Goodyear 400 Cheat Sheet

·9 min read

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Dover Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway are two of the toughest tracks for drivers to learn. Once they find the groove and rhythm of the courses, racers start to click off consistent results, however, and that makes these relatively easy to handicap. We use the word "relatively", because at the beginning of the NextGen era, the dust has not yet settled and there are still a lot of unknowns about which veterans and Young Guns are going to be the best.

Last week's Cheat Sheet was the third-most accurate behind those for the short tracks of Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.

While we expect that to continue, there was an interesting trend among the top performers that raises the difficulty level for the Goodyear 400. Top-10 finishes for the Drydene 400 were evenly distributed among veterans, early adapters to the NextGen car, and some surprising fresh faces. Conventional wisdom suggests veterans should dominate "The Track Too Tough to Tame", but this has not been a conventional season.

When setting handicaps for this race, we relied heavily on last week's performances at Dover, but also considered a driver's record on other rough-surfaced tracks such like Nashville Superspeedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway paved track.

1. Kyle Larson
Darlington is a track on which Larson has not yet won, but he's come so close with runner-up finishes in both of last year's races plus second- or third-place results in three of his four starts before then. (15)

2. Chase Elliott
Elliott finally got the right kind of long green flag run at the end of a race, but he took the lead with a strong restart and that is a better indication of his strength. (87)

3. Ross Chastain
Chastain is showing strength on every track type NASCAR contests. His third-place finish in the Drydene 400 is his third top-three in the last four rough-track races. (8)

4. Kevin Harvick
Harvick is great on rough tracks. His recent Darlington record includes wins in 2014 and two in 2020 - one of which was the Southern 500. That is part of a 12-race, top-10 streak that is made up of all but two top-fives. (33)

5. William Byron
Four of Byron's five starts on this track type in 2021 produced four top-fives, but his worst result of 34th came in the Southern 500 and he was 22nd last week in Dover. (49)

6. Martin Truex, Jr.
Truex is one of three drivers who swept the top five last year at Darlington. He is the defending winner of this race, which he followed with a fourth in the Southern 500. (30)

7. Denny Hamlin
In his last 18 starts at Darlington, Hamlin has a top-five average of .611 with wins in 2010, 2017, 2020, and last year. This could be the week that redefines his season. (3)

8. Alex Bowman
If he had not gotten stranded on pit road at Dover when a caution waved, Bowman would likely have been in the mix for the Drydene 400 victory. Last year, he failed to crack the top 15 at Darlington. (65)

9. Kyle Busch
The Drydene 400 may have been one of the best performances that Busch has had all season, but circumstances sent him to the back of the pack when an ill-timed caution waved. (11)

10. Joey Logano
Logano's trip into the wall at Dover certainly didn't help matters any, but he was not performing particularly well before that incident. For the next several weeks: evaluate him, but don't think of starting the No. 22. (55)

11. Erik Jones
His Drydene 400 was not the prettiest piece of driving we've seen, but Jones finished in the top 10 there and has an eighth at Bristol last fall to recommend him. (52)

12. Kurt Busch
Busch finished 35th in the first rough-surface race last year and was 31st at Dover last week. In between, he had two top-10s and an average finish of 11.5 on this track type. (35)

13. Daniel Suarez
Two of Suarez's best finishes of 2022 came on rough-surfaced tracks, but his worst effort on the course type came in the Goodyear 400 when he finished 23rd. (25)

14. Ryan Blaney
Given his consistency at Dover, we expected Blaney to finish on the cusp of 10th, but he was caught off sequence on pit road and fell off the lead lap. With only one Darlington top-10, we are not overly hopeful about the No. 12 this week. (60)

15. Cole Custer
Custer finished 15th at Dover when we expected a top-10. That was because of a consistent set of results on that track. He has not been nearly as reliable at Darlington. (71)

16. Austin Dillon
We've had a hard time handicapping Dillon this year because his results have been a little erratic. He showed consistency on this track type in 2021 with results of 10th through 16th, but faded to 23rd at Dover. (5)

17. Christopher Bell
Bell was a pleasant surprise last week at Dover, but his fourth-place finish is the first time in his career that he's earned a top-five on one of the rough-surface tracks. It's also only his third top-10. (27)

18. Brad Keselowski
Keselowski did not turn very many heads at Dover last week, but his teammate Chris Buescher showed how well this organization has improved. (38)

19. Austin Cindric
After finishing last in the Drydene 400 at Dover, Cindric is not going to be in a great frame of mind as he negotiates with "The Lady in Black." 68

20. Tyler Reddick
A sweep of the top 20 that included a top-10 and three top-15s made rate Reddick relatively high on the Drydene 400 Cheat Sheet, but he never really showed a lot of speed. (46)

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21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse swept the top 20 on rough-surfaced tracks last year and spent a lot of laps among the top 10 last week in Dover. If he fits a niche in your fantasy lineup, start him with confidence after last week's runner-up finish. (57)

22. Chris Buescher
We will admit to undervaluing Buescher last week at Dover. We expected him to fall back much further after winning the pole, but he had the sixth-best Average Running Position of 7.87 and earned a top-10. (44)

23. Bubba Wallace
In the past two seasons, Wallace has finished between 11th and 21st in six rough-surfaced races. Last week he split the difference and finished 16th at Dover. (82)

24. Aric Almirola
Almirola got off to a slow start on rough-surfaced tracks last year with 37th-place finishes at Darlington and Dover but rebounded and finished in the top 20 in his most recent four attempts. (79)

25. Chase Briscoe
In six rough-surfaced track races, Briscoe has three top-15s that are offset by two results in the 30s. We expect him to hover in the mid- to high-teens, but there are so many other drivers with promise that it's hard to guarantee anything. (18)

26. Daniel Hemric
A ninth at Auto Club Speedway and 22nd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway give us some hope for Hemric in the No. 16 this week, but the brake issue suffered by Allmendinger at Dover makes us a little cautious as well. (17)

27. Corey LaJoie
Rough-surfaced tracks are where driver ability is a bigger piece of the puzzle than on other unrestricted, intermediate speedways. LaJoie's worst result on this track type last year was 26th and he had a solid Dover run last week. (63)

28. Justin Haley
A gamble on tires last week in Dover allowed Haley to lead the most laps in a race in his career. No one will gamble on tires at Darlington, though. (22)

29. Michael McDowell
McDowell's 17th-place finish last week and a 16th at Nashville last year makes him a little more interesting this week than he would be on other unrestricted, intermediate speedways. (85)

30. JJ Yeley
Yeley made three starts on rough-surfaced tracks last year and finished outside the top 25; his Goodyear 400 effort netted a 29th. (89)

31. Harrison Burton
Dover and Darlington are both incredibly difficult places for rookies, so Burton's 24th-place finish in a race with moderate attrition suggests he is going to learn this track type quicker than many. (41)

32. Ty Dillon
A 27th at Dover doesn't move the needle on Dillon very much, so we will handicap him by the numbers this week and see where he lands before making predictions on other rough-surfaced tracks. (74)

33. Todd Gilliland
Gilliland had a difficult introduction to Dover last week. He won't find Darlington to be any kinder, but that is how rookies learn. (76)

34. BJ McLeod
In six starts on this track, McLeod has not yet cracked the top 25, but he came close last year in the Southern 500 with a 27th-place effort. 91

35. Cody Ware
Darlington is just as tricky as Dover and it's hard to stay on the lead lap. Ware should count it as a success if he is still running at the end of the Goodyear 400. (90)

36. Landon Cassill
Cassill has not competed in the Cup series on a rough-surface track since 2019. He was 25th at Darlington that year, but we are going to have to wait and see how he does. (7)

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