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Fantasy Darlings of South Carolina

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Jeff Gordon fans should be cautiously optimistic about the 24 in Darlington. Photo: Getty Images

When I first started giving you my fantasy NASCAR advice, I explained that I wasn't an expert, just a guy that followed the sport.  However, after last week's performance, I might have raised the bar higher than I can jump.

I'm one of those guys that tends to tell you, "I told you so," (because that's what New Englanders do!) and this past weekend was a big boost for my already enlarged ego.

For Richmond, I suggested that you roster Juan Pablo Montoya in case he qualified well (he started on the pole), but recommended you not start him (he finished 29th).

I nominated Kyle Busch as the best option in the A-list (he won) and said that Denny Hamlin (second) and Jimmie Johnson (eighth) were among others worth considering, while Matt Kenseth (21st) should be avoided.

In the C-group, my recommendation was David Ragan, who finished fourth.  Although, it's worth pointing out that Ragan and Paul Menard are the only two C-listers currently putting any value into the fantasy engines.

Great!  You're thinking.  This guy had a good week, and even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again.

To you I say, err, well, touche!

When it comes to fantasy NASCAR, I tend to follow embody the career of Kasey Kahne.  I prove time and again that I'm capable of being a top contender, but there's a certain inconsistency (whether its under my control or not) that keeps me out of the elite.

Well, it's showtime for me this week.  It's time to prove that I didn't just have a lucky week and that I actually have an idea of what I'm doing.

And, not so coincidentally (since I set up the pun), it's also showtime for the Sprint Cup, as the drivers roll into Darlington, SC, for the Showtime Southern 500 on Saturday night.

Here are some of the Darlington darlings, if you will, and some of the duds in the fantasy world.

*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.

A-List

Start

#24 Jeff Gordon - I'm sure Gordon fans are itching to roll the 24 off the hauler.  He won in Phoenix near the beginning of the season, but, all in all, it has been a disastrous season.  Gordon currently sits in 16th place right now.  However, he's won an impressive seven races here, so, like Hamlin was last week, this could be a risk/reward opportunity to get a lot of points out of a driver that most people will have in the garage.

#48 - Jimmie Johnson - Johnson has two wins and nine top-10s in twelve starts here with an average finish of an impressive 9.3.  While he notoriously moseys along in the pre-Chase portion of the season, this year, he's already in top form and sits in second in the standings.  It's tracks like these for which you save Johnson's precious allocations.

#99 Carl Edwards - It's hard to go against Edwards right now.  He's the points leader and has five top-fives and seven top-10s in the first nine races of the season.  He's worth considering every week.

Park

#29 Kevin Harvick - Harvick has an ugly 19.1 average finishing position here, more than four spots worse than his career average of 15.0.  He also seems to have cooled off a little since back-to-back wins a month ago.

B-List

Start

#4 Kasey Kahne - Kahne finished third last week and his average finish at Darlington is 15.9, well up from an 18.3 career finish.  Like the hybrid sedan you just bought, he might not be the most glamorous car out there, but you can still fit the whole family in the car and save enough money for a vacation.  In non-metaphorical terms: he should do well enough this week to allow you to save the quickly dwindling B-list allocations of your top drivers.

#5 Mark Martin - Martin is similar to Kahne.  In Martin's case, his best years are behind him, so it's hard to transcribe all of his stats, but, in 44 starts, he has two wins and 26 top-10s.  For the amount of races he's run, his average finish of 12.1 is noticeably better than his career of 13.4.

#39 Ryan Newman - Newman's numbers approach those of Jimmie Johnson, as he's tallied six top-fives and eight top-10s in twelve starts.  The only thing that could get you here would be the amount of allocations you have remaining (or Juan Pablo Montoya), but keep in mind that you're better starting him now and getting 88 points than you are saving him for a 78-point start later on.  Unlike the C-group that we'll get to shortly, there are at least enough solid options in the B-group that you shouldn't sacrifice points to maintain allocations.

#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - His 15.2 average finish here is stronger than his 16.9 career, and the consensus is that he's gotta win one soon!  Personally, I'm not a fan of starting someone every week just so you can say you were on the bandwagon when he won, but I'm not going to wing my wireless mouse at you if you do.

Park

#33 Clint Bowyer - After last week, Bowyer climbed into the the top spot among B-list drivers, but he has an average finish of 23.2 here.  In the five races he started, he only has one top-10, and even that was a fall to ninth place after starting on the pole.

C-List

Start

#6 David Ragan - Ragan has three top-10s in his last four starts.  His fourth race in that span was a wreck at Talladega, and let's be honest, wrecks happen at Talladega!  That said, you need to be careful in how quickly you wear out his allocations, as he's one of the few good options you're going to have throughout the season.

#47 Bobby Labonte - Starting Labonte will never excite you, but you need to do the math: you can only start Ragan and Paul Menard in 18 of 36 races, which means you'll need to find 18 starts from other C-list drivers.  Labonte's average finish here of 15.9 is far better than a career of 18.6 and over the course of his long career, that's worth noting.  Excepting an accident last year, he's finished within in a window of 17-22 from 2005-09.  This wouldn't be a bad week to start someone other than the 6 of Ragan or 27 of Menard, since Labonte presents a dependable option.

Park

#27 Paul Menard - Menard's career average finish of 24.1 is probably dragged down a few decimals by the 28.0 average here.  Last year was his best finish; it was 20th.  Save the C-list's top driver for a different track.

My preliminary roster

A - JOHNSON (7), Edwards (7)

B - KAHNE (8), NEWMAN (5), Martin (6), Montoya (7)

C - LABONTE (8), Ragan (5)

*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.

-JS