NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Playoff opener at Darlington


Austin Dillon typically runs well at Daytona, so when he got his second Daytona win last Sunday in the rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400 it wasn't a huge surprise. What was truly impressive was his ability to navigate through the 13-car crash in Turn 1 which allowed him to take the lead before rain stopped the race. When the race restarted just under 3 hours, 20 minutes later, it only took him 20 minutes to complete the remaining 16 laps of the race, and punch his ticket into the Playoffs. 
Good news for Austin. Bad news for Martin Truex Jr., who was vying for the last spot on the Playoff roster. He lost that spot by three points to Ryan Blaney. As we enter the first race in the Playoffs here in Darlington, it should get interesting as 63% of the races at Darlington have been won by drivers who have won a Cup Series championship.

This Week's Pick Strategy: Typically you don't pick non-playoff drivers at the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as no non-Playoff driver has ever won the opening race. I'm not so sure that statistic will hold up this year as there are some mighty hungry Darlington masters like Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Chris Buescher, and Brad Keselowski who are completely capable of spoiling the party.

If you are playing daily fantasy games, you may want to check pit stall assignments before drafting your roster. Four of the last 11 races at Darlington were won from pit stall 35; two of the last eight were won from stall 10 and only three of the last 13 were won from stall 1.

Drivers with Most Top 10s
By Race

Both with 5 - Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch
All with 4 - Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, and Kyle Busch
All with 3 - Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin

Drivers with Most Top 10s
By Track (Includes 8 races - 2017-2021)
Kevin Harvick - 8
All with 6 - Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Busch
Martin Truex Jr.- 5
All with 4 - Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Austin Dillon
Top 10 in Average Starting Position Among Active Drivers at Darlington Raceway


Last Year's Race Winner:  Denny Hamlin
The Likely Suspects: 
My Darlington go-tos include Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, and Martin Truex Jr.

My 2 Cents: This week's no-brainer pick is Denny Hamlin. My next picks are Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, and Chris Buescher. I will round out my roster with Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.

My Final Four: Denny Hamlin, Chris Buescher Austin Dillon, and Erik Jones.

Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is Tyler Reddick. This will only be Tyler's sixth Cup Series start here. He has earned one Top 5 and two Top 10s. Tyler has a driver rating of 85.7, the 13th best and a 12.500 average finish, the eighth best. He finished 18th in last year's race here, and he absolutely loves running the high line.

Points to Ponder:
  • No non-Playoff driver has ever won the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. 
  • Since the inception of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs in 2014, entering the Playoffs as the No. 1 seed has been the most successful seeding, producing four championships among three drivers – Kyle Larson (2021), Kyle Busch (2015, 2019) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017).
  • 21 of the 122 (17.2%) NASCAR Cup Series races at Darlington Raceway have been won from the pole, the first starting position, making it the most prolific starting position in the field. The most recent was Joey Logano in the May race this year.
  • The outside front row (second starting position) has produced the second-most wins (18). 
  • Six of the 51 NASCAR Cup Series Darlington race winners are active this weekend: Denny Hamlin with four wins, Kevin Harvick with three, and Martin Truex Jr. with two wins. Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch each have one win here. 
  • A total of 11 different manufacturers have won in the series at Darlington, led by Chevrolet with 41 victories, followed by Ford (32).
  • Kyle Larson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position at Darlington with a 6.0 in seven starts. 
  • Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson lead all active drivers in second-place finishes at Darlington with three.
  • Kevin Harvick leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in Top 5s at Darlington with 13 as well as in Top 10s with 18. Harvick also leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in laps led with 813 in 29 starts.
If you are playing Driver Group Game, remember to make your initial picks by 8 a.m. ET on Saturday, September 3rd and your final picks at 6 p.m. ET on race day Sunday, September 4th.

Carol D'Agostino has been playing Fantasy NASCAR for 16 years. She launched  NASCAR Fantasy Fusion for Skirts & Scuffs in October 2011. Each week, Carol pores through statistics and combs through her personal notebooks to arm fans with analysis and picking strategies that will leave their friends wondering how they got so smart. Carol also does race coverage for Skirts & Scuffs at Richmond Raceway and occasionally at her home track, Dover International Speedway. She is also part of the distinguished NASCAR Expert Picks panel at formerly called Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet. When she isn’t wielding her fantasy-racing superpowers, you’ll find Carol hammering out a news release or creating a marketing strategy at a small niche public relations firm she founded called Purple Cat or executing downtown revitalization projects for a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Playoff opener at Darlington NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Playoff opener at Darlington Reviewed by Carol D'Agostino on Friday, September 02, 2022 Rating: 5