Bojangles' Southern 500 Fantasy Preview
The only thing sweet about "The Lady in Black" is the "darling" in its official name. I'm not bashing the track, it's own Twitter handle boasts its other nickname: @TooToughToTame.
The egg shaped 1.366-mile oval originally opened in 1950 and has been challenging drivers to beat it ever since. The track was originally slated to be a standard oval, just like NHMS, but it was interestingly a minnow pond that changed that fate. The landowner asked that the track not disturb the pond located near turns 3 and 4, so the configuration was reconsidered to account for it.
Perhaps that odd twist in fate was a sign of things to come for the track "Too Tough to Tame." The first Southern 500 was run on Labor Day in the year it opened and it's been hosting that race ever since.
Still, despite its nickname, the track has been tamed by a rare few. While larger than NASCAR's short tracks, it plays a similar role in that only the masterful few do repeatedly well at this track. It's far from the generic cookie cutters of similar length in the series and the fact it hosts just a single race a season only makes it harder for drivers to learn.
In setting a part-time schedule for rookie Danica Patrick, team owner Tony Stewart assigned her to tracks he thought would challenge her to become a better driver. It shouldn't come as a surprise that after a series of cookie cutters that tend to be generic and short tracks that tend to promote bumping and banging, Darlington is the first race out of the bag since the Daytona 500.
The reigning Cup champion knows that this track forces a driver to outdrive his...and, um, her...competition, while requiring more than just a steady balance of on-the-gas, off-the-gas (like shorter tracks). Simply put: it's a driver's track. The only way to beat the competition at this track is to go out and be the superior driver.
As we can see in creating a Fantasy Auto Racing team, the expected top drivers dominate here where the also-rans are simply that at Darlington.
Strategy: Not surprisingly, there are a lot of good A-Listers, so you might want to use a little intuition in regards to which driver you pick. As we move through the B-List and C-List, it's best to stick with the strongest and more experienced drivers. Regan Smith's win last year aside, it's rare to see an unexpected result.
#2 Brad Keselowski - Brad seemed to be struggling early in the season, but his two race wins more or less assure that he should claim his second consecutive Wild Card. He has a small track record here and has never led a Darlington lap, but has an average finish of 7.3 in three starts.
#11 Denny Hamlin - Hamlin's 6.5 average finish at Darlington leads the field and his 108.3 driver rating is third. Considering how strong he's been this year, he's a sure bet most weeks even without stats like that.
#24 Jeff Gordon - Poor Jeff! He's had the worst luck this year and last week was minding his own business when the wrecked No. 56 slid down the track and took him out of the race. I say it too often, but if he's going to turn it around, this is a great track. He has seven career wins at Darlington and is one of the few with a clear ability to tame this lady.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - I usually limit the suggestions to three drivers, but it'd be unfair to ignore a driver with an average career finish of 9.8 at a track.
#29 Kevin Harvick - He was so frustrated last year after this race that he got out of the car to punch Kyle Busch, remember!? His 18.9 average finish suggests he's worth skipping this week.
#5 Kasey Kahne - Kahne has a whopping four poles in nine starts! Whether or not you plan on starting him (his 96.7 driver rating is an impressive sixth in the field), he's the closest thing to a guarantee for qualifying points that we might see all season.
#39 Ryan Newman - I've always described Newman as a "driver's driver," which means he does best on track's that involve the most driving ability. He has seven top-fives in 13 career starts at Darlington and his 11.6 average finish is the best on the B-List.
#55 Mark Martin - Martin's 12.2 average finish at Darlington trails just Newman and Jeff Burton on the B-List. He (and the No. 55 team in general) has been strong in every race he's entered this year.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Truex has been tough to ballpark this year. He's done so much better everywhere, that it's hard to figure out when he's going to do just well and when he's going to do really well. His two top-10s in six Darlington starts and an average finish of 12.3 matches and/or beats most other tracks for him.
#15 Clint Bowyer - Bowyer has one top-10 in six starts at "The Lady in Black" and an average finish of 24.5. Ouch!
#78 Regan Smith - He's going to be a trendy pick since he won the Southern 500 last year. However, he used some risky pit strategy to stay on old tires and hold off Carl Edwards. He even said over the radio afterward "we're not supposed to win this thing!" Be realistic.
#10 Danica Patrick - There are a few things working in Danica's favor over the rest of most of the C-List. First, she's entered to race, not park. Second, she's in the best piece of equipment on the list. She looked like a fish out of water preparing for and racing in the Daytona 500, so I'm not expecting great things. However, in the interest of C-List allocations, her projected 20-something finish isn't less than average. (After all, 36% of you are still all-in on David Ragan's 27th-place average!)
#47 Bobby Labonte - Most of the 15.9 average finish he built at Darlington came in better rides, but I like the experienced driver at the track. Aside from Aric Almirola (who has no track record here), he's the most likely to turn in a well-above, C-List average finish.
#13 Casey Mears - The 17% of Yahoo users picking him suggests that a strong showing at Talladega (before he lost a tire and wrecked out) make him a trendy pick. At some point, an allocation depletion might make him a viable start, but not this week. He has no top-10s in 10 starts and an average finish of 30.2, so he's definitely a driver that has found this track "Too Tough to Tame!"
The picks in this blog are based around Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game and its standard scoring rules. The preview is designed to provide suggestions, while still encouraging managers to make their own decisions. Once sorted into Yahoo's A, B and C-Lists, they are organized based on car number and not directly associated with a rank value.
You can sign up and play for free, by visiting http://racing.fantasysports.yahoo.com. If signed up, the "Fans of NHMS" group may be joined by clicking here.