If white knuckle racing gets your blood pumping then you can’t afford to miss this weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The NASCAR Sprint cup series returns to the lady in black for another heart pounding thrill ride at about 140mph. Despite the tracks age and tricky corners Darlington is valued by every driver on the circuit. Winning the prestigious Southern 500 places you in the NASCAR record books among some of the sports most celebrated drivers of all time. The key to surviving this grueling 500 mile test of endurances, is just that enduring it. Keeping your car clean is simply out of the question, the lady in black is infamous for leaving her mark on those who attempt to conquer her dangerous curves. Drivers should exercise extreme caution at all times on the track. Darlington is rough enough, you don’t have to battle other drivers over excessively to have a chance at putting your car in the winner’s circle. However you can bank on a few drivers leaving Darlington with a foul taste in their mouth in regards to one of their fellow competitors aggressive driving tactics. Oh well. That’s the nature of the beast we call Darlington.
Richard Petty claimed three Darlington victories over his thirty-five year NASCAR Sprint Cup series career. Last time Richard Petty Motorsports drivers raced at a track where the boss fared well both cars wound up in the top 10. Marcos Ambrose scored his second top 5 finish of the season at Martinsville while Aric Almirola posted a solid 8 place finish. Gut instinct says we see both Richard Petty Motorsports cars back in the top 10 at Darlington. Only this time Almirola will claim a top 5 finish, and Ambrose battles hard to crack the top 10.
Sitting 29th in series points Danica Patrick could use a solid run at Darlington to kick-start her recent momentum that was disrupted at Martinsville. Poignantly Danica fans Darlington presents the queen of speed with another long challenging evening. On the bright side she continues to progress on a weekly basis contrary to what her finishes may say. In NASCAR you never know perhaps the lady in green can take down the lady in black.
Darlington has produced its fair share of upset winners in the past, most recently Regan Smith in 2010 driving for Furniture Row Racing. Then why not a guy like Casey Mears? Mears continues to make forward progress with Germain Racing in 2014. Mears has never finished inside the top 10 at the track too tough to tame, but don’t let that fool you, former winners Regan Smith & Lake Speed had never cracked the top 5 at Darlington prior to their upset victories. I predict Mears has a great run Saturday night culminating in a dazzling top 10 finish.
Roush Fenway Racing’s track record at Darlington is if anything respectable. RFR owns five victories at the track too tough to tame, most recently with Greg Biffle who went back to back in (05, 06) Carl Edwards has never won at Darlington despite owning seven top ten finishes in ten career starts. I predict both drivers will have a fantastic evening and run inside the top 10.
Matt Kenseth last year’s Southern 500 winner is looking for his first victory of the 2014 season. He would like nothing better than to become the eight different winner in 2014 considering he had two victories under his belt this time last season. Should Kenseth claim back to back wins at Darlington he would be the first driver to do so since his former teammate Greg Biffle did some nine years ago. Kenseth’s JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have also tasted victory in the Southern 500. I don’t expect Kenseth to pull off another victory at Darlington Saturday night. However he will score another top ten finish as he continues to build on his consistent 2014 campaign. Denny Hamlin will be determined to get back on track after missing the race at Auto Club Speedway. Hamlin races hard until the end ultimately losing to a first time Darlington winner.
Kasey Kahne has watched his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates excel in 2014 without reservation. Mired by relatively poor luck Kahne finds himself 19th in the driver standings heading into Saturday night’s Southern 500 what better time to make a splash and claim a spot in the chase. Seeing how Kahne has never won a Sprint cup series races at Darlington. This will come to a crashing halt Saturday night as Kahne joins teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr in the 2014 chase by winning the southern 500.
Projected Southern 500 top 10
Photo courtesy of Jerome Miron -USA Today Sports