Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Weekend Update: Southern 500

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Darlington Raceway is a one groove traclk. Famously, that groove is about an inch from the wall, which makes it one of the most challenging tracks on which to compete. That also means that passing comes at a premium on equal tires, so track position is critical.

There are so many things that can impact track position during the race. Getting off sequence with tires is one of these and whoever saves their fresh rubber for the end of the Southern 500 is going to look like Superman. Unfortunately, there is no way to know who that is going to be before that final stage. Players have to make their decision based on what they know today.

Practice

In pre-weekend coverage, we showcased Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman. Hamlin is expected to challenge for the win; Newman for a solid top-10. Both of them had stellar practices.

Hamlin topped both the speed chart (172.287 mph) and the 10-lap average chart (168.715) in the first session. In final practice, he seemed to give up a little top-end speed to concentrate on the long run, but on Saturday he proved that he had the right balance. The No. 11 landed 15th on the speed chart, but he was still quick with the fifth-best average among 24 drivers.

Newman was fastest in Happy Hour with a speed of 171.698 mph that would have been good enough for only ninth best in the morning. He was seventh quick (165.219) on the average speed chart in the afternoon. Newman is a driver who thrives when conditions are tough and that was notable as the track got hotter and slicker. He has the tenacity to stick around for the entire 500-mile distance and will come on strong at the end.

Chase Elliott was second fastest in final practice. He has not had a lot of success on this track with a best finish of 10th in three previous starts, but he has momentum on his side at the moment and is getting to that sweet spot in his career when the switch often flips in a driver’s head. This could be the week he gets his first Darlington top-five.

The Big 3 did not make a lot of noise in practice. In the first session, Martin Truex Jr. had the fastest lap among them, but his 170.436 mph circuit around the egg-shaped oval was only 15th best. Kevin Harvick (169.865) landed 20th on the chart with Kyle Busch (169.707) 21st. In final practice, Busch (170.922) improved to fourth, while Harvick advanced to 13th. Truex slipped to 24th. They should still be considered favorites to finish among the top 10.

Practice 1 Results 
Final Practice Results 

Qualification

Hamlin stayed within striking distance of the leader in Rounds 1 and 2 of qualification and then mashed the loud pedal when the money was on the line. He posted a lap of 173.571 mph to beat Kyle Larson by .026 seconds. That is enough to give him the best pit position in the field. On a track like Darlington, track position is a critical component to success and while strategy can get thrown off during a race, fantasy players cannot anticipate that before the green flag waves.

Larson was listed as one of our drivers to avoid in pre-weekend coverage because he lacks momentum from the season. His second-place finish last week at Bristol had as much to do with strategy as speed and it has been quite some time since he managed to back up one top-10 with another. With that in mind, fantasy players should be aware that he has shown speed all weekend and likes to ride the high line. If you put him on your roster, be prepared to have a good option in the garage. He rolls off the grid from the outside pole.

Truex and Busch line up to the inside of rows two and three. The field seems to have closed the gap slightly on the Big 3, but they cannot be ignored. All of them are going to challenge for top-five finishes.

Harvick stumbled in Round 2 and lines up deep in the field. His lap of 171.542 puts him 22nd on the grid and will cost him a good pit selection, but it is going to result in a lot of place-differrential points in games that offer them. No one expects anything but a top-five from the driver of the No. 4 and he is likely to deliver.

There are no huge surprises at the front of the field, but Newman's sixth-place effort affirms our positive opinion of him from pre-weekend coverage. He deserves at least a spot in the garage, and should be activated if he earns stage points.

Qualification Results 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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