Fantasy NASCAR: Denny Hamlin Is The Gold Standard At Darlington

By: Daniel Dobish

The Sprint Cup Series circuit heads to Darlington Speedway in South Carolina, a.k.a. the Lady in Black, the Track Too Tough to Tame, etc. The drivers either love it or hate it, and the fans absolutely adore the old girl.

If you have never had the fortune to travel to this gem in the northeastern corner of the Palmetto State, do yourself a favor. The tailgating is unbelievable, and ranks up there with Charlotte and Martinsville in my travels among the best. The fans really do it right, especially for a Saturday night race, and everyone is passionate about their driver, even more so than other tracks. This is THE only professional sports event in the state of South Carolina during the year, and the residents make sure to do it right while their state is in the spotlight.

Will this finally be the year Tony Stewart wins in his first Southern 500? He has made 22 career starts at the track, but has never come away with checkers. It is one of just two active tracks where he has no wins, with Kentucky (three career starts) being the other.

*Leads all Active Drivers
DR = Driver Rating (past five races at Darlington)
ARP = Average Running Position (past five races at Darlington)

THE TOP 10

 

Danny Hamlin1. Denny Hamlin: It’s hard to ignore Hamlin’s eye-popping numbers, albeit in a rather small sample size. He has made eight career starts at Darlington, winning once and finishing in the Top 5 four times. And he has been inside the Top 10 a whopping seven times, with his lowest finish at 13th-place showing. For whatever reason, perhaps due to his patience and diligence, he has done extremely well at a place which has been extremely difficult. Hamlin’s even keel serves him very well, and he is sure to lead plenty of laps Saturday night, perhaps even the last one, which matters the most.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

106.8

9.4

8

1

4

7

0

5.4*

354

 

2. Jimmie Johnson: As per usual, Johnson has mastered Darlington over the years. He has notched three victories at the South Carolina run, and he has been out front for 543 laps during his 15 career starts. While his Average Finish Position isn’t as mind-boggling as Hamlin’s, Johnson has nearly double the starts and a much bigger sample size. Plus, if you toss out his only DNF in 2010 at the track, his numbers are even more stellar. In Fantasy Racing, you can never go wrong with Johnson. That’s a given.  On this week, if you have to choose one top-tier driver, Hamlin gets the slight edge, but not by much.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

100.6

13.2

15

3

11

13

0

8.8

543

 

3. Kyle Busch: While Busch has certainly calmed down over the years, he didn’t seem to have the temperament to do well at this place. Often times, those who tend to get hot under the collar end up in the garage area before the night is done. Lately, though, Busch has certainly matured, and he is becoming a force to be reckoned with even on the track with close quarters such as Darlington. And we all know he runs Bristol, another place which takes plenty of patience.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

112.0*

7.2*

9

1

2

5

0

14.4

588

 

4. Jeff Gordon: It has been a while since Gordon has been on top at Darlington, but he leads all drivers with seven career checkered flags at the track. Gordon has run at this track so many times that he should not be overlooked. He has made 33 career starts, 12 more than the next closest active driver (Stewart – 21 starts). Experience certainly counts for something, as the Lady in Black chews up inexperienced drivers and spits them out. He might not win checkers, but he knows how to play it safe, keep his race car damage-free, and end up with a strong finish.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

109.2

9.8

33*

7*

19*

22*

3

11.6

1,736*

 

5. Kasey Kahne: Kahne, often the most overlooked member of the Hendrick Motorsports super team, has a pretty impressive history at Darlington. While he has yet to take a trip to Victory Lane, Kahne has come awfully close. And he has been among the best in Average Running Position over the past five years, bested only by Rowdy. Kahne has the patience necessary for staying power at Darlington. He doesn’t take a lot of silly risks, and the Washington native is very low-key on the track. That serves him well at Darlington. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the No. 5 win Saturday night.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

107.6

7.8

9

0

3

5

4*

14.2

328

 

6. Kevin Harvick: Harvick will certainly be champing at the bit to get back on the track after blowing an engine at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. Happy has never won at Darlington, but over his past five starts the light appears to have been turned on. He is among the best in Driver Rating and Average Running Position, and should not be discounted for Fantasy purposes. Yes, some owners might have a sour taste in their mouths after last weekend, but that’s in the past. Harvick has been good here, although he is certainly top of the second tier, and not as dominant as the Top 5 on this list.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

96.8

10.0

17

0

3

6

0

17.9

63

 

7. Tony Stewart: Stewart is slowly but surely making his way back to his old self. He started the season slowly following his broken leg last August in a sprint car wreck, but he made it back for Daytona on time. Still, his first few races he looked a bit tentative, and that’s not Smoke. Last weekend, he was on the pole, and he had a decent enough showing. While he has never won at Darlington, he is usually among those in contention in the final laps. Don’t let that big goose egg in the wins column scare you away.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

96.1

10.6

21

0

4

11

0

12.0

20

 

8. Greg Biffle: Biffle should be in contention at the end to challenge for a Top 5 position. Biffle has a pair of victories at the site, but he also has one DNF and just two Top 5s in 13 career starts. In other words, it has been hit-or-miss at Darlington for the No. 16. That tends to happen the deeper you go on the list. There aren’t many sure things in Sprint Cup, and there are even fewer sure things at Darlington.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

96.0

12.0

13

2

2

5

2

13.9

713

 

9. Ryan Newman: Newman is getting adjusted to a new team, and that is always difficult to start out a season. However, he has done a respectable job, and is now comfortable heading into Darlington. That’s good, because the track is one of his better runs, especially lately. He always seems to qualify well, posting an Average Starting Position of 8.8, which is second only to Kahne (8.0). While he has never won at the track, seven Top 5s and 10 Top 10s in 15 career starts is quite impressive and should not be disregarded.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

94.7

11.0

15

0

7

10

1

12.3

325

 

10. Martin Truex Jr.: If you’re looking for a deep, deep Fantasy sleeper, especially in tiered formats, MTJ is your man. First off, he is having a disastrous season to date, and the racing gods appear to still be punishing him for his Richmond incident last fall. But Truex Jr. has run extremely well at Darlington, and will be one to watch. While yes, he doesn’t have nearly the same type of machinery he has been used to in the past, he has the skill to maneuver his ride correctly and post a surprisingly strong finish. Don’t discount him. He has never finished outside the Top 20 in eight career starts.

DR

ARP

Starts

Wins

Top 5s

Top 10s

Poles

Avg. Finish

Laps Led

98.7

11.4

8

0

1

3

0

11.4

98

 

11. Joey Logano: Logano rides into Darlington with a ton of confidence after winning his first race of the season at Texas last weekend. He has struggled in five career starts at Darlington, failing to finish inside the Top 5 each time, and he has an Average Finish of just 20.6. However, he is running with renewed confidence, and looks to be a bona fide championship contender. If he can slay Darlington, and show much better results than in the past, he will be a Fantasy force going forward.

12. Carl Edwards: Edwards is still searching for his first career win at the Track Too Tough to Tame, but he has done well. In 10 career starts, he has three Top 5s and seven Top 10s. In fact, while he does have one DNF, and a 39th place showing, if you take those two stinkers out, he has been Top 5 in the other runs. Don’t be surprised if the patient Edwards is there at the end come Saturday night.

13. Brad Keselowski: The Blue Deuce hasn’t been awful at Darlington, but he hasn’t exactly been dominant either. In five career starts, he has managed just one Top 5 and an Average Finish of 13.8. Don’t be too concerned about averages, though, with such a small sample size. If he posts a Top 5 finish this weekend, which is certainly possible the way he has been running, his career numbers will suddenly be among the Top 8.

14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: In 19 career starts at Darlington, Little E has never picked up checkers. And he has just three Top 5 finishes, which is a stark contrast from his Hendrick teammates, including Kahne. Earnhardt hasn’t been terrible, as evidenced by his 15.0 Average Finish, and just one DNF. But he has led just 171 laps at Darlington, and he is not close to being a Top 10 Fantasy option.

15. Matt Kenseth: It might be surprising to some to see Kenseth so low on this list, but he has made 20 career starts at Darlington, and it seems he has yet to get a real feel for the old girl. He has managed just two Top 5 finishes, led a paltry 171 laps, and his Average Finish of 16.7 is very mediocre by Fantasy standards. Generally, his problems has started in qualifying, as he has an Average Start of just 20.9.

 

TOP 5 SLEEPERS

 

1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has just one race under his belt on the Cup Series, finishing in 18th place last season. He has plenty of experience from the Nationwide Series, though,and it will serve him well Saturday night.

2. Austin Dillon: Dillon has been the cream of the crop among rookies this season, and he will challenge for a Top 20 spot before the dust clears Saturday night. He is another young driver who will be pulling double duty, racing in the NNS race Friday.

3. Aric Almirola: Almirola has handled himself well in two career starts at Darlington, posting a 19th and 20th place finish. He has qualified well at Darlington, too.

4. David Reutimann: Reutimann is dirt-cheap in NASCAR.com Fantasy Live, and he is a C-list option on Yahoo.com for obvious reasons. He just hasn’t been very competitive. But he has seven career starts at Darlington, and three Top 20 finishes. He could finish middle of the pack, and more than pay for himself for Fantasy owners.

5. Travis Kvapil: Kvapil is another of those final roster spot fillers in the Fantasy games. He comes with a low salary, and you shouldn’t expect a ton from him. However, he has seven career starts, one Top 10 and a pair of Top 20s at Darlington. He finished as high as eighth place once, and if he can catch lightning in a bottle, Fantasy owners would be pleased as punch.

 

2014 NASCAR.com Fantasy Live Lineup for (Salary Cap)

DRIVER

SALARY

Kasey Kahne

$25.50

Greg Biffle

$23.50

Denny Hamlin

$23.50

Martin Truex Jr.

$21.75

David Reutimann

$ 5.50

TOTAL

$99.75

 

Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Picks (Tiered/Grouping Format)

A-LIST

Jeff Gordon

Jimmie Johnson

B-LIST

Denny Hamlin

Joey Logano

Ryan Newman

Tony Stewart

C-LIST

Austin Dillon

Kyle Larson

 

Fantasy NASCAR: Denny Hamlin Is The Gold Standard At Darlington by

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