NASCAR Weekend Preview

Weekend Preview: Darlington Raceway

Hendrick Motorsports Poised to Break 10-year Darlington Drought

On the positive side, Hendrick Motorsports has won five of the 11 NASCAR Cup Series races so far this season.

Further, Hendrick drivers collectively have 14 all-time Cup victories at Darlington Raceway, more than any other organization in the sport.

Here’s the negative, though: Hendrick hasn’t earned a trophy at the Lady in Black since Jimmie Johnson won the spring race in 2012, and no current driver in the Hendrick stable has a victory at the track.

Based on recent performance, however, that decade-long drought has a good chance to end in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

After winning for the first time this season in last Sunday’s race at Dover Motor Speedway, 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott comes to Darlington looking to go back-to-back. Though winless in the Cup Series at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track, Elliott won at Darlington in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2014, the first time he raced on the track.

This weekend, Elliott will get extra seat time by running the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

“I always look forward to going to Darlington,” Elliott said. “It’s really cool, and I feel like it’s really a driver’s race track. For some reason, I’ve kind of struggled there the last couple of years, so I’m looking forward to getting some practice on Saturday in the Xfinity race.

“Hopefully, that can help me come Sunday. I also feel like there are some things that we learned from Dover that we can take to Darlington. It’ll be interesting with the new car and how things go.”

Teammate William Byron, a two-time winner this year, also has shown speed at Darlington. The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet won the pole for the 2019 Southern 500 before falling to 21st at the finish. For Throwback Weekend at the ‘Track Too Tough to Tame’, Byron’s Camaro is sporting a paint scheme reminiscent of one his predecessors in the No. 24 car—NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, a seven-time winner at the track.

Recently, though, Darlington has been the nearly exclusive province of Toyota driver Denny Hamlin and Ford driver Kevin Harvick. In the five races since the coronavirus pandemic caused a 10-week hiatus in NASCAR competition, Hamlin and Harvick have won two events each, with Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. taking last year’s spring race.

In fact, a Chevrolet driver hasn’t won at Darlington since Harvick took the checkered flag in the 2014 spring race, the year before Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford.

Hamlin has a victory at Richmond to all but ensure a berth in this year’s Playoff, but the rest of his season has been fraught with error—notably an unattached wheel that sabotaged a potential race-winning car last Monday at Dover.

But Hamlin leads all active drivers with four Darlington wins, not to mention his five victories at the track in the Xfinity Series. Hamlin got a feel for the track in the Next Gen car during a March 15 Goodyear tire test that included Harvick and reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson, a Hendrick driver seeking his second win of the season.

“We’re looking forward to this weekend.” Hamlin said. “Darlington has been a great track for us, and we feel like we learned a lot at the tire test, so that gives us confidence going back.

“Like all season, our biggest thing is just eliminating mistakes—whether that’s me or on pit road or something happening with the car. It seems like every week has been something, but our speed has been good most weeks, if we can just put everything together.”

JR Motorsports Looks to Continue Darlington Success on Throwback Weekend

There are four former Darlington winners in the field for Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race—and three of them are driving for JR Motorsports.

Xfinity regulars Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson will be joined by double-duty driver Chase Elliott as they try to extend JRM’s winning streak at the Lady in Black in Saturday’s Mahindra ROXOR 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

JR Motorsports drivers swept last year’s races at the venerable 1.366-mile speedway, with Allgaier winning last spring and Gragson taking the checkered flag in the fall race. Gragson already has two victories to his credit this season. Allgaier is looking for his first.

“I can’t wait to get to Darlington this weekend,” said Allgaier, who finished a close second to teammate Sam Mayer last Saturday at Dover Motor Speedway. “We have an awesome throwback design for our Hellman’s Chevrolet, and hopefully we can replicate the same kind of success we had last year and get back into Victory Lane.

“I know this team is capable of doing it, and I’m ready to get down there and make it happen.”

As strong as the JRM Camaros have been at Darlington, it would be unwise to ignore the Joe Gibbs Racing contingent. Brandon Jones won the fall race in 2020, and 19-year-old Ty Gibbs already is a series-leading three-time winner this season.

Gibbs’ No. 54 Toyota features an Interstate Batteries paint scheme from the year he was born—2002.

Already qualified for the Xfinity Series Playoffs thanks to a win at Martinsville, Jones won the pole and finished seventh last Saturday at Dover.

Defending NASCAR Truck Series Champ Ben Rhodes Tries to Double-Up at Darlington

There are two former Darlington winners in the field for Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, and they’re both driving Toyotas.

But that’s about the only similarity between the two competitors in Friday’s Dead On Tools 200 (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Twenty-five-year-old Ben Rhodes is the defending series champion. He won at Darlington in 2020 in the Truck Series’ return to the ‘Track Too Tough to Tame’ after a nine-year hiatus. Rhodes is fresh from an impressive April 16 victory at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt track.

Todd Bodine, 58, will make his 796th career start in NASCAR’s three national series combined when he takes the green flag. Bodine is driving the No. 62 Tundra for Halmar Friesen Racing.

Series regulars with hopes of winning and securing a Playoff berth will have to deal with a formidable obstacle. Two-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Ross Chastain will drive a fifth Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.

Chastain began his rise to prominence at Darlington in 2018, when he won the pole and the first two stages in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Fantasy NASCAR NASCAR Fantasy Live


NASCAR pulled a switch this year and the Labor Day race has moved to Darlington, South Carolina. Darlington Raceway is an historic track that is difficult for drivers to negotiate. As an Atlanta resident, I am slightly disappointed that our holiday race has moved to April. However, this week’s race will be fun to watch as drivers get frustrated at the conditions during the race.

For NASCAR Fantasy Live purposes, this is a good week to front-load your lineups. If you are far behind in the standings, you can pick drivers who are not Chase eligible like Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne. They will be forced to take the risks you need to get back into the standings. If you are near the top of the standings, you can go with a conservative approach to your lineup and pick winless drivers who are currently set to go to the Chase like Jeff Gordon and Paul Menard as they will be attempting to avoid big mistakes this week.

As a regular to my lineup this season, Kevin Harvick has helped my team towards the top of the standings. He won last April’s race in Darlington, leading 238 laps on his way to the winner’s circle. We hope that he repeats his efforts from last year’s race. Over the last 5 races, Harvick has three top-10 finishes and a 9th place average. He has the top team so far this season, logging 15 top-5 finishes through 22 races. Harvick has the most laps led of any driver this year by a wide margin, and there is no sign of regression. Keep Harvick in your lineup as long as he keeps up his level of production.

Denny Hamlin finished in the middle of the pack in last year’s race, but that is a rare circumstance. Since 2005, Hamlin has earned seven top-10 finishes in nine races. Recently, Hamlin has a 6th average and is running 99% of his laps inside the top-15 over the last five Darlington races. With only nine top-10 finishes in 2015 through 22 races, Hamlin has not been one of the elite drivers in the Series. In Hamlin’s case, I am valuing track history over seasonal statistics.

For the third spot in my lineup, I am recommending a driver that I had completely written off at one point of the season. Kyle Busch has recovered from a broken leg to win four races in 2015 and establish himself as a Chase contender. Kyle Busch has found success in South Carolina. Over the last five races at Darlington, Kyle Busch has earned four top-10 finishes and a 9th place average finish position. His 416 laps led over this stretch is the most in the Series. I expect Kyle Busch to be one of the front-runners for this week.

With a large chunk of my budget allocated to the top-three spots, I will need to choose the best budget options for my final two recommendations. Although I do not trust him on a tricky track like Darlington, Chase Elliot is in the lineup for his final installment before he joins the series full-time next season. In his previous four races this season, Elliot has averaged a 22nd place finish. As far as budget options, you will be hard-pressed to find one with more upside. For the fifth spot, I will go with my usual budget recommendation in Michael Annett. Annett only has a 32nd place average finish position and finished in 42nd place at Darlington last year. I may keep an eye on qualifying and switch him out if another budget driver looks more tempting. Alex Bowman and Matt DiBenedetto stand out as possible replacements.


Fantasy Live on uses a scoring system that combines laps led, fast laps, finish position, and start-to-finish differential. In order to prevent us from starting the best drivers every week, Fantasy Live uses a salary cap format. For our formula, we first calculate the total number of points earned by each driver over the last five Darlington races. Next, we divide that number by the salary cap figure to determine how much value to expect from each driver. Greg Biffle is a healthy option for a team that wants to go for broke in the standings. He has the most laps led since 2005 at Darlington. We will use his numbers to illustrate the points per dollar formula.


  • Average finish position last five Darlington races: 12th place average equals 32 points per race
  • Start-to-Finish Differential: Plus 1.6 equals 1.6 points per race
  • Laps led: 79 equals 7.9 points per race
  • Fast laps: 45 equals 4.5 points per race
  • Total Fantasy Live points per race: 46
  • Fantasy Live Salary Cap Figure: $19.25
  • Fantasy Live points per dollar. 46 divided by 19.25 equals 2.39 points per dollar

Below you will find the points per dollar for all drivers entered at Darlington this week. We will use the 2015 numbers for any rookie driver with no track data. Good luck as we make the push towards the Fantasy NASCAR playoffs.

GROUP A ($25.00 or higher)

  • Kyle Busch 3.70
  • Kevin Harvick 2.89
  • Denny Hamlin 2.41
  • Jimmie Johnson 2.25
  • Matt Kenseth 2.03
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1.77
  • Kurt Busch 1.17
  • Brad Keselowski 1.07
  • Joey Logano 0.51

GROUP B ($20.00 – $24.99)

  • Carl Edwards 2.57
  • Jeff Gordon 2.35
  • Kyle Larson 2.13
  • Martin Truex Jr. 1.72
  • Jamie McMurray 1.47
  • Ryan Newman 1.41
  • Clint Bowyer 1.33
  • Paul Menard 0.44

GROUP C ($15.00 – $19.99)

  • Tony Stewart 3.03
  • Austin Dillon 2.87
  • Greg Biffle 2.39
  • David Ragan 1.82
  • Aric Almirola 0.72

GROUP D ($10.00 – $14.99)

  • Danica Patrick 2.45
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2.39
  • Justin Allgaier 2.35
  • Chase Elliott 2.00 *
  • Casey Mears 1.69
  • Cole Whitt 0.74
  • Sam Hornish Jr. 0.61

GROUP E ($9.99 or lower)

  • Travis Kvapil 4.76
  • Timmy Hill 3.90
  • Alex Bowman 2.58
  • Matt DiBenedetto 2.35 *
  • Brett Moffitt 2.32 *
  • Landon Cassill 2.13
  • Jeb Burton 2.00 *
  • David Gilliland 1.96
  • Reed Sorenson 1.69
  • Josh Wise 1.39
  • JJ Yeley 0.90
  • Mike Bliss (-0.73)
  • Michael Annett (-1.67)

* Driver has no track data, and we are using his 2015 numbers.

Fantasy NASCAR

2014 Darlington Raceway, Bojangles’ Southern 500

Another rain delay, more tire issues, and our seventh winner in seven races. This has been a dismal season as far as the weather goes so far, but the racing has more than made up for it. It looks like the teams are going to have to take some of the camber out of their setups so as not to wear out their tires too quickly this year. The most amazing thing to me however is that we have seven winners in seven races and none of them are named Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth. They were the top two drivers all of last year and neither of them has a victory yet, but I think that will change soon.


This week the series heads to Darlington Raceway in Darlington, SC for the running of the Bonjangles’ Southern 500. This is a Saturday night race so make sure that you get your picks in before any deadlines you might encounter. Darlington is an egg shaped track with quite a bit of banking in the turns. Known as “The Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough To Tame”, Darlington Raceway has a reputation of jumping out and biting unsuspecting drivers. It lulls a driver into being a little lackadaisical and before they know it they have what is known as “The Darlington Stripe” on the side of their cars. This could get real interesting if drivers continue to have tire issues again this weekend.

Jeff Gordon: Jeff is my pick to win the race this weekend and Darlington. Jeff has seven career victories at this track and has finished in the top five in eight of his last ten starts at this track. The way this team has been running the past few weeks, they are due for a win and this could very well be the week they get that win to propel them into the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie has three wins at this track himself with the last win coming two years ago. He has also finished in the top ten in eleven of his fifteen career starts and wants to get his first win of the season sooner rather than later. I think that once this team breaks into the win column they will probably string together multiple wins during the next six to eight weeks.

Matt Kenseth: Matt is another driver that is still looking for his first win of the season and this is the track that he could do it at also. He won this race last year and has finished in the top ten in nine of his twenty starts here. All this team needs is for the pieces to fall in the right place as the race progresses and they will be in contention to win it at the end.

Denny Hamlin: Denny has only started eight races here during his career and has one win to show. However, he also has finished runner-up three other times. Those are impressive stats, finishing in the top two in half of your starts at any one track. Denny looked very good at the beginning of the season only to hit a small lull. This team looked good last week at Texas and might have figured something out that they can build on going forward.

Ryan Newman: Ryan has never won a race at this track, but he has finished in the top ten an astounding ten times in fifteen starts. Those are also very impressive stats that tell me that Ryan has a good understanding of how to get around here in a hurry. This team has surprised me with how good they are early in the season and should only continue to improve as the year carries on.

Tony Stewart: Tony seems to be getting better each and every week in his own right. I think his leg is giving him more trouble than he is letting on, but regardless he is getting the job done. This is one of the few tracks that Tony has yet to win at. His best finish at this track is third place, which he has accomplished twice. The amazing stat for me is that Tony has only lead twenty laps in twenty-one starts here.

Carl Edwards: Carl has only run ten races at this track in his career with his best finish being second which he has done twice. Carl has finished in the top ten in seven of his ten starts and should get a win here sooner rather than later. Carl already has one win this year and should make the Chase based on that win. It seems that some of these teams are just trying to go all out for wins once they get one because they don’t have much to lose.

Kyle Busch: Kyle has one career win and five top ten finishes in only nine starts at Darlington. He also has a win this season to his credit and has been running very well lately. He has also lead a lot of laps in five of his last six starts here and you can’t win a race without leading a lap.

Greg Biffle:
Greg always seems to run very well at Darlington and won back to back races here in 2005 and 2006. It seems that if his car is good enough to lead a lap he is going to lead over one-hundred laps. If this team comes with car that is close on its setup coming off the trailer they are going to be contenders at the end of the race.

Kevin Harvick: Kevin has really struggled with mechanical issues for the past month. This team seems to have a car capable of winning a race every week and then something mechanical happens to them. Once they get all of these issues figured out they are going to be contenders each and every week. When that time will come I don’t know, but I think it will be in the not to distant future.


Yahoo Driver Group A

  • Jeff Gordon
  • Jimmie Johnson

Yahoo Driver Group B

  • Denny Hamlin
  • Greg Biffle
  • Carl Edwards
  • Ryan Newman

Yahoo Driver Group C

  • Kyle Larson
  • Austin Dillon


  1. Jeff Gordon
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Greg Biffle

Dark Horse: Martin Truex Jr.

Stay Away From: Brian Vickers