Bryan Davis Keith and Mike Neff · Thursday May 7, 2009
There aren’t many places where every driver, not just the rookies, is told “race the track, not the pack.” But that’s the only means of survival at Darlington Raceway, a unique combination of rim-riding and abrasive asphalt that’s among the most grueling 500-milers on the Sprint Cup circuit. The track itself may be Too Tough To Tame, but fantasy racing this egg-shaped circuit is no problem for the Frontstretch Fantasy Insiders. Read on to find out which drivers have the inside track to surviving the difficult track conditions they’ll face on Saturday night.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at Darlington Raceway (since 2005, active drivers)
Jeff Gordon, 2.0
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 6.2
Denny Hamlin, 6.3
Jimmie Johnson, 6.8
Matt Kenseth, 10.5
2008 Dodge Avenger 500 Top 5 Finishers
Kyle Busch, 169 laps led
Carl Edwards, 0 laps led
Jeff Gordon, 24 laps led
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 35 laps led
David Ragan, 2 laps led
Jeff Gordon is proof positive that nothing tops experience at Darlington Raceway. Since an early wreck not of his making in the Spring 2004 race, Gordon has not finished outside the top 3 on the egg-shaped South Carolina oval. Gordon won this race in 2007, and already has five Southern 500 trophies to his credit. The No. 24 team may have cooled in recent weeks, but Darlington is Darlington… and they’ll be among the contenders. Bryan
Jimmie Johnson has finished in the 30s the last two races, but he has not had three consecutive finishes outside the top 15 since the first half of the 2007 season. You shouldn’t expect him to break that record at Darlington, considering the fact in 10 races, he has finished outside the top 13 only once. Johnson is sixth in the point standings after his latest slump, and he does not want to slip further away towards the back half of the top 12. At this point, it’s time for the No. 48 team to start earning some of their bonus points toward the Chase. Look for Chad Knaus and Johnson to right the ship and score some big points this weekend. Mike
There aren’t many drivers that Darlington owes more than Ryan Newman. Newman has, on no less than three occasions, had cars capable of winning knocked from contention late in the going here. Those close calls prove the veteran is capable of getting around this track fast, having scored three top 10s in the last four Darlington events. The Lady in Black is his favorite speedway, and the way that the entire SHR camp is running, it’s bad news for the rest of the field that the track Too Tough to Tame is this weekend’s destination. Bryan
Denny Hamlin once again appeared to have the car to beat at Richmond, but ended up failing to close the deal once a poor pit stop sent him back in traffic. It’s the third disappointment this year for the Virginian, who also finished second at Bristol and Martinsville with cars that looked like they should win. But Darlington’s a perfect place for Hamlin to rebuild much-needed momentum. It’s a place where his average finish is a robust 6.3, the highest among active drivers on the circuit. In his three career starts at the track, Hamlin has never finished outside the top 10 while leading a total of 194 laps. Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch was the winner at Darlington last year, so the organization also has a good set of notes for the setup on his car. Hamlin is due to post a win this year, and the Lady In Black would be a great place to do it. Mike
Bobby Labonte’s results the last few years at Darlington have not been flashy…but they have been remarkably consistent. In the last four races, Labonte has finished in the top 20 all but once while completing 99.9% of the laps run. A solid top 20 outing is a realistic expectation for the No. 96 team this weekend… and at a track this treacherous, that’s not too shabby for your C-level roster. Bryan
Sterling Marlin has won at Darlington Raceway before. It was in 2002, when he finished first and fourth in the two races at the track that year driving for Chip Ganassi. His average finish is 19.7 overall, and he came home 13th in 2007 while running for the now-defunct Ginn Racing No. 14. This year, Marlin enters the weekend driving for James Finch, who is the winning car owner from the Talladega race two weeks ago. This is certainly not plate racing, but there is no question that the equipment within the No. 09 camp is a whole lot better than initially thought. Expect the wily old veteran to make some noise this weekend and score some points for his fantasy owners. Mike
Darlington Raceway, the track Too Tough to Tame, will make for a very long weekend for many Cup competitors. The Lady in Black will put her mark on every car on the track at some point throughout the race, and will more than likely do it more than once to most of them. Fortunately for fantasy owners, that stripe doesn’t injure the cars as much as it used to, as was evidenced by Kyle Busch bouncing off of the wall HARD multiple times on the way to Victory Lane last year. Generally, the drivers who show patience and intestinal fortitude are the ones who will bring home their cars with strong finishes at the oldest superspeedway on the circuit. With that in mind, seasoned veterans are certainly worth a long look this weekend.
Results of our experts in the Frontstretch Games
Game of Tomorrow
Hat Dance Dynasty
In order to help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week … as well as the total for the season.
Bryan 325 3294
Mike 266 3354
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