May 07, 2010

We're right in the middle of, arguably, the best stretch of races on the Cup Series schedule with visits to Phoenix, Richmond and Talladega in the recent rear-view, and trips to Dover and Charlotte -- not to mention the All-Star Race -- all to come in the next couple weeks. First up, under the lights this Saturday night, it's "The Track Too Tough to Tame," an epic nickname for any race track.

Darlington Raceway is very much a one-of-a-kind track. At 1.366 miles long, its unique egg shape was necessitated by the proximity of a minnow pond owned by a local farmer who refused to sell to track developer Harold Brasington back in the day. The track first appeared on the Sprint Cup slate in 1950 and has hosted 106 Cup races to date. Despite losing a second race, it still holds a special place in the hearts of the majority of fans, as Kurt Smith attests. So without further ado, let's take a look at who you should activate this week in the wide and wacky world of Fantasy NASCAR.


Jimmie Johnson:

It's been a whole five races since Johnson won -- a drought, by his standards, of hefty proportions. But seriously, with an average finish of 6.9 and nine top 10's in 11 races, Johnson is a good bet to make it four wins this season. J.J. may have lost the overall points lead (only by a measly ten markers) last weekend, but rest assured, the No. 48 team is primed and ready to make a sustained "drive for five." It's never really a "bad" week to activate Johnson, so if you're looking for a big points haul the back-to-back-to-back-to-back champion is a good place to start.

By the Numbers: Darlington is Johnson's fourth-best track, statistically speaking, behind Phoenix (average finish of 4.9), Martinsville (average 5.4) and Fontana (average 5.5).

Jeff Gordon:

What exactly does the original "Four-Time" have to do to win a race this season? In any other campaign, Gordon might have picked up four wins already (Vegas, Martinsville, Phoenix and last weekend at Richmond), but he seems curiously unable to close the deal. Given his 82 career wins, it's more than fair to say he knows how to get it done, so maybe Darlington will be the race he finally gets it done. Regardless of his failure to win a race this year, it's clear that Gordon has a car to contend week-in, week-out and that was something that wasn't always the case in 2009. He might have lost some battles so far this year but the war is far from over. So don't be surprised if Gordon notches that elusive victory on Saturday night.

By the Numbers: Gordon has won seven times at Darlington and Martinsville -- his highest win total at any track.

Kyle Busch:

Last weekend's victory at Richmond was a crucial win for Busch and new crew chief Dave Rogers. Whether or not all this talk of a "new" Busch is true remains to be seen, but there can be little doubt that maiden victory for the new head wrench has gone a long way to enhancing team chemistry. Busch dominated this race in 2008, leading 169 laps on the way to the win, and while he finished 34th last year, this is a venue at which Busch will likely always be dangerous. Two-for-two is not out of the question by any shred of the imagination.

By the Numbers: Busch has recorded five top-10 finishes in 10 races this season.


Jeff Burton:

The partisan Virginia crowd made their feelings clear last weekend when Burton took the lead late in the race, roaring on the man from South Boston, Va. He couldn't make it stand up as Kyle Busch went on to take the checkers, but given how this team -- and indeed the entire RCR organization -- ran in 2009, the improvement this year has been marked. Burton swept both Darlington races back in 1999 and has 15 top ten efforts in 27 attempts, so don't hesitate to activate the future Senator this week. He likely won't let you down.

By the Numbers: Darlington is Burton's third-best track with an average finish of 11.5.

Kevin Harvick:

Harvick was quick to dismiss the significance of retaking the points lead with his third place finish at Richmond. "To have the points lead is nice, and it shows everyone that RCR is ready to contend for the title," he said. "But we can't sit back on our hands, we have to keep pushing forward, and I know that we are doing that." While his past numbers at "The Lady in Black" might not suggest Harvick will run well this weekend, the body of evidence this year would convey otherwise. As has been the case for much of the year, activate Harvick and don't think twice about it.

By the Numbers: Harvick has an average finish of 9.0 in the 10 races so far.

Martin Truex, Jr.:

Three top 10s in the last five races have vaulted Truex, Jr. back into Chase contention after a relatively slow start to the season in his new Michael Waltrip Racing ride. It's been 105 races since Truex recorded his only career victory to date, but he led 61 laps in this race last year -- on the way to a sixth-place finish -- so it's not out of the question he won't record a victory in the NAPA Camry this Saturday night.

By the Numbers: Statistically speaking, Darlington is Truex's best track with an average finish of 11.0.

Who'll win?

Jeff Gordon: It has to come at a point, just by sheer law of averages, that Gordon just has to break through. So I'm predicting that Gordon will make it eight career wins at Darlington and finally get his first win of 2010.

Up Next: It's the first trip of the year to Dover and The Monster Mile.


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