So, this is pretty difficult. We haven’t had any racing in months and we are essentially starting a completely new year. No team nor driver has any momentum to build upon because nobody has even been in the shop to work on the cars. The same teams that were dominating to open the year could find themselves struggling from the restart.
The only advantage that would come is to drivers who have been participating in iRacing and continuing to compete in at least a form of racing. That cannot substitute the real thing though.
There’s not even practice or qualifying to be able to see who has their cars running the best. It makes it hard to come up with drivers who could win on Sunday but I’m going to base my picks off of past stats and how the current season was going.
Favorite: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin is one of the best Darlington drivers in the field. He’s won it twice in the last 10-years while posting an average finish of 8th. He’s consistently running for the win and after the great start to the season, I think that he has as good a shot as anybody.
He’s been putting in a lot of time into sim-racing and has won a couple of the Proinvitational events, so he’s not only getting his seat time in but also his confidence is running high heading into the race.
Dark Horse: Erik Jones
Believe it or not, but Erik Jones has the best average of any current driver with an average of 5th place in 3 starts at Darlington. A 5th, 8th, and 1st place finish in those 3 starts. He hasn’t had the strongest start to the season, but I’m willing to give him a shot to start this fresh start at his best track.
Long Shot: Matt Kenseth
Kenseth is in such a unique position where he gets to start the season in his new ride with the rest of the field in the same boat. Getting used to his new team will be a transition, but there really isn’t a better time to do it than now.
He’s stepping into a car that has shown winning speed this season and he has had great finished in his trips to Darlington in the latter half of his career; winning the race in 2013. There has been so much scrutiny around the CGR team that I think extra motivation will be applied.