Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: Bojangles' Southern 500

by Eric McClung on May 8, 2013 @ 12:52:24 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, Darlington requires 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 10, at 11:30 a.m. ET, 2:15 p.m. ET
Qualifying:
Friday, May 10, at 5:10 p.m. ET
Race:
Saturday, May 11, at 6:45 p.m. 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
Front stretch:
3 degrees
Back stretch:
2 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Geek Squad Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer
Bowyer not big on Darlington

Since getting hit in the Daytona 500, Edwards has climbed his way up to second in points, beginning with a victory the next week at Phoenix International Raceway. Ending a long winless streak has sparked nine consecutive finishes inside the top 20, including half a dozen finishes of sixth or better.

In nine career starts at Darlington, Edwards has placed inside the top 10 on six occasions. Those times include a pair of runner-up performances.

Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Luck hasn't always been on his side when it comes to getting to the finish line, but Kahne has recorded an average running position of 14th or better in four straight Darlington races. Over the last two years, he has spent all but two of the combined 738 laps running in the top 15. Kahne is coming off an early wreck last week at Talladega Superspeedway but had been running very well for much of the season and should rebound this week.

Kyle Busch | No. 18 Doublemint Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Last year's average running position of third set a career best at Darlington for Busch thanks to his best performance there since winning the 2008 race. He hasn't been able to dodge misfortune over the last three weeks but had won two races during a run of five consecutive top-fives prior to that. Rowdy continues qualifying well with a series-best average starting position of 6.4 and should put himself in a good spot once again to compete for The Lady in Black's crown.

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

In a span of seven Darlington races from 2004 to 2010, Gordon recorded top-fives in each with one victory and a total of five podium finishes. He ran much better than his 12th-place performance in 2011 and had to go back to the garage in the middle of last year's 35th-place dud. In the midst of a mediocre season, Gordon is no longer an automatic start, but could be a value here if he looks sharp in practice.

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

Last year, Truex put together his best run at Darlington with a fifth-place finish, an average running position of fourth and 99.7 percent of laps spent running in the top 15, all career bests. He has never placed outside the top 20 at Darlington, including three top-10s the last four years. After a slow start to the season, Truex has bounced back with three finishes of seventh or better in the last four weeks.

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet | Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

McMurray struggled at Darlington in 2012 but had finished 11th or better in three of the previous four years. With three top-10s through 10 races this season, Jamie Mac has already matched last year's total in that column. McMurray is far from a safe pick, but this is one of the few tracks at which to consider using him.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Since 2005, Newman's average running position at Darlington has been 13th or better in seven of the eight starts. He was looking to leave with a top-15 last year but was involved in a crash near the end of the race. Prior to wrecking last week at Talladega, Newman had scored five top-15s in a span of six starts this season. Consider him another middle-tier driver with a knack for Darlington racing.

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

In seven career Darlington starts, Hamlin has never finished worse than 13th. His highlights include leading 104 laps during a victory in 2010 and last year's runner-up performance. Over the last three years, Hamlin's worst average running position at the site is eighth, and he spent 99.5 percent of those combined laps running in the top 15. Of course, the real concern here is Hamlin's health and whether he'll be running the full race with his mending back. If so, this is a track suited for his welcome-back party.

Temper your expectations

Clint Bowyer | No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Bowyer is a true all-around driver capable of competing at any venue on the schedule, but Darlington has been his worst track. After crashing in 2009 and again in 2011, he grabbed an 11th-place finish for his best result at Darlington since his lone top-10 back in 2007. It wouldn't be a shock to see Bowyer put the past aside and run well, but allocation owners should save him for more friendly venues.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Last year, Stewart matched a career-best third-place finish at Darlington and has finished 12th or better six times in eight starts since 2005. However, Smoke has come up flat time and time again this season and is only 17 points ahead of Mark Martin, who has competed in two fewer races. Stewart has woken from extended slumps before, but it's best to see some good vibes before making any kind of commitment.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also 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.

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