Surprising and Not Surprising: Bojangles’ Southern 500By Mary Jo Buchanan
On what has become a Mother’s day weekend tradition at the historic Darlington Raceway, here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 64th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Surprising: While bad news often comes in threes, Matt Kenseth had the opposite experience, with only good news in threes for this Joe Gibbs Racing team member. Kenseth scored his third Sprint Cup win of the season and advanced one spot to third in the point standings.
Not only was it a stellar evening for JGR with Kenseth in Victory Lane, but teammate Denny Hamlin gutted out a surprisingly good full-race performance after returning from his back injury. Hamlin finished in the runner up position, scoring his seventh top-10 at Darlington and his second top-10 finish for the season.
“I think our whole team, we’ve just got a great team from top to bottom,” J.D. Gibbs, President of Joe Gibbs Racing, said. “Gosh, I couldn’t feel much better about our year so far.”
Not Surprising: For the other member of the Joe Gibbs Race team, however, three times was nowhere near a charm. JGR driver Kyle Busch, who was the dominant driver all evening long, in fact leading 265 laps, tussled with competitor Kasey Kahne for the third time this season to finish a disappointing sixth in the race.
“He’s pretty tore up that they’re racing hard and Kasey Kahne tore up another car,” Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota, said. “This is the third time we’ve been involved in an incident with Kasey and all of us over here have a ton of respect for that program.”
“Well, he needs to quit,” Kasey Kahne, recipient of the three incidents with Busch, said simply. “Three times this year. I mean he’s got to just race me.”
Surprising: While enjoying a much celebrated 700th career start, Jeff Gordon, at the tender age of 41 years, also managed to set yet another record. Gordon posted his 300th top-five finish, becoming only the fourth driver to accomplish this feat, along with NASCAR legends David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.
“Well, we all wanted this 700th start to be a memorable one,” the driver of the No. 24 Cromax Pro Chevrolet said. “I’m very proud of this.”
Not Surprising: As so often happens, David Ragan experienced the highs and lows of the sport, from his previous week’s win at Talladega to overheating and struggling to finish 39th at Darlington at this weekend’s race.
“Yeah, that’s how it goes sometimes,” the driver of the No. 34 Peanut Patch Boiled Peanuts Ford said. “That’s a character-building weekend for sure.”
“You’ve just got to work hard and stay focused and keep the right attitude.”
Surprising: In spite of decent race finishes for two of the Roush Fenway drivers, with Carl Edwards taking the checkered flag in seventh and Greg Biffle in 13th, both expressed the feeling that they are lacking something so far this season.
“We struggled a lot and ended coming back to seventh so I’m proud of our effort,” Edwards, behind the wheel of the No. 99 Geek Squad Ford, said. “But we’re just missing something.”
“It’s a little disappointing,” Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Meguiar’s Ford, said. “We still don’t have the grip that we need.”
“We’re missing it ever since the season started with this car.”
Not Surprising: All good things must come to an end and so it was not surprising that Aric Almirola’s streak of top-tens came crashing down at Darlington. The driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford finished 20th at the track ‘Too Tough to Tame.’
“That’s not the result we wanted at all,” Almirola said. “We fought hard, but just weren’t quite good enough.”
“That was a tough night.”
Surprising: The struggles of Tony Stewart surprisingly continued at Darlington and the trip to Victory Lane that he so badly wanted at a track where he had never won eluded the former champion yet again.
Stewart was poised to get a good finish, in fact starting eighth on a restart with under 60 laps to go. But the Lady reached out and grabbed the driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, putting that old Darlington stripe right down the side of his race car.
Stewart finished a disappointing 15th when the checkered flag finally flew.
“Darlington is such a tough track to get a handle on,” Stewart said. “You don’t see a lot of guys who have a lot of success there.”
Not Surprising: In spite of scoring a pole run, with a track record to boot, and a record number of laps led for his team, Kurt Busch still did not get the finish he wanted at Darlington.
The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Serta Chevrolet ran strong all night but slipped at the end after getting hit by the No. 13 of Casey Mears. Busch finished 14th in the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
“We could not keep up with the changing conditions of the track,” Busch said. “We made a number of chassis and air pressure adjustments but couldn’t get the car hooked up.”
“We let it slip away and that’s disappointing,” Busch continued. “But we won the pole, led laps, ran up front for a good portion of the race and came away with a respectable finish.”
Surprising: Penske Racing had a surprisingly bad day, especially for reigning champ Brad Keselowski, who had never finished outside the top 15 in his four starts at Darlington. The driver of the Blue Deuce was caught up in an accident and finished 32nd.
While teammate Joey Logano has had an admittedly up and down relationship with the track, with two top-10 finishes and two finishes outside the top-25, he struggled as well. The driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford finished in the same position as his car number, 22nd.
Not Surprising: Although the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Emerald Green Chevrolet admitted that the track is tough, his love affair with Darlington continued, especially after scoring another top-five finish. Johnson now leads the point standings by more than a full race worth.
“It was just a great 500 miles here at Darlington,” Jimmie Johnson said. “I love this place.”
“I wish we could race here three or four times a year.”
Surprising: It was a bit surprising that there were just enough cars at Darlington for a full 43 car field. For the first time in quite a long time, no one was sent home unhappy after qualifying for this Southern 500.
Not Surprising: Juan Pablo Montoya’s focus on execution continued at the ‘Lady in Black’. He and his No. 42 Target Chevrolet team had a great run, finishing eighth.
“Well, we didn’t unload as good as we wanted, but we got it really good,” Montoya said. “I keep telling the guys we have got to execute.”
“If every person here does their best, we are going to be looking like heroes here.”