Pre-Practice Notes: Darlington

Anyone that followed my thought process and used Regan Smith as a substitute for Mark Martin last week at Talladega deserves to be upset. While technically earning more points than Martin; Smith went to the garage with a blown engine just four laps into the race. His 40th place DNF left owner’s that gambled on the #78 cursing the RCR engine program.

Paul Menard’s RCR engine was running on all cylinders. He led a few laps and was poised to finish strong until ‘The Big One’ on Lap 185 destroyed my fantasy dreams by taking him out of Top 10 contention. All in all a 17th place finish for the seldom used, middle tier fantasy racer was acceptable by Talladega standards.

Kevin Harvick (25th place) and Carl Edwards (31st) were also ill advised picks. In Pre-Practice Notes: Talladega I mentioned Keselowski (Winner!), Kyle Busch (2nd), Kenseth (3rd), but used none of them.

We are racing at Darlington on Saturday night. Statistically speaking the last four races there have been dominated by Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin. Their average finishes are 6.0 and 6.8 respectively. The next highest is Jamie McMurray at 11. Brad Keselowski (Avg. finish of 7.3 in 3 races) is one of my favorites coming off his win at Talladega.

Mark Martin is racing in the #55 again this week. Remember when he gambled on fuel and won the 2009 version of this race? Alan Gustafson was his crew chief back then. Late race pit strategy is exactly what the DuPont Chevrolet needs to get back on track. The biggest issue for them in 2012 has been getting to the end of the race. As a fan I am hoping, but not betting, that Gustafson can help get the 24 team to victory lane once again at Darlington. Jeff Gordon has 7 wins in 31 races at the 1.37 mile raceway. Salary cap owners should target Gordon as a decent buy low opportunity.

It is important to note that NASCAR has scheduled the only two practice sessions along with qualifying on Friday. As a result Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing owners won’t have the benefit of using practice speeds to bolster their rosters before the Friday 2AM deadline. They should rely heavily on historical data to support their picks at Darlington. Team owners must play it safe on weeks with this type of event schedule and only use Yahoo C Drivers locked into the Top 35 in Owner’s points. Every point counts so be sure to carry two drivers that are in on points and then use Friday’s practice speeds and qualifying results to select the best option for Saturday night. Both Danica Patrick (10) and David Reutimann (93) are guaranteed to race this week. Consider them low end fantasy options.

My Pre-Practice Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing Team for Darlington:

A: Brad Keselowski 2 – Two Top 10 finishes in 3 attempts. 3rd place in last year’s race. Last week’s winner and overall nice guy. Follow him on Twitter @keselowski

A: Denny Hamlin 11 – Five Top 10 finishes in 6 races including the win in 2010.

B: Greg Biffle 16 – Current Points Leader. 5 top Top 10’s including 2 wins in 11 races and only 1 DNF.

B: Ryan Newman 39 – Seven Top 5’s in 13 races. He led 28 laps last year and finished 5th.

B: Kasey Kahne 5 – Last year’s pole winner and he led the most laps. Four Darlington Poles in nine races.

B: Mark Martin 55 – The two time Darlington winner has 26 Top 10‘s and only 3 DNF’s in 45 career races.

C: Bobby Labonte 47 – Eleven Top 10’s in 31 races. Can’t beat experience and patience on this difficult track.

C: David Reutimann 93 – Finished 16th last year. Average of 18.8 over four races.

Darlington Race Stats

I will update my rosters on Saturday (early) after this week’s qualifying results. Remember “If you ain’t first, you’re last”.

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