The NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads to Darlington Speedway for what unfortunately will be the series’ lone trip there this season. Darlington is unique in that it is a 1.366 mile egg-shaped oval; can feel pretty good going down the frontstretch or backstretch, but maybe not good when trying to negotiate one of the tight corners at each end of the track.
It’s the kind of place where you think you can go fast, but one little mistake going into a corner and then you get introduced to the wall. That kind of deception is why the track is called, “The Lady in Black.” It’s a track where veterans seem to have the advantage because they have experienced the challenges of driving on the track.
So, if you find yourself not sure whether to pick youth or experience in this race, no matter what format your league is, then go with the experience. It’s valuable at any track but especially so at this one. That’s something to keep in mind when making this week’s picks.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
If you would have told me that there would be seven different winners in the first seven races of the season, I would have said okay, that’s possible. If you would have told me that none of those winners would be Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth, I would have doubted that.
But yes, seven races in seven different winners, neither of which are Johnson or Kenseth.
So, you might ask, who are the last two drivers to win at Darlington? Not coincidentally, it’s Johnson and Kenseth. And here’s some reasons to think that one of them may well get their first win in 2014 in Saturday’s race. Johnson has finished first and fourth in the last two trips there and Kenseth has been first and sixth. Also, Johnson has led 134 laps in those two races. Kenseth has led just 17 laps in the final two races, but give him credit for staying out of trouble and being in position late to win.
For his career, Johnson also looks like one of the favorites with three career wins and 11 top 10 finishes in all. Johnson’s average finish in those races is 8.8, second best among active drivers.
Another veteran who is also winless this season, but has had plenty of success in Darlington in his career is Jeff Gordon. He has seven victories and has led 1,736 laps in his 33 career races there. Gordon also has 19 top five and 22 top 10 finishes in those races. And if you’re wondering what he has done lately at Darlington, Gordon does have a third-place finish in one of the last two races there.
A driver who has won this year, and has one career win at Darlington is Kyle Busch.He has finished fourth and sixth in the last two races and has led a series-high 309 laps in those races. For his career, Busch has five top 10 finishes in his nine races there, including that victory.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
Now, getting back to the winless in 2014 theme with a driver also could be a potential winner at Darlington, isDenny Hamlin. He has finished second in each of his last two races at Darlington. And if the recent numbers aren’t convincing enough, Hamlin’s career numbers at Darlington are outstanding as well. He leads all active drivers with an average finish of 5.38 in eight races. That includes a win and seven top 10s in all. Also keep in mind that Hamlin’s lowest finish at Darlington is 13th, and that he’s led 354 laps in those eight races.
Let’s now add one more winless 2014 driver to this list, and this is one of only two tracks that he has not won at. Yes, Tony Stewart has finished third in one of the last two races at Darlington, and has an average finish of ninth in those two races. For his career, Stewart has an average finish of 11.95 in 21 races at Darlington with 11 top 10 finishes. However, Stewart’s average starting position is 17.2 at here, which makes it difficult to win there and surprisingly, he has led just 20 laps there in his career.
For the record, the other NASCAR Sprint Cup track Stewart has not won at yet is Kentucky.
A driver who can be easy to forget about sometimes, but shouldn’t be left out of Darlington consideration is Greg Biffle. True, he’s been just 12th and 13th in his last two trips there, but he does have two career wins and five top 10s in 13 career races here. Biffle also has led 713 laps there, so he does understand what a car needs to feel like to be fast there. Darlington can also be a track for survivors, drivers who hang around and avoid major trouble, and then end up in the top five. Martin Truex Jr. fits into that category, both in his record here and with his career in general after being the victim of Spingate last year. Truex has finished fifth and 12th in his last two races there and in eight career races has three top 10 finishes.
The choices are not that great here this week. It’s pretty much down to Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon here.
Larson has shown the ability to run in the top five and even compete for a win. And you can’t help but like his aggressive but yet clean style and there’s no question that he races like he has been around for years. But the one track where you just can’t have enough experience is Darlington. I’m on record as saying that Larson will win a race this year (and at this point, I don’t think that’s big reach). But if he does win this week, well, we would know without a doubt that we’ve get a special driver on our hands. But rookies just don’t do well at Darlington.
Since winning the pole at Daytona, Dillon has done nothing spectacular. But he has for the most part stayed out of the wall and run clean races. He’s not run much in the top 10, but he’s managed to hang around and have a car good enough to be in the top 15 or top 20 and that’s not a disaster here.
Some other options in this category are Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick, but it’s tough to go with them at a place like Darlington.
So if you want to go for a top five finish from this category, then pick Larson. But if you’re just looking for a solid finish, and want to feel a little more sure about that possibility, then go with Dillon.
We have a new leader in the Fronstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! The team LeftTurnOnly jumped seven spots to take a 21-point lead over ShadowsPT 1,934 to 1,913. Others close to the top are Mojothemonkey at 1,890, Migrainehead’s Chargers at 1,884, bundys bombers at 1,876 and NASCAR Forever at 1,873.
So just how did LeftTurnOnly vault that many spaces? That was also the owner with the top week at 380 points. LeftTurnOnly had the winning combination of race winner Joey Logan, third place Kyle Busch , fifth place Kyle Larson and 10th place Tony Stewart.
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