If you were to ask a NASCAR driver which race he would most like to win, there are three events that consistently come up as answers: the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Southern 500. These races have always been considered "crown jewels" of the sport; tracks at which only champions and legends win at. Just take a look at the list of all-time winners here - a driver has won his first NASCAR race at this 1.366-mile oval just 3 times in 108 races. Each of these circuits has their own challenges, such as the drafting at Daytona or the narrow racing lane at Indy. But out of these three, Darlington Raceway has always been known as the track "Too Tough To Tame".
Located in the small town of Darlington, South Carolina, the raceway is famous for it's uneven turns, as you can see in the picture to the right. In fact, the track is known as the "Lady in Black" for all the marks that cars leave when hitting the turn 3 & 4 walls. As I said before, this is a 1.366-mile egg shaped oval. Banking is different in all four turns, which just adds to the complexity of the speedway. Turns 1 & 2, which provide lots of side-by-side racing, are 25 degrees steep, and are nearly 80 feet wide. Turns 3 & 4 are much more harsh at 23 degrees steep but over 20 feet narrower. Both the front and back straightaways are 1,229 feet long, with the front and back straights being 3 and 2 degrees, respectively. Although the pace car travels at 50mph, the pit road speed limit is 45mph.
So how did Darlington get it's strange form? Back in the late 1940s, Harold Brasington decided he wanted to build a 1.5-mile oval; what would then be called a "superspeedway" track. Other than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, no other racing facility in America came close to that size. When it came to deciding the location of the new track, Brasington chose the small town of Darlington in South Carolina; figuring it was centrally located and would attract large crowds. Brasington's plan called for a true oval, but the racetrack's design had to be changed in order to satisfy Sherman Ramsey, the landowner, who did not want his nearby minnow pond disturbed. The Turns 3 and 4 were narrowed to accommodate the fishing hole, creating Darlington's distinctive egg-shaped design. Another interesting fact is that the minnow pond is still there today. Because of the awkward shape of the track, the facility became well-known for how drivers would often slap the wall coming into and out of Turns 3 & 4. This became known as the "Darlington Stripe", referring to the stripes of torn-away paint that were left on the right side of the cars. Ever since, drivers have worn their "Darlington Stripe" as a badge of honor.
While drivers may have trouble figuring out this "Lady", the Fantasy owners can rest assured. There are many good picks this week, and unless something unfortunate happens, you can count on them to get you lots of points. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are two drivers that you really should have on most of your teams this week. They will be a wonderful combination, especially as both of your A drivers for Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing. When most people think of Denny Hamlin, they assume Martinsville, Richmond, or Pocono are his best tracks. But in reality, Darlington is his best, as he has made 6 starts here, never finishing worse than 13th. His average finish is 6th, and he also claimed victory 2 years ago. You can expect him to be up battling for the lead and in the top 5 all-race long. When Kyle Busch gets on a hot streak, you need to get him before he cools off. And with back-to-back top 2 finishes, he has that momentum on his side. He won here in 2008, has three top 10s to his credit, and has led 279 laps in the past four races, which places him 3rd overall since 2010.
Sleepers are abound this week, as there are more than a few dark horses. You can save lots of Fantasy dollars just by choosing one of these less-thought of racers. Ryan Newman has silently put together a great record here, ranking 3rd overall in average finish since 2010. He has finished in the top 10 in six of his last 7 races here, including four top 5s. Without doubt, he is one of the safest and most reliable picks for your money this week. Jamie McMurray has been fantastic at Darlington as of late, ranking just ahead of Newman for 2nd overall in average finish. He's averaged a 5th-place finish the past two years because of a 2nd in 2012 and 9th last year. While he doesn't have many stats to borrow from earlier than that, he seems to have figured out how to get around this 1.366 mile oval.
Don't be tempted to take Jeff Gordon and place him on many of your Fantasy teams! While he is, by far, the best Darlington racer of all-time, he has struggled here recently, having not won since 2007 and finishing 12th last year. But what concerns me most is his luck thus far in 2012. Gordon has disappointing in nearly every race thus far, and has had terrible luck. Personally, as a Jeff Gordon fan, I'm hoping he'll turn his season around this week. But he's just too risky of a pick for me. This race also has significance for the rest of the season: if Jeff can't turn things around here, he won't anywhere else. If you choose to race him, be careful.
I play many Fantasy games online, so here are my picks for two of them (these could change by Saturday night, however). For Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, I'm choosing Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as my A drivers, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, and Regan Smith as my B drivers, and Bobby Labonte & Casey Mears as my C drivers. For NASCAR.com Fantasy Live!, I'm going with Hamlin, Busch, Newman, Kahne, and Labonte. So generally the same for both Fantasy games.
There are two practices on Friday, both of which will be aired on Speed. The first is at 11:30am, followed by the second at 2:00pm. Qualifying is on Speed on Friday evening at 5:00pm, in which 46 drivers will be going for 43 spots. FOX's broadcast of the Bojangle's Southern 500 (501.3 miles/367 laps) begins at 6:30pm, then the green flag is scheduled to drop at approximately 7:15pm. All times ET.