May 08, 2009

After a weekend at one of the raciest tracks on the schedule, this weekend is all about the ladies. Sunday of course is Mother's Day, but before everyone makes those last minute stops at Hallmark and heads out to brunch with dear old Mom; Saturday night is all about the lady in black -- Darlington Raceway. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Darlington is the second oldest track in NASCAR and she has been giving drivers and fantasy owners all that they can handle every step of the way.

Now that we are 10 races into the season, you're probably seeing certain trends in your fantasy leagues. Certain players may be distancing themselves at the front, while some seemed doomed to circle the track on seven cylinders. But there are 26 races left; it's way too early to throw in the towel just yet. So with that, let's take a look at which drivers are the favorites, sleepers and longshots that will help you try to beat the track that is "Too Tough to Tame".

Denny Hamlin: Over the past five races, Hamlin has been knocking on the door to victory lane but has come up short in his bid to score his first win of the season. Currently fourth in the standings, Hamlin has led 472 laps in the last five races and at Darlington has a great chance of adding to that total. In his three appearances at Darlington, Hamlin hasn't let the lady in black get the best of him; posting top 10 finishes each time out. If you're looking for a combination of momentum and strong track history, you can't go wrong with Hamlin this week.

By the numbers: Hamlin has completed every lap at Darlington in the last three years and has led in two races for a combined 194 laps.

Stewart Haas Racing: Hendrick, Roush, RCR? Are any of those top notch organizations the hottest thing in NASCAR right now? Nope, the answer is Stewart Haas Racing. Over the last five races, drivers Tony Stewart (6.8) and Ryan Newman (8.8) have the best average finishes of any drivers on the circuit. When the season started, many thought a victory was probable for either driver this year, most likely Stewart, but looking at their performances as of late -- it's not a matter of if, but when for both drivers. And what a coup for this new team if that first win could come in one of the most prestigious races, the Southern 500.

By the numbers: Both drivers are winless at Darlington in their careers, but have had their share of success. Stewart has an average finish of 13.2 in the last five Darlington races with two top 10s. While Newman carries an average of 17.2 and three top 10s in that same span.

Jeff Burton: It's been an up and down year for Burton, but two-time Darlington winner is on an upswing heading into this weekend's race. With five straight top 15 finishes, including three top 10s, Burton is carrying the banner for RCR in the standings; sitting seventh after ten races. Known as one of the more levelheaded drivers in the series, Burton puts those skills to good use as he races the racetrack and not the competition at Darlington. In 26 career starts at Darlington, he has finished in the top 10 15 times and has an average finish of 11.5. He might not be a flashy pick, but he is a solid workhorse that can get the job done for your team Saturday night.

By the numbers: Burton has raced at Darlington since 1994, failing to finish just once and leading 786 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Talk about a roller coaster, the news and views on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s season often change lap by lap. One minute he looks like the superstar he is and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. looks like a genius; but often in the blink of an eye something happens and people are throwing them under the bus. This weekend, I look for Junior to stay ahead of the bus and bring home a good finish Saturday night. With four straight top 10 finishes at Darlington, he is clearly a solid pick. But a closer look at those finishes really shows that he is a solid choice. Other than last year's start on the outside of the front row, Junior has come from 39th, 22nd and 21st in recent years to earn those top 10s. In a season when nothing has come easy for this team, another gritty performance at Darlington could be just what the doctor ordered.

By the numbers: Earnhardt Jr. has finished in the top 10 in 50% of his 14 Darlington starts and with just one DNF has an average finish of 14.2.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch: These two drivers aren't longshots as far as being drivers who usually don't perform well that might get lucky this week. These two are more all or nothing type picks that could prove to be the ultimate gamble if you use them this weekend. Both have strong Darlington stats, Edwards has four top 10s in five starts and Busch is the defending race winner. But both have downsides this weekend. Edwards has struggled lately, posting an average finish of 19.2 in the last five races. While Busch is coming off a win at Richmond, he hadn't finished higher than 17th in the prior four weeks. So if you're in a position to take a risk, then take a look at either driver. But if you need to play it safe, there will be plenty of other opportunities to use either one of these drivers in the weeks to come when their outcome may be less in doubt.

By the numbers: Edwards has an average finish of 12.4 at Darlington, his only finish outside the top 10 coming after an engine failure in 2006. In four races at Darlington, Busch has two top 5 finishes, paired with finishes of 23rd and 37th.

Up next week: The stars come out to play for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race then comes the longest race of the year, the Coca Cola 600.

You May Like