As we enter into this weekend of celebrating our mothers, what better place to be racing at, than “The Lady in Black," otherwise known as Darlington Raceway. The holiday weekend may have changed, but the racing is still some of the best on the circuit. What doesn’t change is who performs well at the track that is “Too Tough To Tame.”
Without question, Jeff Gordon leads the way at Darlington Raceway. No active driver even comes close to Gordon’s seven wins there and of drivers with double digit starts, only one bests his average finish of 11.0. That driver is Jimmie Johnson.
Over the past twelve races at the “Egg-shaped Oval,” these teammates have even more in common. Both have accumulated nine top ten’s and two victories, with Gordon barely edging out Johnson in top fives, with his eight to Johnson’s six.
When talking drivers with top ten finishes at Darlington, one doesn’t even have to go outside of the Hendrick stable. Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have their share of those high finishes with seven and eight respectively. However, Martin is the only one of the two with a win in that span.
Multiple race winners are hard to come by here, making what Gordon and Johnson have accomplished even more respectable. The only other driver with multiple wins is Greg Biffle, and he obtained those two wins in back to back fashion in 2005 and ’06. The bad news for Biffle is that if he isn’t winning, then he probably isn’t finishing well with only two other top ten runs and an average finish of 14.8.
Mark Martin’s 2009 win was the only time since 2004 that somebody won when starting from outside the top ten. That was also the final time NASCAR made two stops a year in Darlington. Johnson won both races that year, but we only had one pole winner due to one of the year’s qualifying events being rained out. The driver leading them to the green flag that day is the same who will be doing it tonight, Kasey Kahne.
While Kahne has started from the pole three times, he has only turned in two top five’s. His average finish of 15.9 doesn’t bode well for this driver who has been coming on strong as of late. Actually, both Red Bull Racing drivers had great nights last weekend in Richmond landing both inside the top ten. Brian Vickers finished tenth while Kahane finished third.
What is working for Kahne in tonight’s Southern 500 is his manufacturer. There have been only two brands to enter victory lane in the past four races, which in this case are Toyota and Chevrolet. Although, those Toyota wins came from Joe Gibbs Racing having Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin each earning one apiece.
One would be amiss without mentioning either of those guys as contenders for grabbing the checkered flag tonight. Hamlin is second in average finish in the past five years only to Gordon, and Busch just won the Nationwide series race last evening. Both are intelligent picks as race winners. However, trends seem to run this sport and as we are beginning to settle into this season, we’ve also begun to start seeing multiple race winners emerge.
You have to go all the way back to Las Vegas to find a single race winner other than Matt Kenseth’s Texas win. So in sticking with this trend, tonight’s winner will become another multiple race winner this season.
Trevor Bayne is not entered, (we all are sending him prayers for a speedy return to the track) Carl Edwards and Kenseth drive Fords (see the last trend involving manufacturers) so who does that leave. Our 2011 Showtime Southern 500 winner is someone who needs to get “trending” in the right direction, or his season could become too tough to return from.
Jeff Gordon starts fourth tonight, which is well within the top ten, and he has plenty of statistics to back up a solid pick for the driver to earn another notch in his Darlington belt. Or do we call that earning another “Darlington Stripe?"