffle actually won back-to-back races at Darlington earlier in his career, but it is his consistency at the track that makes him an attractive fantasy option these days. In 12 starts, he has notched nine top-15 finishes, including eight top-12 runs. Fantasy owners should pencil Biffle in for a solid run Saturday night. If he happens to rekindle his winning ways, it will just be icing on the cake.
Ryan Newman, #39 Quicken Loans/Haas Automation, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Although he has never won at Darlington, Newman has actually amassed a nice resume at the track. He has nine top-10 finishes in 14 starts, and seven of those have been top-five efforts. Newman has finished in the top five at Darlington as recently as 2011, so there is some real upside with him this weekend.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
"Smoke" is having a terrible year, and he is heading to a Darlington track that is one of the few places on the schedule where he has never won. On the plus side, he has actually been pretty good at the track since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, finishing seventh or better in three of his four starts. That being said, it is tough to consider him a top-10 option until he proves his slump is behind him.