Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Date: Sunday September 3, 2017
Track: Darlington Raceway
Time: 6 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Well, Rowdy pulled it off! Kyle Busch finally made good on his multiple attempts lately and took the win at Bristol Motor Speedway, making it his second win of the season. Perhaps the most impressive feat of this Bristol weekend was Busch’s sweep of all three series. He managed to pull the win in the truck series, the Xfinity series, and the Monster Energy series. Busch is the only driver to have done this and now the only driver to have done it twice. Good luck on breaking that record! After a total of eight cautions, Erik Jones managed to come home with second place after touching Kenseth’s bumper and making him lose momentum on lap 465.
Unfortunately for Kenseth, he’s in a precarious position of needing a win to stay in contention for the playoffs, and you could kind of say he blew that opportunity this weekend. His media center interview was a touch entertaining, with his one line of, Takes my ride and runs into me. Jones will be in the 17 car in 2018, with Kenseth still looking for a contract. I never thought that a veteran driver like Kenseth with a relatively impressive record would have his 2018 plans in the air; however, I’ve been talking about this talent from the young guns this year, and they are proving that they have what it takes to be a strong group for years to come. They are pushing out the veterans and creating a new element of racers.
This weekend, the young guys try to hang tough at a veteran’s track. Darlington is a place that’s been around for a long time, albeit an off and on relationship with NASCAR. The track that’s too tough to tame opened in 1950, so you can imagine the history that resides here. It’s definitely a track with a unique configuration. Darlington is a 1.366 mile asphalt oval. The banking in turns 1 and 2 is 25 degrees while the banking in turns 3 and 4 is 23 degrees. The front straight and back straight are minimal at 3 and 2 degrees, respectively. An interesting fact about this track is that the frontstretch and backstretch were swapped in a re-configuration that took place in 1997. The track has had many makeovers, but drivers still manage to receive their Darlington stripes, sliding against the walls and leaving their paint behind. With Darlington, tires area an essential factor. Speeds get high here, of course relative to the true short tracks, but the drive into and out of the turns can really cause some serious wear on the rubber on these cars.
The drivers who will do well here are those guys who are adjustable. They have to be able to adjust from higher speeds than the short tracks typically see to some braking into the turns. They also have to manage to stay off the wall. The Darlington stripe is a very real thing. That’s a result of drivers coming out of those turns at speeds way too high and catching the outside wall down the straights. It happens to the best of them, and you really haven’t ever truly driver Darlington until you’ve earned your stripes. Track position is also key here. Those drivers who qualify well often tend to stay at the front of the pack throughout the majority of the race. Let’s take a look at your potential winners heading into this weekend:
My Pick to Win: Martin Truex Jr.
Middle of the Road Pick: Kyle Larson
Dark Horse Prediction: Erik Jones
We’ve seen Erik Jones pick up some serious ground over the last few weeks. This kid is good. If you are competing with Kyle Busch for a win and moving Matt Kenseth out of your way, you’ve got some skill and some competitiveness in you. This is a track where that is essential. Drivers like Jones will be hard beat. Then we have Kyle Larson. Larson is just an all around good driver and one that seems to do well on these types of tracks. I see him being one that is very competitive this weekend as well. Finally, Martin Truex Jr. is the defending champ of this race. There’s something about him and Darlington that just seem to click. Seeing the roll that Truex has going this year, I believe that he will be tough to beat this weekend when all is said and done. After all, he’s still the points leader heading into this one. That being said, let’s break down the current standings with only 2 races to go before Playoffs commence.
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Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Busch
3. Kyle Larson
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Chase Elliott
8. Matt Kenseth
9. Jamie McMurray
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Jimmie Johnson
12. Ryan Blaney
13. Kurt Busch
14. Joey Logano
15. Ryan Newman
16. Erik Jones
Right now, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray are the bubble drivers. Joey Logano and Erik Jones are not in the top 16 when it comes down to it after calculating all of this points if we were to go into the Playoffs right now. As it stands, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also are both locked in due to wins, so that means that Chase Elliott is holding on by a thread while Kenseth and McMurray are automatically done. It’s going to be an interesting 2 weeks with these guys fighting with everything they’ve got for a win at this point. Darlington and Richmond are going to be some pretty exciting races if I had to make that prediction. Stay tuned for an awesome weekend of racing at the track too tough to tame!