Fantasy NASCAR Picks for the Southern 500 at Darlington

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IMay 8, 2012

Fantasy NASCAR Picks for the Southern 500 at Darlington

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    Last week, fantasy NASCAR players had to close their eyes, select four drivers and hope none of their selections were caught up in a wreck at Talladega. Now that the most unpredictable race of the season is behind us, fantasy NASCAR players can get back to moving up in the standings.

    The race at Talladega was not too bad for my team.

    I started Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip in the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game.

    The lineup was good enough for 280 points (2,922 total points for the season) and kept my team in the top 99 percent of Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing players (Ranked No. 541 overall out of 205,000).

    This week, it is back to Saturday night racing at the “Track Too Tough to Tame” Darlington.

    The most important thing to know for fantasy NASCAR players in the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game is that your team must be selected by early Friday morning. Unfortunately, fantasy NASCAR players will not have an opportunity to watch any practice sessions before their team must be selected.

    Don’t worry, I have you covered!

    Here are my picks for the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game….

Yahoo Group A Drivers

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    When you look at the drivers in Group A’s career statistics at Darlington, one driver stands out, Jeff Gordon.

    Gordon has finished in the top five at Darlington in seven of his last eight races there.

    Gordon has a series-best average running position of 6.6, series-best average green flag speed of 159.669 mph, series-high 2,420 laps in the top 15 (94.0 percent) and 172 fastest laps run, the second-most.

    I wanted to go with Gordon so bad this week, but I just do not trust him. Even when Gordon has had one of the best cars in the field, he has found a way to finish in the middle of the pack.

    There are many good picks for Group A.

    Brad Keselowski has the second best statistics of any driver in the field, but both of his top-10 finishes occurred when he was able to go further on a tank of fuel than the other drivers. If the race comes down to fuel millage, Keselowski could win the race.

    I will provide my picks in this article, but do not forget to head over to my Fantasy NASCAR Tips page on Facebook for all of the updated information. I will have my final selections for my team on Saturday morning.

    Here are my selections for the Yahoo Group A:

    Denny Hamlin

    When people think of Denny Hamlin, most people think of him dominating races at Richmond or Martinsville. Hamlin’s best racetrack is actually Darlington.

    Hamlin has raced at Darlington in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series six times. He has five top-10 finishes, two top-five finishes, one win and led 294 laps.

    Hamlin has an average green flag speed of 159.407 mph, which is second fastest. His career average finish at Darlington is 6.5 which is second-best.

    Hamlin has finished half of the races in the top 10 this year. He will be one of the drivers competing for the victory on Saturday night.

    Kyle Busch

    When Kyle Busch gets on one of his hot streaks, the best advice is to jump on before he cools off. I am not going to be the guy that says, “Wow, Kyle Busch has five top-fives in a row. I should have started him.”

    Busch has finished the last two races in the top two and the last three in the top 10. Although Darlington is not one of his best racetracks, he has had success there when he came into the race on a hot streak.

    Busch has raced at Darlington seven times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He has three top-10 finishes, one top-five finish and has led 279 laps. Busch has 160 fastest laps run in the race, which is fourth-best. His 2,056 laps in the top 15 (79.8 percent) is the third-most.

    Climb on the Busch bandwagon now, because the ride may not last long.

    Other good picks: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick

Yahoo Group B Drivers

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    Sometimes in Group B there are only four or five drivers worth selecting from. This week, I think there are a number of drivers who could have success.

    Jamie McMurray and Regan Smith have both had success at Darlington. While the statistics for these two drivers may say, “Pick me,” you will not find either of them on my team.

    McMurray has been in a long slump and he just does not seem to be the driver he used to be.

    Smith won the Southern 500 last year, but he did not dominate the race by any means.

    He won as a result of fuel millage. He has raced at Darlington in the Sprint Cup Series four times in his career and his victory last year is his only finish inside the top 15 at the racetrack.

    Here are my selections for Yahoo Group B:

    Ryan Newman

    Ryan Newman is the best pick in Group B.

    The problem I have is that I have already used Newman four times this year. I have not decided if I will start Newman this week, but he usually qualifies near the front and the 10 bonus points for winning the pole will surely help my team.

    Newman has 13 career starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington. He has nine top-10 finishes, seven top-five finishes, led 325 laps and has one pole. Newman’s 2,073 laps in the top 15 (80.5 percent) are the second-most.

    Newman will finish near the top five on Saturday night.

    Kasey Kahne

    After a horrible start to the 2012 season, Kasey Kahne is starting to heat up. Kahne has a streak of four top-10 finishes and a streak of two top-five finishes going. Kahne has had success at Darlington as well.

    Kahne has raced at Darlington nine times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Kahne has three top-five finishes, won four poles and has led 295 laps. His 165 fastest laps run are the third-most.

    Kahne will start up front on Saturday and will be battling for a top-10 finish.

    Martin Truex Jr.

    Martin Truex Jr. has cooled down after his hot start to the 2012 season. Truex has finished outside the top 25 in the last two races. I am looking for Truex to bounce back at Darlington.

    Truex has raced six times at Darlington in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Truex only has two top-10 finishes at Darlington, but both came in his last three starts at the racetrack. Truex has never finished outside the top 20 at Darlington.

    Truex will make his return to the top 10 this week in the race on Saturday night.

    Greg Biffle

    Like Newman, I would hate to use another start with Greg Biffle. I have used Biffle four times this year and it is the main reason I am rated in the top-550 overall players in Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing.

    You never know what is going to happen later in the year, so I will use Biffle while he is hot.

    Biffle has raced at Darlington 11 times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. He has five top-10 finishes, two top-five finishes, won two races, one pole and led 639 laps. Biffle has a series-high 254 fastest last run. His green-flag speed of 159.342 is fourth-best.

    Biffle will be one of the drivers competing for a win on Saturday night.

    Other good picks: Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer

Yahoo Group C Drivers

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    Group C is thin again this week. Danica Patrick will make her return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but I would stay as far away from her as possible. Drivers making their first career start at Darlington usually do not fare well in the race.

    Here are my selections for Group C:

    Bobby Labonte

    Experience matters as much as anything at Darlington and that is why I am selecting Bobby Labonte.

    Labonte has started 31 races in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career at Darlington. Labonte has 11 top-10 finishes, five top-five finishes, one win, one pole and led 131 laps. While the statistics are not great, he is the best choice in Group C.

    In three of his last four races at Darlington, Labonte has finished the race in the No. 18 position. If he is able to finish No. 18 in Saturday’s race, I will be a happy fantasy NASCAR player.

    Aric Almirola

    Aric Almirola will be on my team for qualifying purposes only. I do not plan to waste a start with Almirola this week at a racetrack he has never raced on.

    The best driver in the field on Sunday will be Denny Hamlin. Hamlin’s success at Darlington came with Mike Ford as his Crew Chief. Ford is now the Crew Chief for Almirola.

    I am hoping that Ford can put a setup in the career that will allow Almirola to qualify up front.

    Other good picks: Pick the rest at your own risk.

Darlington Facts

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    Last Sprint Cup race: May 7, 2011 won by Regan Smith

    Won from the pole: 19 times, last by Dale Jarrett in 19977

    Won from top-five starting position: 68 times (63 percent)

    Won from top-10 starting position: 93 times (86 percent)

    Won from 21st or worse starting position: six times (6 percent)

    Wins by active manufactures in last 10 years: Chevy (6), Ford (2), Toyota (2), Dodge (0)

    Best average finish and driver rating by active driver in last two races at Darlington

    Denny Hamlin 3.5 average

    119.6 driver rating

    Jamie McMurray 5.5 average

    107.6 driver rating

    Ryan Newman 7.0 average

    99.0 driver rating

    Brad Keselowski 7.5 average

    88.1 driver rating

    Jeff Gordon 8.0 average

    120.7 driver rating

    Carl Edwards 8.5 average

    93.6 driver rating

    Kyle Busch 9.0 average

    108.1 driver rating

    Regan Smith 9.0 average

    83.7 driver rating

    Kevin Harvick 11.5 average

    103.0 driver rating

    Kasey Kahne 12.0 average

    109.6 driver rating

    Juan Pablo Montoya 14.0 average

    82.4 driver rating

    Martin Truex Jr. 14.5 average

    81.1 driver rating

    Tony Stewart 15.0 average

    89.1 driver rating

    Greg Biffle 15.0 average

    76.5 driver rating

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. 16.0 average

    86.1 driver rating

    *Driver ratings include: Finish, average running position, average speed and number of fastest laps

    Stats courtesy of NASCAR Media Department.

    My Fantasy Live team this week is: Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte.

    Good luck this week!

    If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @HuskerMagic.

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    Chad’s Fantasy NASCAR Picks