Known as the "Lady in Black" by many in the NASCAR community, Darlington Raceway has been causing headaches for drivers since the early days of the sport. However, Mother Nature showed Friday that even the "Lady" can be conquered. Rain washed out half of the opening practice session at the track and all of Happy Hour. As a result, fantasy owners won't have a lot of data to go on when making their lineup selections this weekend.
When the cars were on the track, Ryan Newman was the man to beat. He paced the field with a lap of 176.816 mph, and he has the career numbers at Darlington to warrant serious consideration this weekend. Although he has yet to win at the track, Newman has managed eight top-10s in 11 starts, including six top-five runs.
He was followed on the charts by Carl Edwards, who was the only other driver to top 176 mph in the practice. Kurt Busch, defending race winner Denny Hamlin, and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top-five. Edwards and Hamlin are the top fantasy options out of the group, especially Hamlin. No driver has a better average finish at Darlington than Hamlin, and he has never finished outside the top-15 at the track.
Despite the solid practice times, fantasy owners may want to avoid Kurt Busch this weekend. He cut a tire late in the session and slammed the wall. Busch will have to go to a backup car for Saturday's race, and with all the rain, the team didn't get a chance to dial in the new car.
Although fantasy owners can't completely ignore the practice speeds, the lack of track time means that many teams didn't get a chance to show their stuff. Some other big names that have had success at Darlington in the past that deserve to be considered are Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. All four are former winners at Darlington, and Gordon is riding a series-best seven straight top-five finishes at the track.
A few drivers that have struggled at the "Lady in Black" are Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Both drivers are enjoying a strong season, but both have been mediocre at best at Darlington. Fantasy owners will have to choose between their momentum and their history, but at a track as tricky as Darlington, momentum can be killed in a heartbeat.
Whenever rain washes out all or most of the practice session, teams are forced to fall back on previous setups. Drivers that have run well in recent years at Darlington should have an edge. Fantasy owners need to take that into account when setting their rosters.
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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