After a well deserved week off, the series heads into the home stretch with no more breaks until we crown a champion after the next twelve races. Two to go before the playoffs start. Will we see a new winner outside the top sixteen who will knock out one of the drivers trying to get in on points, or will we see a fight for the final spots given on points. These next two weeks are going to be full of exciting racing.
BOJANGLE’S SOUTHERN 500
This week the series heads to the Darlington Raceway for the running of the Bojangle’s Southern 500. This track, also known as ‘The Lady in Black’, and ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’, is a 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval with different banking at each end of the track. This makes setting up the car a bit different to get it to handle well at both ends too. You will hear a lot of drivers telling their crew chief how the car handles in turns one and two and how it handles in turns three and four. The crew chief who can make their driver the happiest on both ends of the track will have the best chance of winning this race.
This race also brings back the retro paint schemes of past drivers to honor them this weekend. You will see many of the colors and configurations from years past which is pretty neat. You will see these in both the Xfinity series and the Monster Energy series races. Schemes from the likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Mark Martin, Darrell Waltrip, and Richard Petty, just to name a few, will be on display in this race.
Denny Hamlin: I am taking Denny to win his second race at this track and second race on the season. Denny has finished in the top five in six of his eleven start at this track and in the top ten in nine of those races. He is the most consistent driver at this track and if he can avoid mistakes on pit road, such as speeding penalties which he picks up a lot of, he will be in position to get that second win at the end of this race.
Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie leads all active drivers with three wins at Darlington in his eighteen starts. Along with that comes nine top five and twelve top ten finishes. This is the time for this team to start stepping up their game for the playoffs and this is one of the tracks where they can really turn it on. If he struggles this week it doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of sync, but that they are still doing some testing for the playoffs.
Martin Truex Jr.: Martin one this race last year and would like nothing better than to repeat and add to his already impressive playoff points. It is most likely that he will clinch the regular season championship this weekend which will give him another fifteen playoff points to add to his already large margin over his closest competitor. If he wins one of the next two races it is going to be almost impossible to knock him out of the playoffs before the final race of the season.
Kevin Harvick: In his last four starts at Darlington, Kevin has done nothing more than sit on the pole twice, win a race, come in second one race, lead almost 500-laps, and finish in the top five every time. This makes me think we should really have him on our team just in case Denny falters in the practice sessions. I don’t think that will happen, but if it does Kevin is the driver you will probably want to start instead.
Brad Keselowski: Brad is still looking for his first career win at this track. However, he did sit on the front row in his last two starts and led almost 250-laps in those races. On the other hand, this team has started out towards the front quite a bit lately, but never comes away with the finishing position they think they should. This is either due to pit strategy, a tire issue, or getting caught up in something on the race track with another driver. In any case they haven’t been performing at their best lately.
Kyle Larson: Kyle has only run three races at this track in the Cup series. In those three races he has never finished outside the top ten with his best finish being a third place last year. This team has been pretty stellar all season and this week should prove no different. I look for Kyle to run towards the front of the pack most of the day and be a contender at the end once again.
Joey Logano: Joey needs to win one of the next two races to make the playoffs. He won the race in Richmond earlier this year, (where the series will be heading after the Darlington race) but his car didn’t pass post race inspection and NASCAR penalized him by saying the win didn’t count for making the playoffs. This team has really struggled for most of the season after the penalty. Even when they qualify well and run well in practice they never stay up front for long. So, in his last two races at Darlington, Joey has started and finished in the top five. I don’t know if that is enough to give this team the confidence they need to get the win this weekend to propel themselves into the playoffs.
Kyle Busch: Kyle picked up his second win of the season at Bristol in the last race run. In fact, he won all three races he ran at Bristol, which is a nearly impossible feat to accomplish for any driver no matter how good your equipment is. Kyle got his lone win at this track back in the spring of 2008. However, in his last seven starts here he hasn’t finished worse than eleventh. He has also led laps here in nine of his twelve starts and started in the top ten in his last five races. This guy had some bad luck for most of this season and if he can get that changed he will be one of the top odds on favorite to win another championship.
Matt Kenseth: Matt is one of the smartest drivers in the series. He knows what he needs to do to make the playoffs on points and he won’t jeopardize himself by doing something that will knock him out of a race. If his car is good enough he will fight for the win, but if not he will just go out and get the best finish he can and try to maintain his points position. Matt has finished in the top ten in eight of his last eleven starts at Darlington including a win back in the spring of 2013.
Ryan Newman: This is kind of hard for me to believe, but Ryan hasn’t won here in eighteen starts. However, he does run consistently well here with seven top five and twelve top ten finishes which is similar to what Jimmie Johnson has done here in his career. Ryan ran very well at Bristol a couple of weeks ago coming away with a sixth place finish in that race. This team has performed much better this year than the past few years and this is a track where they might surprise some people.
YAHOO! FANTASY NASCAR PICKS FOR DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Yahoo Driver Group A
- Denny Hamlin
- Kevin Harvick
Yahoo Driver Group B
- Kyle Larson
- Ryan Newman
- Kurt Busch
- Kasey Kahne
Yahoo Driver Group C
- Daniel Suarez
- Erik Jones
MY TOP-5 OVERALL AT DARLINGTON RACEWAY
- Denny Hamlin
- Kevin Harvick
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kyle Larson
- Jimmie Johnson
Dark Horse: Ryan Newman
Stay Away From: Trevor Bayne
Big 18: Denny Hamlin