Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Date: Saturday May 11, 2013
Track: Darlington Speedway
Time: 6:45 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapping, Predictem.com
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You didn’t think that we’d get out of Talladega without the “big one” did you? Kurt Busch managed to flip his car onto Ryan Newman. Ironically, it was lucky that Newman was there because had he not been, it’s likely that Busch’s car would have kept flipping, causing him serious injury. Prior to that, we suffered through a 3 hour rain delay, but NASCAR made good on their promise to get in every lap possible and got this race back to green and ran the entire duration.
This weekend, we are headed to another sure to be crazy track. Darlington is much smaller when compared to Talladega, but it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind type of track. It’s honestly quite a bit of an oddball on the circuit, but boy are we glad it’s still in the Cup series schedule. This track boasts 1.37 miles of asphalt with 25 degree banking in turns 1 and 2 and 23 degree banking in turns 3 and 4. The frontstretch stretch comes in with 3 degrees with the backstretch nearly flat at 2 degrees. “The Lady in Black”, as Darlington is affectionately known, causes a lot of problems for rookie drivers. It’s also known as the “track too tough to tame”. This is because drivers tend to have a hard time navigating through the turns and frequently end up rubbing the walls, causing the clean white walls to be black by the end of the race. It will be interesting to see how our 2 rookie contenders, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, find their way around this weekend.
What’s interesting about this track is its history. This is a track dating back to the ’60s. The records are still held by the good ‘ole boys of racing. David Pearson holds the most wins and poles while Richard Petty boasts the most top 5s and starts throughout the years. In more current history, Denny Hamlin has the best average finish coming in with a 5.9.
Despite the history, one thing that has always doomed drivers here are tires. The reason that happens is two-fold. This track does have a tendency to be hard on tires, but more than that, drivers tend to hit each other and the walls a lot more than at other tracks causing substantial wear and tear that may not otherwise be there. It’s definitely going to be a strategy race in terms of those tires and what we see in the pits on Saturday night.
Knowing what we know about the track and its history, it’s a little bit easier to narrow down our top picks than say a track like Talladega where it’s a crap shoot. There are 3 predominant drivers that I would like to focus on. Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch are the ones to watch this weekend. They all have wins here, but Johnson has racked up the most with three total. Busch has won here once as has Hamlin. Now, here’s the key. Hamlin hasn’t run a full race since his accident where he fractured his back. He ran the first laps of Talladega, but then Brian Vickers took over. Now, most would count him out, but remember when he busted up his ankle and came back and won the next race he ran? That’s determination, and I think we just may see that again this weekend at Darlington. Should Hamlin be lucky enough to have a strong car, I think that he’s the one to watch. Kyle Busch is hungry for a win too, but his consistency has waned. He will be strong, but he’s going to have some competition at the front. Jimmie Johnson? Well, he’s Jimmie Johnson. There’s never any counting him out. Look for him to be at the front this weekend. Now, he just needs to avoid wrecks. Here’s the rundown of your potential winners this Saturday night:
Winner: Denny Hamlin
Middle of the Road Pick: Greg Biffle
Dark Horse: Regan Smith
Regan Smith won here a few years ago, and it would be quite a boost for those guys over at Phoenix Racing. He could potentially have another solid run. Greg Biffle should do very well. This track is well-suited for the Roush drivers, but Greg Biffle, in particular, seems to have the best luck here.
Let’s take a look at your current top 12 after Talladega:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Clint Bowyer
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Kasey Kahne
7. Aric Almirola
8. Paul Menard
9. Kyle Busch
10. Greg Biffle
11. Matt Kenseth
12. Kevin Harvick
Aric Almirola moved up 4 positions after Talladega. That’s pretty wild. Kevin Harvick is our new bubble driver and needs to start racing for points and try to avoid those wrecks. Otherwise, there are still a lot of what we would call “top” drivers outside of that top 12 looking in. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, just to name a few, have struggled this year. They have a lot of ground to make up, but I think that being more “veteran”, we will see them gain some this weekend. They have a bit more experience than some of the other drivers, so that should work in their favor.
Stay tuned for a great Saturday night of racing this Mother’s Day weekend!