Saturday, September 5, 2015

Final Darlington Southern 500 Practice Notes & Driver Ratings

Ricky Stenhouse might have the sweetest paint scheme of the throwbacks.
Kevin Harvick didn’t come into Darlington as the Las Vegas favorite, but after getting dialed in during Friday’s two practice sessions, he is now the driver to beat in Sunday night’s Southern 500 as he tries to win on the unique 1.366-mile layout for the second consecutive year.

Elevating Harvick’s rating even higher was the fact that Kyle Busch, who came in this week as the favorite to win, slapped the wall during Friday’s final practice and forced the team to use a back-up. And the back-up didn’t look so good in the final session with the 35th fastest lap.

But Harvick was so strong during practices that even if Busch had run well and not wrecked his primary car, Harvick would still be the driver to beat. Harvick, who is using a brand new chassis this week, had the best 10-consecutive lap average in the final practice which is a great sign for success on race day at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin was third-best in the 10-consecutive lap average and coupled with his past history -- series best 6.9 average finish, he is going to be Harvick’s top competition.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Bojangles’ Southern 500
Darlington Raceway
Sunday, September 6, 2015 -  4:16 pm (PT)

 1. Kevin Harvick 6/1             4th         21st          3rd            8th 
Grabbed first win last season in 18th start; fastest 10-consecutive lap average in practice 2.
 2. Denny Hamlin 8/1            9th         14th          6th            3rd  
2010 winner; series leading 6.9 average finish in nine starts. Should be very good on long runs.
 3. Brad Keselowski 10/1     10th         1st           1st            6th 
Career best third-place in 2011; he’s gaining momentum with top-10s in his past seven races.
 4. Kurt Busch 15/1               2nd         3rd            2nd         10th  
Career best runner in 2003 in most fantastic finish bumping and banging with Ricky Craven.
 5. Carl Edwards 8/1             5th          7th           13th          4th 
Two-time runner with a 12.5 average finish in 11 starts; should be almost as good as Hamlin.
 6. Joey Logano 7/1              7th         12th           4th           2nd 
Track has been rough on him with 23rd-place average, but has won two of past three on schedule.
 7. Matt Kenseth 7/1            25th         16th          14th         5th 
2013 winner in first year for Gibbs after no wins in first 19 starts with Roush; fourth-place in 2014.
 8. Kyle Busch 5/1               18th         35th          10th         1st 
2008 winner, sixth or better past three starts. Big downgrade because he’s using back-up car.
 9. Jimmie Johnson 10/1     15th         17th          19th         9th 
Three-time winner, the last in 2012. His 8.4 average finish is second best among active drivers.
10. Tony Stewart 100/1        3rd          34th          17th       33rd 
Hard to believe in 22 starts, he’s never won here. Had one of his best practices of the season.

Note: Results from the July 11, 2015 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, which are relevant just because the same new low down force aero package used there will be used at Darlington.

Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director who has been setting NASCAR odds since 1994.

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