Denny Hamlin nabbed the Busch Pole Award before Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Darlington Raceway. That only further solidified the place in my Fantasy Live lineup for the two-time winner at the track “Too Tough to Tame.” After two practice sessions and qualifying, we’ve dissected the numbers to offer a suggested lineup worthy of your Fantasy Live consideration as you make roster decisions for the 25th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of 2018. Remember that the garage locks at the end of Stage 2.
RJ Kraft’s revised Fantasy Live lineup following practices and the lineup being set:
1: Kyle Busch
2: Denny Hamlin
3: Martin Truex Jr.
4: Kyle Larson
5: Erik Jones
Garage: Kevin Harvick
Notable cars to the rear: Jamie McMurray (engine change), Jimmie Johnson (unapproved adjustments)
Analysis: I’m not making any changes among the six drivers I selected heading into the weekend. These are potentially my last uses on Busch, Hamlin, Larson and Harvick. I’ve planned for that and will take the best of the rest left for Indianapolis. This lineup features four of the top five in the starting lineup and three Southern 500 winners (four with Harvick in the garage). Quick rundown on each and the reasoning why: Busch has been solid all weekend and stout on intermediates all year while Hamlin and Larson have had speed and are both really good at this track. Truex won this race in 2016, nearly won it last year and events that shift from day to night are a 78 team speciality.
For the last active spot, I debated between Jones and Alex Bowman. Jones finished in the top five here last year and has been averaging 32.1 points over the past nine races in 2018. Bowman has been a little faster this weekend but he has been up-and-down on intermediates this year. As a result, I have a little more trust in Jones with the run he’s been on over the past two months. That said, if you are out of uses on the Big 3, Bowman is a nice plug-and-play driver for this race.
I am sticking with Harvick but moving him to the garage. The qualifying effort was surprising — and not in a good way — as he will start 22nd. However, he won this race in 2014, has been stout all year on intermediates and has four top fives in his last five starts at Darlington. He also was the third-best car via the 15-lap board (h/t @SteveLetarte) in final practice. I’ll plan to be vigilant on whether he stays in — he’ll need to be in the top six by the end of Stage 2; anything lower and he stays in the garage and will then be played at Indianapolis next weekend.
As for the bonus picks, I’m taking Hamlin to win Stage 1, Larson to win Stage 2 and Kyle Busch for the win.