Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Bojangles' Southern 500

by Eric McClung on May 9, 2012 @ 15:53:19 PDT

 


Among the most legendary tracks on the schedule, Darlington Raceway has earned two well-deserved nicknames. The "Lady in Black" is known to leave marks along the sides of the numerous cars that brush against its walls, outfitted with trademark red and white stripes. The unique egg-shaped layout provides different challenges in each set of turns, but does not offer much comparison for fantasy owners looking for similar tracks. Unlike other sites, tackling Darlington requires the drivers to race the track while giving and taking with those around them. It is indeed "The Track Too Tough to Tame."

Practice sessions: Friday, May 11 at 11:30 am ET, 2:00 pm ET
Qualifying: Friday, May 11 at 5:00 pm ET
Race: Saturday, May 12 at 6:30 pm ET
Location: Darlington, S.C.
Shape: Egg-shaped oval
Length: 1.366 miles
Laps: 367
Turns 1 & 2: 25 degrees
Turns 3 & 4: 23 degrees
Frontstretch: 3 degrees
Backstretch: 2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/O'Reilly Auto Parts Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Since winning back-to-back Darlington races in 2005-06 with dominating performances, Biffle has yet to record a top-five finish in the last five years. However, he's recorded an eighth-place result in two of the last three. The Biff has owned the lead in points since the third race of the season with only one finish worse than 13th in a total of 10 starts and top-fives in three of the last four. Navigating Darlington requires a race car that is locked in and no team has been more on point than Biffle's No. 16 camp.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

In six career starts at Darlington, Hamlin has yet to finish outside of the top 15 with four results of seventh or better. His career average running position of 9.5 puts him second among all drivers. Hamlin has registered two wins, four top-fives and seven finishes of 12th or better this season. If not for a late wreck at Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin might have added another top-five. In his 2010 victory at Darlington, Hamlin paced 104 of the 367 laps and never dropped below 11th at any point of the race.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Despite two straight finishes outside of the top 20 it's not time to bail on Truex. After qualifying eighth at Richmond International Raceway, he held an average running position of 15th but finished 25th. The bad luck continued last week after being collected in a late wreck at Talladega. Truex has two top-10s and five top-15s in six career starts at Darlington even though he has never qualified inside the top 15. On a track that's difficult to make passes and gain track position, Truex has done just it year after year.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

Keselowski has made quick friends with the Lady in Black. After finishing seventh in his first career start at the site in 2009, Keselowski added a 12th-place result in 2010 and a career-best third last year. Although Bristol Motor Speedway and Talladega are very different tracks Keselowski won at each venue this season and his calculated aggression style of driving could pay off once again this week at Darlington.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Since winning at Martinsville Speedway over a month ago, Newman best finish in the last four races is a 15th-place result at Richmond International Raceway. Now out of the Chase standings following a blown engine at Talladega, Newman has an excellent opportunity to get back into the mix. At Darlington he's earned seven top-fives in 13 career starts with five finishes of sixth or better in the last seven. In addition to excellent results in qualifying, Newman has held an average running position of 10th or better six times since loop data was introduced in 2005.

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

After disastrous results in the first two races of the season, McMurray has registered half a dozen finishes inside the top 15 over the last eight races. While not stellar, it bodes well for another solid run for McMurray at Darlington where he was the runner-up in 2010 and ninth a year ago. Since 2005, Jamie Mac has held an average running position of 16th or better on six occasions. Consider him a strong value among the middle-tier field of drivers.

Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Rockwell Tools Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

With two poles and an average starting position of 7.5, Kahne has been the best qualifier this season among drivers that have competed in all 10 races. After a nightmare start to the season, Kahne has rallied off four straight top-10s and is coming off consecutive top-fives. In nine career starts at Darlington, Kahne has captured four poles with three top-fives. Loop data shows Kahne has run well in each of the last three starts at Darlington but has only managed one corresponding finish, last year's fourth-place with 124 laps led.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Currently 23rd in points, it's hard to imagine the season going much worse for Gordon. Thankfully, he heads to one of his best tracks in hopes of erasing the bad luck and misfortune that has plagued him all year. Crew chief Alan Gustafson won this race with Mark Martin behind the wheel in 2009 and will attempt to score career victory No. 8 for Gordon at Darlington. Last year's 12th-place result snapped a streak of seven straight top-fives for Gordon at Darlington, whose career average running position of 6.6 is more than three positions better than the nearest driver.

Temper your expectations

Jeff Burton | No. 31 BB&T Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

With two career wins and an average finish of 12.1 in 29 career starts, Burton possess one of the better resumes at Darlington. However, last week's top-10 at Talladega was his first top-20 in the last six races of the season. From 2006-10, Burton scored five straight top-12 finishes at the Lady in Black but was more like a top-20 car last year before blowing an engine.

Regan Smith | No. 78 Furniture Row/CSX Play it Safe Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing

Be careful not to overvalue Smith's feel-good win in last year's Southern 500. After running midpack for much of the race Smith was able to get track position late and eventually gambled on old tires to win the race. This season Smith owns a single top-10, the only finish on the lead lap he has managed in 10 races held thus far.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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