|The Lady in Black will be handing out some Darlington Stripes again|
There’s no time for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors to exhale as arguably the toughest two back-to-back weekends on the 2012 schedule continue this week at Darlington Raceway. The track “Too Tough to Tame” plays host to the 63rd running of Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Saturday night (FOX, live 7 p.m. ET). NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway event follows Sunday’s nail-biting Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, won by Brad Keselowski.
Darlington dates to 1950 and as the series’ first asphalt oval over a ½-mile in length ushered in the sport’s future. A couple of facts looking back on the track’s first race, won by Californian Johnny Mantz in a six-cylinder Plymouth: gas, leaded of course, cost 18 cents a gallon, the average price of a new automobile was $1,510 and the average wages were $3,210.
Regan Smith was the surprise winner of last year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 – the second of three, first time winners of NASCAR’s biggest events. Trevor Bayne had won the Daytona 500 and Paul Menard scored a Brickyard 400 victory later in the summer.
Greg Biffle, Darlington winner in 2005-06, continues to head the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings by seven points over Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Hendrick Motorsports’ quest for a 200th victory continues at Darlington where the organization has the most victories (13) and Jeff Gordon boasts the most wins (seven) among active drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. can set a career record for consecutive top 10 finishes. Earnhardt’s sixth straight top 10 (ninth) at Talladega matched his 2004 streak.
NASCAR Nationwide Series kicks off the weekend’s action, with a new – yet familiar – points leader, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse will attempt to fend of previous points leader Elliott Sadler in Friday night’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN2.
There is one more week off the track for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams. They continue to prepare for the May 18 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Tough Accurately Describes Darlington Competition
Darlington Raceway, built in a South Carolina cotton field, is tough for several reasons. The racing line is narrow, an abrasive track surface quickly takes the “new” off a set of Goodyear tires and the track’s two sets of turns are dramatically different.
Greg Biffle, who shows no sign of abdicating his throne as the NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader, looks for his third Darlington victory. Yet Biffle is under no illusion he’s got Darlington’s number. “There's no opportunity to correct or to gather it back up when you're that close to the wall, but you've got to run there because that's where all the speed is and the grip,” he said.” So if you make a little mistake or your car gets away from you a little bit, you've got a Darlington Stripe, and hopefully just a Darlington Stripe because you're going so fast, it can damage the car quickly.”
Virtually every car will show damage to varying degrees when the checkered flag falls – even the winner. Last year’s race saw the caution flag wave 11 times over the course of nearly four hours of competition.
Smith Looks To Southern 500 For 2012 Turnaround
Regan Smith caught lightning in a bottle at Darlington Raceway in 2011 winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Smith would like to duplicate that victory to turn around what’s been a dismal start to this season in which the New York native has finished among the top 15 just once in 10 starts.
’Dega Victory Gives Keselowski Much-Needed Momentum
Don’t expect Talladega winner Brad Keselowski to slow down at Darlington Raceway. He finished third in last year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, 12th in 2010 and seventh in 2009 – his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start at the 1.366-mile track. Keselowski’s second victory of the season was good news for his Penske Racing team, which had been plagued by early season mechanical problems. That’s the biggest reason Keselowski remains outside the top 10 in points – but not far out of a qualifying spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. He gained one position to 12th and trails 10th-place Clint Bowyer by just three points. Keselowski stands first in line for one of the Chase’s two Wild Card qualifiers. Penske’s two Darlington wins came in 1975 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison at the wheel of the organization’s AMC Matador.
Only Tony Stewart has won more races (seven) in 2011-12 than Keselowski, who shares second on the two-season victory list with Kyle Busch at five wins apiece.
Junior Must Regain Darlington Edge To Continue Top-10 Streak
Dale Earnhardt Jr. must reverse his recent Darlington trend – two finishes outside the top 15 in his past three starts – to add to a career-matching top-10 streak that reached six races on Sunday at Talladega. Earnhardt finished 14th in last year’s Darlington race. He was fourth in his first start with Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, his fourth consecutive top 10 at the South Carolina track. Earnhardt stands third in NASCAR Sprint Cup points.
Hendrick Motorsports’ quest for its 200th victory could end at Darlington. Jeff Gordon’s seven victories include three consecutive wins in 1995-96. Gordon produced HMS’ most recent Darlington win in 2007. Jimmie Johnson swept both races in 2004, the last time the track scheduled two races in the same season.
JGR Good At Darlington As Kyle Busch’s Fortunes Improve
Joe Gibbs Racing owns victories in two of the past four Bojangles’ Southern 500s and three wins overall. Kyle Busch gave Toyota its first Darlington victory in 2008 while teammate Denny Hamlin won in 2010. JGR’s other win, by Bobby Labonte, came in 2000. Hamlin and Busch have combined for three victories this season. Busch won at Richmond on April 28 and finished second to Keselowski at Talladega to join partner Hamlin in the top 10 in the points standings.
One Win Down, To Remain On Stewart’s ‘To-Do’ List
Three-time series champion Tony Stewart has failed to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on just two tracks on the current schedule: Darlington and Kentucky Speedway, which staged its inaugural race in 2012. Stewart erased Las Vegas Motor Speedway from his “to-do” list in March. Stewart’s Darlington record is so-so: three top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 19 starts. His best finish, third, came in 2009. Stewart finished seventh in last year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Patrick Returns To Series To Face Biggest NASCAR Challenge
Danica Patrick faces her greatest challenge since coming to NASCAR as she competes in her second Sprint Cup race on Saturday. Her No. 10 Chevrolet, prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing, has a guaranteed starting position by virtue of owner Tommy Baldwin’s 33rd ranking in Owners Championship standings. Patrick finished 38th in her series debut at Daytona in February. She will do double duty also competing in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
NASCAR Sprint All-Star Berth On Line At Darlington
Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 is a last-chance race for automatic admission to the May 19 Sprint All-Star Race. Drivers yet to qualify include Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton and former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte. Absent a Darlington win, a driver still can qualify via fan vote or transfer from the Sprint Showdown race.
Mother’s Day Special To NASCAR Competitors
NASCARMedia.com has a photo gallery of drivers with their mothers, including a picture of Denny Hamlin with his mom in Darlington’s Victory Lane with the Southern 500 trophy: http://bit.ly/nascar-moms-photos
Here are several comments from drivers about Mother’s Day and their moms:
Denny Hamlin: "She was very critical to me getting where I'm at for sure. If it wasn't her arguing with my dad all the time saying we had to keep going, then we probably wouldn't have been. It's a great weekend for her.”
Jeff Gordon: “It’s a very special time around our house and with my family and my mom and my dad. We give thanks to them because they sit there and watch us with our kids and laugh at us and say, ‘Yeah, see? You didn’t know we went through all this, did you?’”
NASCAR Sprint Awards Returns To Vegas
NASCAR announced Monday that the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards – and all of Champion’s Week – will return to Las Vegas, Nev., and remain there for the next three years. For the fourth-consecutive season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards will take place at Wynn Las Vegas on Friday, Nov. 30, a culmination of a week-long celebration for the series champion – and NASCAR fans. As in past years, fans can expect the traditionally exciting and interactive week of activities.
- NASCAR Media Services