The old unofficial rule in NASCAR used to be that there were two weekends reserved for families that weren’t allowed to have scheduled races; Easter and Mother’s Day. The story goes that Big Bill France’s wife made sure that none of the driver’s Mothers would have to see any of their sons hurt while participating in the dangerous sport of stock car racing.
For the 2005 season, NASCAR -- and their greedy nature -- thought they would kill two traditions with one wad of cash. Not only did they have a race scheduled for Mother’s day weekend, but they also eliminated the most traditional race in NASCAR history, the Southern 500 at Darlington on Labor day weekend -- a staple in the sport since 1950, which also left Darlington with only one race a season.
NASCAR saw the errors of the way, sort of. It was actually dollar signs that led them to see the light, along with being humiliated by the choice that got the date, as well as lots of nasty calls from NASCAR traditionalists. The venue that took the place of the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend was California Speedway and it failed miserably to attract fans. NASCAR saw that there were more folks on the beautiful Southern California beaches on race day than in the stands.
Prior to the 2009 season NASCAR announced the return of the Southern 500 at Darlington, but it wouldn’t be on Labor Day weekend, and the date would remain on Mother’s day weekend. Coming into this season, California traded their Labor Day race with Atlanta in hopes of getting more people in to lovely Fontana in October.
While California remains with its truck-series like crowds for two races a year, Darlington has picked up the pace with sell-outs of 68,000 strong in each of the last four seasons and still offers the fans some of the best racing of the season.
Beyond all Darlington’s great history that makes each visit special, the track configuration and difficulty the drivers have attempting to conquer it make it one of the most fun races of the year to watch. It’s been called the track that is “Too Tough to Tame” and also “The Lady in Black” as somewhat of reference that if you get out of line and too close to wall, the “Lady” will slap a Darlington stripe on you to make you think twice about trying it again. The “Lady” is a mean angry woman to some drivers, not exactly too appropriate of a pairing for an event on Mother’s day weekend.
It’s odd egg-shaped 1.366-mile track with each side of the track vastly different. Back in 1949 the plan was to turn this peanut farm into a traditional oval with equal turns. At the request of the neighboring property, Darlington’s plans were modified to not disturb the minnow pond next door. Because of that, NASCAR fans have been blessed with the most unique track on tour with one end being a tight turn and the other with a wider sweeping turn. The minnow pond still exists to this day as does the unique turns which create such great racing.
The dilemma for most of the teams is figuring out which turn they want to set up best for. It’s very rare to see any car be perfectly set-up for each side equally. The one thing they don’t have to deal with like the drivers for the first 58 years did is the old sand-paper grit surface that ate away at any kind tire compound used which required drivers to save their tires like no other track. The track was resurfaced in 2008 and is super smooth like Richmond now. There still is that abrasive sandy soil Darlington has that the wind pushes across 365 days a year and will eventually wear it down a bit, but it’ll never be the same.
Because the track is so unique, we can’t rely much on recent track history of any other track like we were able to do last week withRichmond by using Phoenix as a great barometer. Because of the banking, many crew chiefs in the last two years with the new surface have used their 1.5-mile Texas orAtlanta chassis’.
Mark Martin won last years race in what was his 43rd career start on the historical track. It was the second win of his career there with his first coming in 1993, Jeff Gordon’s rookie year. Martin has yet to win this season, but has been getting close to last years form and should be considered a contender.
The winner from 2008 was Kyle Busch, who finally found the 2010 winners circle last week at Richmond. It was the second year in a row he gave himself a birthday present by winning at Richmond. That is now four straight races where Busch and his new crew chief Dave Rogers look to have their team all on the same page which could be bad news for everyone else.
Jimmie Johnson is Darlington’s active leader in average finish at 6.9, but hasn’t won there since sweeping the 2004 season which incidentally was the last real southern 500 on Labor Day weekend.
Jeff Burton and the entire Childress crew that includes new points leader Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer should all fare well this week. Burton has two career win on the track coming in a 1999 sweep of the season. Their consistent horsepower and handling on all tracks should make them all contenders this week.
In four races, Denny Hamlin has never finished worse than 13th and has a personal best of second place in 2007. This track is made ideally for his style.
The active leader in wins at Darlington is Jeff Gordon with seven, the last coming in 2007. He is the only driver in track history to win the fames Southern 500 four straight years. With the way Gordon has been toughed lucked out of four of the last five races where he should have won, it’s hard to believe he won’t be one of the best this week especially considering how well he’s run on the 1.5-mile tracks of Las Vegas and Texas this year.
Look for the hard charging Gordon to finally break through this week. Let’s just hope for his sake that he can win under long green flag conditions and that if a late double-file restart is required, Kyle Busch isn’t in the first three rows, or Ryan Newman, or even Hamlin for that matter; three drivers that have taken the veteran down under that format.
Happy Mother’s day to every Mom out there. Please make every day special for the Mothers out there, but take extra special care of her on her one day.
Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
4) #31 Jeff Burton (15/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
Log on to VegasInsider.com for all your statistical and handicapping needs for all sports.
Thursday, June 30 9:00 AM NSCS HAULERS ENTER 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 12:30 PM NSCS, NXS SPOTTERS MEETING 2:00 PM NSCS ROOKIE MEETING & RANDOM DRAWING 3:00 - 3:55 PM NSCS 1ST PRACTICE 5:00 - 5:55 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE
Friday, July 1 10:30 AM - 7:30 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 4:10 PM NSCS QUALIFYING IMPOUND
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota) · Three top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 16.4 · Average Running Position of 17.3, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 83.5, ninth-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.524 mph, fourth-fastest
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · 10 top fives, 13 top 10s · Average finish of 18.0 · Average Running Position of 16.1, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 88.9, sixth-best · 70 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most · 3,692 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 2,072 Laps in the Top 15 (60.3%), fifth-most · 2,585 Quality Passes, third-most
Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) · One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.6 · Series-best Average Running Position of 12.6 · Series-best Driver Rating of 97.1 · 84 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · 3,851 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.532 mph, second-fastest · Series-high 2,413 Laps in the Top 15 (70.2%) · Series-high 2,743 Quality Passes
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.4 · Average Running Position of 14.0, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 92.0, third-best · 85 Fastest Laps Run, second-most · 4,036 Green Flag Passes, second-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.528 mph, third-fastest · 2,245 Laps in the Top 15 (65.3%), second-most · 2,710 Quality Passes, second-most
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Subway Ford) · Four top fives, eight top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 18.1 · Average Running Position of 17.6, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 82.1, 12th-best · 72 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most · 4,026 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 1,815 Laps in the Top 15 (52.8%), eighth-most · 2,549 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Pepsi Real Sugar Chevrolet) · Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.3 · Average Running Position of 14.5, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 88.0, seventh-best · 3,664 Green Flag Passes, ninth-most · 2,030 Laps in the Top 15 (59.1%), sixth-most · 2,333 Quality Passes, eighth-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota) · Three top fives, three top 10s · Average finish of 20.4 · Average Running Position of 16.1, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 85.5, eighth-best · 79 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.471 mph, eighth-fastest
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Folds Of Honor Chevrolet) · Two wins, six top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 15.8 · Driver Rating of 82.4, 11th-best · Series-high 87 Fastest Laps Run · 3,578 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.509 mph, sixth-fastest · 1,990 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Patriotic Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 17.0 · Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best · Driver Rating of 89.0, fifth-best · 2,194 Laps in the Top 15 (63.8%), fourth-most · 2,372 Quality Passes, seventh-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota) · Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.1 · Average Running Position of 13.8, second-best · Driver Rating of 92.9, second-best · 77 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 3,566 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most · 2,228 Laps in the Top 15 (64.8%), third-most · 2,453 Quality Passes, sixth-most
Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops / Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet) · Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.1 · Average Running Position of 16.5, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 90.0, fourth-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,898 Laps in the Top 15 (55.2%), seventh-most
All this junk posted is simply stuff I use weekly to accumulate a pre-practice driver rating. It's an easy weekly process. How those ratings work won't be shared, but all the data needed for handicapping should be posted somewhere here. Good luck week-to-week in any betting endeavor. Hope the info helps. - MR