NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Will Danica be a Darlington darling?

They call Darlington the Lady in Black, but for at least some NASCAR fans, Saturday’s 7 PM race on FOX will be about the lady in green. Yes, Danica Patrick will make her first appearance in the Sprint Cup series since the season-opening Daytona 500. This much we know because the No. 10 car owned by Tommy Baldwin Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing has been reserved for Patrick and is inside the top 35 in owners points.

For sure there are some Danica haters out there. She’s become popular just as much for her appearance as for her driving skill. But as women face an uphill battle to break into a sport that is predominantly male, can she really be blamed for using all of her assets to bring in much needed sponsorship dollars?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to blame her for that.

I say unfortunate because there are some talented male drivers out there who are having sponsorship issues. Can somebody tell me why a young handsome, well-spoken driver and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne can’t find a full-time sponsor? Or even former Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth, this year’s Daytona 500 winner and a title contender again, has taken nearly one third of this season to find a regular full-time sponsor?

So, no, don’t blame Danica for doing what she has to do. Ultimately, what she does on the track will matter – at least that’s what we think. Whether that will be true or not remains to be seen.

As for how she will do Saturday night, Danica fans shouldn’t come in with any big expectations. If she finishes inside the top 20, that would be a good accomplishment. If she finishes in the top 10, that wold be a big deal. Darlington is traditionally not kind to newcomers, so expect a big learning curve here.

Top 5 Picks

Greg Biffle: The current points leader has two wins and five top 10s, so he’s gotta be picked here.

Jimmie Johnson: Also two wins and he has yet to win this season, so he’s really due for an appearance in Victory Lane.

Denny Hamlin: He doesn’t have a ton of experience at Darlington with just six races, but he does have one win and an average finish of 6.5. And he normally drives a black car, so hey, the Lady in Black must like him.

Tony Stewart: This is one of two Sprint Cup tracks Stewart has not won on yet, so he’ll be fired up to contend. He does have an average finish of 12.3 and three top 5s at Darlington.

Kasey Kahne: He’s had a string of good finishes now, including last week’s fourth at Talladega. He does have the seventh-best driver rating and started on the pole last year, which shows he knows how to get around the 1.25-mile oval.

Coulda,shoulda, woulda: The numbers are jumping right out of the computer screen on this one, but couldn’t pull the trigger here. Jeff Gordon has seven wins at Darlington and his team, Hendrick Racing, has 13 total victories and is still looking for that elusive 200th career Sprint Cup win. However, too much bad luck has plagued No. 24 team this year to pick him this time.

ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP

Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared at Talladega.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 9th. So much for my lock stock guaranteed absolutely without question can’t miss winning prediction. The winless streak is now at 139 for those of you snoring at home.

Brad Keselowski: – 1st. OK, so I didn’t give you a guarantee here, but that’s two winners in a row I’ve given you.

Kevin Harvick – 25th. He was a contender again until getting caught up in a late accident.

Jimmie Johnson – 35th. He had a grenade engine, nothing more restricting than that at a plate track.

Juan Pablo Montoya – 32nd. Well, he didn’t run into the jet dryer. Doesn’t that count as a win?

Season Stats

50 picks
4 wins
16 top 5s
19 top 10s

Grade for the week: B. We did get another winner this week as at least one of the Penske cars continued to run strong on a plate track. Engine woes and accidents put a damper on the rest of the day.

One Last Thing: Carl Edwards finished 31st last week at Talladega and dropped to 11th in the points standings. Edwards was the runner-up in for the championship last year and is trying to break a recent stretch of poor performances the following season by the previous year’s runner-up. Denny Hamlin finished ninth last year, Mark Martin was 13th in 2010, and Edwards was 11th in 2009.

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