Race: Bojangles’ Southern 500
Date: Sunday September 6, 2015
Track: Darlington Raceway
Time: 7 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
It seemed like a long break since the last Sprint Cup race! This weekend, we are headed to a track with a massive amount of history for a Sunday night race. Darlington Raceway will host the double-header NASCAR races this Labor Day weekend, as we edge closer to the end of the regular Sprint Cup season. As a matter of fact, we only have Darlington and Richmond left before the Chase field is set and we move onto to the last stretch of racing before the coveted Cup is given to this year’s champion.
Darlington is a fan favorite track. It’s also a driver favorite. This place is just as historic as tracks like Martinsville and even Daytona. The track known as the “Lady in Black” or the “Track Too Tough to Tame” has been part of the NASCAR family since 1950. It has a characteristic egg shape due to a previous farmer refusing to move his minnow pond at one end of the track when it was being constructed. This creates quite the challenge for crews and drivers alike to manage building a car conducive to both ends, one of which is much narrower and steeper to navigate because of the pond that used to exist.
Since inception, it’s needless to say that the track has undergone some serious changes, with even the backstretch and frontstretch being swapped at one point. Ultimately, the track still remains quirky in its length, banking throughout the turns, and its overall challenge to the drivers. You will likely hear drivers talk about the difficulty of this track instead of the difficulty of their competitors this weekend. They fight the track instead of other drivers throughout the night, oftentimes ending their nights with a characteristic Darlington stripe from bouncing off the wall at some point during the race. One of the most difficult things at this track are the tires. Tires are hard to keep and hard to come by. For whatever reason, drivers struggle in maintaining solid tires for an entire green flag run. More often than not, cautions abound because of tire issues causing wrecks or debris before they are able to get through a full green flag run. With the repaving and reconfiguration, the tire situation has improved, but it still remains as one of the biggest issues that drivers will face this weekend. Additionally, as we’ve seen throughout the summer, NASCAR has decided on a new package this weekend at Darlington that will be similar to what we saw at the Kentucky race. Undoubtedly, there will still be tire issues, but it will be interesting to see how this may or may not improve the racing or change the strategies from the teams.
The thing about Darlington is that because of its level of difficulty, we often see the veteran drivers do very well here. By veterans, I mean the drivers like Gordon and Stewart (although, not as of late). That being said, we also have to consider to domination of the Gibbs drivers and the Penske drivers this entire season. With Kyle Busch winning 4 of the last 9 races, it’s inevitable that he will be competitive this weekend as well. I think that teammate Denny Hamlin will also give them a run for their money. Honestly, though, I’m really pulling for Jeff Gordon this weekend. Simply due to his past domination of this track and its difficulty for most other drivers, I feel like he’s got a fighting chance to get to victory lane. Gordon has 7 wins altogether at Darlington. Despite his hardships this year and in years past, his record at Darlington remains impressive with 8 top 5 finishes in the last 11 races here. Let’s take a look at your potential winners this weekend heading into Darlington:
My Prediction to Win: Jeff Gordon
Middle of the Road Pick: Clint Bowyer
Dark Horse Prediction: Chase Elliott
This is Chase Elliott’s first go at a Sprint Cup race at Darlington, but his lone run in the Xfinity race gave him a win. This weekend will be a bit more challenging with the full field of Sprint Cup regulars, but nonetheless, he should have a strong showing. Bowyer has warmed up these past few weeks as we get closer to the Chase. He’s doing well with moving forward and staying there. This weekend should give him a good opportunity to continue that trend. Overall, I think that Gordon will be the one to beat, though. He’s got an impeccable record here and certainly the skill set needed to get around this challenging track. Matt Kenseth will rear his head and continue his domination, but I think that he will have to contend with Gordon at the front of the pack. Gordon desperately needs a win to secure his spot in the Chase, if nothing else. He’s got an opportunity here to do that. He’s been teetering on the brink of not making the Chase, so we’ll have to wait and see if he can pull it off this weekend. Let’s take a look at how the points are wrapping up in these closing weeks.
Here are your current top 16 after last week’s race:
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Joey Logano
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Kurt Busch
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Jamie McMurray
11. Ryan Newman
12. Paul Menard
13. Jeff Gordon
14. Carl Edwards
15. Clint Bowyer
16. Aric Almirola
Those last few spots are still up for grabs. There are quite a few drivers still without that elusive win that are fighting to get in purely on points. Kyle Busch has secured his Chase spot and sits 29th in the points right now. As long as he maintains that top 30 position, he’s good to go. This weekend will likely bring some tempers and some frustration with this being one of the last two races before the Chase is upon us. Stay tuned for another awesome night of racing at historic Darlington Raceway!
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