As expected, the Pack was Back last week at Talladega. And we all saw some serious Alabama Slammin’ in the NASCAR Sprint Cup (NSC) Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Super Speedway (TSS). Only a few wrecks, but those few were pretty spectacular. But in the end, it was Brad Keselowski outpacing Kyle Busch for the win in a Green-White-Checker finish. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne (in a surprisingly-strong finish), Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Jeff Burtonrounded out the top-ten. The rains of Saturday thankfully gave way to a blistering day, offering many fuel and overheating issues on top of the threat of the “Big One”.
This week, the eleventh race of the NSC season travels a short distance from Charlotte (home of most NASCAR race teams) to Darlington Raceway, otherwise known as the track “Too Tough To Tame” for the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Opened initially in 1950 and repaved in 2008, drivers will make 367 laps on this 1.366-mile, egg-shaped track also known as the Lady in Black. Pre-Race television coverage begins at 4:30pm EDT with NASCAR Raceday on SPEED, NASCAR Pre-race at 6:30pm EDT on FOX, with the race broadcast at 7:00pm EDT. Randy Poindexter, Bojangles’ Senior Vice President of Marketing, will wave the Green Flag at approximately 7:15pm as Coors Light Pole Award winner Greg Biffle takes the field into Turn 1, following the National Anthem performed by former “The Voice” contestant Casey Weston, and the pre-race flyover by four U.S. Air Force F-16s from Shaw AFB, South Carolina.
No cars are reported to be starting from the rear, but plenty of them have already earned their Darlington Racing Stripes already (marks on their cars from scraping the walls). Weather should not be a factor tonight (Cloudy, with temps in the lower 80s).
Best Bets: Two two-time Tamers top my picks this week (try to say THAT five times fast).
Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevy)- Jimmie’s had a lot of success here, succeeding with two wins, six top-five and nine top-ten finishes. He’s got three top-three finishes in the last four races here, and currently sits in eighth place in the NSC standings. While Johnson’s only posted four top-fives and seven top-ten finishes for 2012, “Five Time” may be the best chance for giving team owner Rick Hendrick that elusive 200th NSC win this week from the four-horse HMS stable. Jimmie starts on the outside of the front row, and was fourth-fastest in final practice.
Greg Biffle (#16 3M/O’Reilly Auto Parts Ford)- Greg still sits atop the NSC points standings, and has managed two wins so far this season. At Darlington, he’s got two eighth-place finishes in the last four races here, with three top fives in the last four intermediate speedway outings. He’ll be looking to follow-up his fifth-place finish last week from Talladega, but also to bolster his points lead in the standings. The Bif leads the field to green as the Coors Light Pole Award winner tonight, and was second-fastest in final practice.
Probables: Two drivers needing some help in the standings are among my probables.
Carl Edwards (#99 Ford Ecoboost Fusion Ford)- ”Cousin Carl” is another of the “Roushketeers” of Roush-Fenway racing that could find himself up front when the Checkered Flag waves. He’s had some rough luck so far this season, but has finished no worse than fifteenth in three of the last four races at Darlington (including two runner-up finishes), and has earned the most points out of the last four intermediate races (no worse than ninth). Carl will be looking to put a win among his three top-five and five top-ten finishes here, as he starts seventh and was third-fastest in Happy Hour.
Denny Hamlin (#11 Sport Clips Toyota)- Denny has had an up-and-down season so far, but has managed to position himself in fourth place in the NSC standings with his two wins, four-top five, and five top-ten finishes out of the ten races run so far this season. At Darlington, he’ll be looking to shore up those standings, as he’s been in the top-twelve finishers in three of the last four intermediate speedway races, including one win (Kansas). Hamlin has also not finished worse than thirteenth in the last four Darlington outings (including one win in 2010). He’s only managed a win, two top-fives, and five top-tens in his efforts here against the Lady in Black. With an eighth place starting position and thirteenth-fastest final practice speeds, Denny’s got a shot at a third win in the 2012 season, a feat that will put him in front of the other drivers for the “wild card” positions, should he falter later in the season (the two drivers not already in the top-ten of NSC standings with the most wins earn “wild card” spots for the Chase).
Dark Horses- Two good chances for a surprise here tonight.
Kyle Busch (#18 Wrigley’s Toyota)- Wild Thing has been all over the map so far this season, having only one win, three top-five, and five top-ten finishes this season amid ten races. He’s finished in the top eleven in three of the four last races at Darlington, including one win here in 2008. Busch’s sitting ninth in the NSC standings, and will be wanting to follow-up his second-place finish at Talladega last week. He’s only got that one win, one top-five, and three top-ten finishes here, so he’ll likely be battling the Lady from receiving his Darlington Stripes. KyBu starts fifth, and was fifteenth-fastest in final practice.
Jeff Gordon (#24 Drive to End Hunger/AARP Chevrolet)- Gordo has the most wins (seven) among active drivers at Darlington, but has had some rough luck this season. He’s finished no worse than twelfth in the last four Darlington races, including a third, one fourth, and one fifth. Jeff also has finished no worse than twelfth in three of the last four intermediate speedway races, including a fourth and a fifth-place finish, and has the most NSC points accumulated of any of the drivers in the last four races here. Big Daddy will start twelfth, and was twenty-eighth in final practice, so he’ll have some work ahead of him. R
In addition, keep your eyes peeled for Kasey Kahne’s #5 Rockwell Tools Chevy, Mark Martin’s #55 Aaron’s Dream Machine, Regan Smith’s #78 Furniture Row/Farm America Chevy, and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 Diet Mt Dew/National Guard Chevy. Kahne’s getting his timing back; his third-place finish last week proves it. Martin has been strong in all the races he’s run this season, and Smith is the defending winner. Dale Jr’s finished no worse than eleventh the last four intermediate speedway races, and with his penchant for working his way up through the pack, this will perfectly suit him.
Rumor Mill: One highlight for today’s race in this week’s rumor mill.
Mourning a Legend- Carroll Shelby, race car designer and motorsports legend, passed away this past week at the age of 83. Not wildly known for his performance at the track, many of his designs and creations are world-famous, with his Shelby Cobra as the cornerstone of a decades-long body of work. There was a moment of silence at Darlington last night prior to the Nationwide race, with many celebrating his life and his contributions to the car enthusiast world and motorsports drivers alike. NASCAR legend Richard Petty commented: “Carroll Shelby was a visionary for performance and speed for the Ford Motor Company. It was his ideas that helped push the Cobra and most recently the Mustang brand to the American people. He was an innovator of his time and helped Ford become a leader in the racing and performance world. (NASCAR.com)
Not the only lady at the track- Darlington Raceway, nicknamed “The Lady in Black” had some competition this weekend. NASCAR newcomer Danica Patrick went up against The Lady Friday night, finishing a respectable 12th. She’ll battle the track “Too Tough to Tame” again tonight, in the hopes of not only coming home with a decent finish (not to mention finishing the race), but also in keeping her #10 Tommy Baldwin racing team’s entry in the top-35 of the NSC points standings. And she landed a huge windfall this week, picking up an endorsement contract and becoming a part of the Coca Cola Racing Family. A big boost to her racing career, to be sure; let’s see what she can do tonight.
Smoke’s on Fire- Never known to mince words, Tony Stewart had some classic comments after the Aaron’s 499 this past weekend. While commenting on the course of the race and running out of gas twice, Stewart mused: “Being able to make yourself run on the apron and everything else to try to get clean air, it makes it fun,” Stewart continued with a straight face. “I’m sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today. We didn’t fill the quota for today for Talladega and NASCAR.” Thankfully, NASCAR officials didn’t penalize Smoke for making comments in violation of Section 12-4-A of the NASCAR Rulebook “Detrimental to the Sport,” considering Smoke was right on a number of points made, to include the lower fuel mileage supposedly due to the fuel injection systems and the heat, plus the overheating issues a number of cars suffered, contributing to a number of blown engines. (ESPN.com)
Final Thoughts: Expect lots of Darlington Racing Stripes earned, in addition to those already gained in practice. The Lady could be nice, like all Southern Belles are, but she could also turn into something completely different this evening. So tune in to FOX, your local Motor Racing Network affiliate, or on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90) for the racing action. Look at SiriusXM’s web site to find out which drivers’ race audio will be broadcast on SiriusXM as well. I’ll be providing my normal race updates, analysis, and occasional rants on Twitter (@speedglutton), and feel free to ask any questions! Lots of mothers will be taking in all the action this weekend, and along with my wife, my mother, and my mother-in-law, I wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day!!
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