Monday, May 6, 2013

Darlington Raceway Storylines: 2013 Bojangles Southern 500

10th anniversary of epic battle between Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, after a weekend of white-knuckle, heart-pounding racing at Talladega Superspeedway, could use a breather. Darlington Raceway, on deck, won’t provide it. Not a chance.

Known for its unique egg-shaped layout, cars come to the South Carolina track clean – and leave with the infamous Darlington Stripe after rubbing or smacking the red-and-white wall.

The Stripe is part of history, one that goes all the way back to 1950 when Darlington hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It was the first paved superspeedway on the series schedule, and the Southern 500 remains one of NASCAR’s crown jewels.

The title "Southern 500 Champion" guarantees a coveted place in NASCAR history books. From the first winner – Johnny Mantz – to the most recent – Jimmie Johnson – some of NASCAR’s all-time greats have won the Southern 500. Among that all-sport list: Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. And there are, of course, surprise winners who etch their name in the illustrious Darlington history, most recently Regan Smith who won his first – and thus far only – NASCAR Sprint Cup race there in 2011.

Another win by seven-time Darlington winner Gordon would inch him closer to the top of the track’s stacked wins list. And it would come in his 700th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. Read more about that, along with a number of other key storylines, below.


Gordon To Make Milestone Start; Aims To Continue Climb

On Saturday night at Darlington, Jeff Gordon will make his 700th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, becoming the 15th driver to reach that milestone. The setting is appropriate, and Gordon’s seven wins at Darlington puts him third on the track’s all-time wins list. He’s not far from the top; David Pearson has 10 wins and Dale Earnhardt has nine.

Surprise, Surprise: Careers Defined By Darlington Win
With his victory in 2011, Regan Smith joined an exclusive list of drivers who earned their first career win at Darlington Raceway. In all, six drivers have done it: Smith, inaugural winner Johnny Mantz, Nelson Stacy, Larry Frank, Terry Labonte and Lake Speed. The unfortunate part about that list: Only Labonte and Stacy went on to win more races. Who could threaten to win their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this weekend? Maybe Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had three starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Darlington, with two top-10 finishes.

Ragan Latest To Join All-Star Foray
With his stunning win in at Talladega on Sunday (his second career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series), David Ragan punched his ticket to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. With the annual non-points event two weeks away, this Saturday night is the last opportunity of the "win and get in" variety. Some big names – Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Burton – are still on the outside looking in. If those not already locked in don’t win at Darlington, they can still earn a berth in the race via the Sprint Showdown or the Sprint Fan Vote on and NASCAR Mobile ’13.

Hamlin Becomes "Full Time" Driver Again
Denny Hamlin officially re-entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, starting the race and then giving up the seat to Brian Vickers. But this weekend, he’ll race the entire event, signaling the end of a five-week recovery from back injury. Hamlin officially missed four races. In his absence, Mark Martin raced his No. 11 Toyota to a 10th-place finish at Martinsville, and Brian Vickers finished eighth, 31st and 35th at Texas, Kansas and Richmond, respectively. Hamlin’s absence dropped him to 31st in the points, 125 points behind 10th and 76 points behind 20th. Hamlin’s hopes to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup aren’t completely dashed. If he wins some races and sneaks back into the top 20, he could qualify for a Wild Card berth.

Take 2: Danica Patrick Makes Second Trip To Darlington
Danica Patrick took on an ambitious schedule last year, her first foray into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. Darlington was part of that challenging part-time slate. Last year, she finished 31st at Darlington, in only her second NASCAR Sprint Cup start. Now a full-time competitor in NASCAR’s premier series, Patrick has a top finish of eighth at Daytona and is 27th in points.

Happy Anniversary: Ten Years Pass Since Closest Finish
The number alone – .002 – evokes memories of beating and banging at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks. That was the difference in seconds between winner Ricky Craven and second-place finisher Kurt Busch at the finish line on March 16, 2003, still the closest finish since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in 1993. That number has been matched since then, at Talladega on April 17, 2011, when Jimmie Johnson edged Clint Bowyer.

- NASCAR Media Services

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