The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels to Darlington, South Carolina this week for the Bojangles’ Southern 500. The race can be seen Sunday night at 6:30pm ET on NBC.
Before I get to the picks for this week I would like to send my prayers out to the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. Although NASCAR will go on this week, the NASCAR community is stilling thinking about the people affected by this disaster. Take care and be safe!
I am still working my way towards the top 99% for the 6th straight year. I think I will get there but I need some good breaks on the way. My team scored 299 points at Bristol and now my Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing picks are beating 98% of the entries (6,877 points).
The Southern 500 is one of my favorite races of the season. I love seeing the throwback paint schemes. “The Lady in Black” or “The Track Too Tough To Tame” is a real challenge for drivers and their crew chiefs because it is a unique 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track with different banking on both ends. Experience really matters this week so using drivers with a good track history is the best way to select your team.
This is a unique week for Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing. We will get to see two practices Friday before lineups lock early Saturday morning. Be sure to check the Fantasy Racing Tips website or my Fantasy Racing Tips Facebook Page for my updated picks Friday evening.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman participated in a Goodyear tire test at Darlington Raceway a month ago. I expect these four drivers to unload with a lot of speed Friday.
Here are my picks for the Bonjangles’ Southern 500 …
Yahoo Group A Picks
There are many good picks in Group A this week. Experience matters at this track and the drivers from this group have it.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have the best stats in the last two races at the Track Too Tough To Tame. Harvick has a series-best driver rating, series-best average finishing position and led the most in the last two races. Keselowski has led 243 laps in the last two races and finished both in the top 10. These two drivers should finish in the top 10 but their Fords need more speed to keep up with the Toyotas.
Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are to Toyota drivers with consideration this week. Both drivers know how to tame The Lady in Black. I would not be surprised if either driver won the race.
Here are my allocations left with the drivers in Group A: Kyle Busch (3), Martin Truex Jr. (3), Brad Keselowski (4), Kevin Harvick (6), Joey Logano (6), Denny Hamlin (8), Jimmie Johnson (9), Matt Kenseth (9), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (9)
Denny Hamlin (8)
Hamlin has been very good at Darlington in his career. He has a series-best average running position and a series-best average finishing position at The Lady in Black. Hamlin qualified 6th, led 57 laps and finished 3rd in this race last year. The Toyotas are running better in 2017 than they were at this time last year. Hamlin won this race in 2010 and he is my pick to go to Victory Lane Sunday night.
Martin Truex Jr. (3)
Truex Jr. has been the driver to beat this year and he is the defending champion of the Southern 500. Las Vegas odds has Truex as the co-favorite to win this race at 7/2 (Kyle Busch also has 7/2 odds). Truex only led 28 laps on his way to Victory Lane last year. He won the race because of his excellent pit crew and the changes crew chief Cole Pearn made to the car throughout the race. Truex should easily finish in the top five Sunday night. I am really hoping to use Hamlin in the race but it is not a bad idea to have Truex on your team as an insurance policy Sunday night.
Other good choices: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth
Yahoo Group B Picks
Kyle Larson is the best choice in Group B this week. He is the best driver at running the top of the track. I am down to two allocations left with Larson so I have to leave him off my team. I thought about using the No. 42 car for qualifying points this week but I think it is important to select four veteran drivers and hope two of them look fast in practice. If I had 3 or more starts with Larson I would select him for my team over Clint Bowyer.
Experience matters at Darlington. I am selecting 3 drivers who know how to get around this track. Chase Elliott is the only young driver I plan on using this week because he proved last year he can run well at The Track Too Tough to Tame.
The only other two drivers I would consider are Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch. Kahne is not the best driver at Darlington but he has the experience to finish in the top 10. Kahne qualified 18th and finished 7th in this race last year. He has also led laps in 6 of the last 9 races at the track. Busch has good stats at the track but he is hard to trust this year. I will save these drivers for other tracks.
Here are the allocations I have left in Group B: Jamie McMurray (1), Ryan Blaney (1), Kyle Larson (2), Chase Elliott (4), Kurt Busch (4), Clint Bowyer (5), , Austin Dillon (6), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6), Ryan Newman (7), AJ Allmendinger (7), Kasey Kahne (8) and all the rest 9.
Chase Elliott (4)
Elliott had a horrible race his rookie season at Darlington. He qualified 22nd and finished 41st (accident). Elliott proved he can learn from his mistakes because he bounced back with a 10th-place finish at The Lady in Black last year. Hendrick Motorsports usually runs well at this track and the team needs to get Elliott into the playoffs. I expect Elliott to have the best car from HMS this Sunday night.
Clint Bowyer (5)
Bowyer does not have the best stats at Darlington but he has a much stronger team this season than what he had in previous races at The Track Too Tough To Tame. Bowyer is on the outside off the playoffs and needs a win to secure a spot to compete for the championship. Since Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch already have their playoff spots locked up, I expect Stewart-Haas Racing to give Bowyer the best car they have this week. Bowyer is one of the drivers I will be watching closely in practice Friday. Stay tuned to see if he makes the final cut.
Ryan Newman (7)
Newman is one of the drivers who participated in the tire test at Darlington last month. That should help out the No. 31 team this week. Newman is a perfect fit for Darlington. The track is a tough and Newman is a tough old school driver. He was leading this race last year with only 29 laps to go. Newman is still looking for his first win at The Lady in Black, but he has an average finishing position of 11.94 in his 18 races at the track. Newman may not qualify up front Saturday but he should make his way to the top 10 at the end of the race Sunday night.
Jamie McMurray (1)
McMurray desperately needs a win Sunday night to secure his spot in the playoffs. McMurray is 16th in the point standings and he would be knocked out of the playoffs if a driver behind him in the standings won the race this week. McMurray is a big race driver. He has won the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 500 in his career. He only needs a win in the Southern 500 to have wins in all of the major races in NASCAR. I do not want to use my last allocation with McMurray this early in the season but if he looks good in practice I will not be afraid to pull the trigger.
Other good choices: Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch
Yahoo Group C Picks
Erik Jones has really caught fire in the last month. He has four consecutive finishes in the top 10, including a 2nd place finish at Bristol where he led 260 laps. Jones is the best choice in Group C but I cannot use my last allocation with him at a track that is tough on rookies. I would use him if I had 3 or more allocations left, but since I only have 1 he does not make the cut.
My philosophy for Darlington is to stay away from rookies. The problem is that there are no other options this week. Usually Michael McDowell, David Ragan or Landon Cassill are suitable replacements, but they stink at this track. I will take my chance with two rookies and see what happens.
Here are the allocations I have left in Group C: Erik Jones (1), Daniel Suarez (2), Ty Dillon (5), Michael McDowell (5), David Ragan (8) and the rest with 9 allocations.
Daniel Suarez (2)
Suarez has never competed in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington. If any of the rookies are able to figure this track out, Suarez is the driver to do so. He is an old school type of driver and he had success at the track in the Xfinity Series. Suarez competed in two Xfinity Series races at Darlington and finished both of them in 3rd place. I am hoping to use Ty Dillon in the race but it is a good idea to have Suarez as an insurance place Sunday night.
Ty Dillon (5)
Dillon really needs to step it up. I was planning on using my 9 allocations with him this season but he continues to struggle in qualifying. Hopefully this is the week he qualifies in the top 20 and finishes in the top 15. Dillon has never competed in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington but he has four races at the track on his Xfinity Series resume. His average starting position is 10th and his average finishing position is 12th. I will surely take a top-15 finish from the No. 13 car this week.
Other Good Choices: Erik Jones
I will post my final picks for Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing Saturday after qualifying.
If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR
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