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ADAM ANSELL’S TOP 25 FOR DARLINGTON

1.        Jimmie Johnson: Johnson led 16 laps in his fifth place performance at Talladega. In 14 starts at Darlington Raceway, Johnson has three wins (2004 sweep, 2012), seven Top 5s and 10 Top 10s with an Average Finish of 9.1. He led 134 laps in his May 2012 victory at the site. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Johnson ranks fourth in Driver Rating (105.7) and fifth in Average Running Position (10.7). He’s 41 points ahead of the field in the Cup standings and continues to dominate on a weekly basis. He’s easily the top start in all formats, though Fantasy owners light on Johnson starts in Tiered/Grouping formats could look elsewhere.

2.        Greg Biffle: Biffle posted his second consecutive 36th place finish last weekend at Talladega. In 12 starts at Darlington, Biffle has two wins (2005-06), five Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 14.0. He’s led at least 74 laps in three of his last five starts.  Biffle ranks second in DR (110.5) and third in ARP (9.8). He leads all drivers in Laps Led (632) and Fastest Laps Run (283). The good news is the 36th place finishes can be excused; Richmond is one of Biffle’s worst tracks and anyone can wreck at ‘Dega. Darlington is one of The Biff’s best tracks and I expect him to turn things around this weekend. He’s a must-start in Tiered/Grouping formats.

3.        Carl Edwards: Edwards started from the pole and finished third at Talladega, a site where he’s not typically great. In nine Darlington starts, Edwards has three Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 13.1. He led 57 laps in the May 2011 race in which he finished in second place. Edwards ranks ninth in DR (93.9) and 10th in ARP (12.8). He now has two Top 5s and three Top 10s in his last three Cup starts and sits second in the Cup standings. Edwards has returned to Fantasy’s elite and can be trusted in all formats.

4.        Matt Kenseth: Kenseth finished eighth at ‘Dega despite a season-high ARP of 2.5. In 19 starts at DR, Kenseth has one Top 5, eight Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 17.5. He’s led at least one lap in six of his last nine starts. Kenseth ranks 12th in DR (86.5) and 15th in ARP (15.6). Aside from some bad luck, Kenseth has arguably been the best driver on the track all season. He’s led at least 140 laps in each of his last three Cup starts, with a win, three Top 10s and two poles in that span. He’s a top option in all formats.

5.        Brad Keselowski: 15th-place finish at Talladega. In four starts at Darlington, Keselowski has one Top 5 and two Top 10s with an Average Finish of 9.3. Keselowski ranks 13th in DR (84.5) and 16th in ARP (16.3). Keselowski’s signature this season has been excellent in-race adjustments, but he will be without his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, for this race and the next (Charlotte). I expect Keselowski to step it up and put the team on his shoulders during Wolfe’s suspension, so Fantasy owners should feel safe deploying the Blue Deuce as usual.

6.        Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior finished 17th at Talladega, running just over half (51.6%) of his Laps in the Top 15. In 18 DR starts, Earnhardt Jr. has three Top 5s and seven Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.3. He led one lap in the 2012 race. Earnhardt Jr. ranks 10 in DR (90.4) and ninth in ARP (12.6). He’s led laps in just two events this season and has just one Top 10 in his last five starts. While the laps led isn’t a concern, the lack of Top 10s are, but I expect him to get back on track this weekend.

7.        Jeff Gordon: Gordon finished 11th at ‘Dega. In 32 Darlington appearances, Gordon has seven wins (1995, 1996 sweep, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2007), 18 Top 5s, 21 Top 10s and three poles with an Average Finish of 11.8. He’s led at least five laps in seven of his last nine starts. Gordon leads all competitors in DR (111.8), ARP (8.3), Laps in the Top 15 (2,615) and Average Green Flag Speed (160.041 mph). While he’s been less than stellar, he does have three straight Top 15s. Darlington is one of his best tracks, and considering a lot of Fantasy owners have given up on Gordon, there is some value to be mined there in all formats.

8.        Kasey Kahne: Kahne’s 2013 woes at restrictor-plate tracks continued with a disastrous 42nd place finish at Talladega. In 10 DR starts, Kahne has three Top 5s, four Top 10s and four poles with an Average Finish of 13.9. He’s led at least 33 laps in three of his last four starts. Kahne ranks sixth in DR (98.3) and seventh in ARP (11.1). He’s finished fourth (2011) and eighth (2012) in his last two Darlington appearances and will come at a solid value across the board this week.

9.        Kyle Busch: Busch’s streak of lousy racing continued to three, as he was caught in “The Big One” at Talladega, finishing in 37th place. In eight starts at Darlington, Busch has one win (2006), two Top 5s and four Top 10s with an Average Finish of 15.5. He’s led at least two laps in each of his last five starts, including 169 in his 2006 win. Busch ranks fifth in DR (102.3) and fourth in ARP (10.0). The streakiness makes Busch very difficult to predict so I’m classifying him as the high risk/high reward option of the week. Fantasy owners looking to save his starts in Tiered/Grouping formats should take a pass until this cold-streak ends.

10.      Ryan Newman: with two laps led at Talladega. In 14 starts at DR, Newman has seven Top 5s, nine Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 12.4. He’s led at least 28 laps in two of his last four starts. Newman ranks seventh in DR (97.6) and sixth in ARP (11.0). Prior to last weekend, Newman posted three straight Top 15s. Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled on the whole this season, but Newman is by far the safest option from that flock this weekend.

11.      Denny Hamlin: One win (2010), three Top 5s and six Top 10s with an Average Finish of 5.9 in seven DR starts. 109.5 DR.

12.      Mark Martin: Two wins (1993, 2009), 17 Top 5s, 26 Top 10s and two poles with an Average Finish of 12.4 in 46 starts at Darlington. 83.7 DR.

13.      Martin Truex Jr.: One Top 5 and three Top 10s with an Average Finish of 11.3 in seven Darlington stats. 95.2 DR.

14.      Kurt Busch: Two Top 5s, five Top 10s and one pole with an Average Finish of 17.4 in 16 starts at Darlington. 79.8 DR.

15.      Kevin Harvick: Two Top 5s and five Top 10s with an Average Finish of 18.8 in 16 starts at the site. 84.4 DR.

16.      Clint Bowyer: 75.4 DR.

17.      Joey Logano: 78.2.

18.      Tony Stewart: 90.0.

19.      Paul Menard: 57.3.

20.      Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: DR N/A.

22.      Jamie McMurray

23.      Jeff Burton

24.      Marcos Ambrose

25.      Juan Pablo Montoya

Value Village

1.  Regan Smith: Led 11 laps in his 2011 victory at Darlington and is coming off a sixth-place performance at Talladega. Must-start across the board.

2.  David Ragan: Has led at least one lap in 5 of 10, 2013 starts.

3.  Casey Mears: Led one lap in the 2011 Darlington event.

2013 NASCAR.com Fantasy Live Lineup for Darlington (Salary Cap)

Jimmie Johnson $27.75

Greg Biffle $27.00

Ryan Newman $22.50

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $13.25

Regan Smith $ 9.50

Total: $100.00

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