Previewing The Bojangles Southern 500 At Darlington Raceway

This weekend, NASCAR heads to the track nicknamed “too tough to tame” and rightly so. Darlington Raceway is a 1 mile egg-shaped oval nestled in a small town in South Carolina and once a year, NASCAR awakens this legendary speedway and will adorn the lady with her signature black walls before the race is done.  Darlington was NASCAR’s first paved speedway hosting its first event back in 1950 where 1956 USAC Stock Car Champion and Indy 500 competitor Johnny Mantz won in what would be his only Cup win. He was running off road tires starting the race 43rd and although Mantz was slow in time, everyone else tore up their tires as he rode around with his more durable ones and cruised to victory by over 9 laps. In fact, so many tires were being torn up that some crews raided the parking lots taking tires from cars owned by race fans.

This track has a quite a history and is one of the most psychically demanding venues on the schedule. The two sets of corners offer a unique challenge to drivers considering that they are very different from one another. As these brave racers roar around the track at over 180mph, they run literally inches away from the wall and most hit it at least once during the 500 mile race. Harold Brasington had a vision to design a speedway that would rival Indianapolis and at the team of its construction, stock car racing had never competed on such a circuit. Darlington quickly became an iconic track that every driver wanted to have on their resume. The Generation-6 racecar gets to take on The Lady in Black Saturday night and you can be assured that it will be wild as these drivers try to throw these cars around at 200mph while remaining on the edge of control and inches away from disaster.

Darlington Raceway Track Data


American Muscle

Track Size: 1.366-miles

Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 25 degrees

Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 23 degrees

Banking/Frontstretch: 6 degrees

Banking/Backstretch: 6 degrees

Frontstretch Length:  1,229 feet

Backstretch Length:  1,229 feet

Race Length: 367 laps / 501.3 miles

Capacity: 75,000

 

Track History & Records

Inaugural Race Winner: Johnny Mantz by 9 laps over Fireball Roberts

Most Wins By a Driver: David Pearson (10)

Most Wins By a Team:   Hendrick Motorsports (14)

Most Wins By a Manufacturer: Chevrolet (40)

Youngest Race Winner: Kyle Busch at 23 years, 0 months and 8 days in May of 2008

Oldest Race Winner: Harry Gant at 51 years, 7 months and 22 days in September of 1991

Least Amount of Cautions: None in September of 1963 (Data from 1 event is missing)

Most Amount of Cautions: 17 in May of 2009 (Data from 1 event is missing)

– This will be the 110th NSCS race held at Darlington Raceway

– 700 drivers competed at Darlington and 45 of them have won at least once

– Richard Petty has made more starts at Darlington than any other driver with 65

 

Darlington Qualifying Stats

Track Record: Kasey Kahne with a lap time of 27.131 (181.254mph) in May of 2011

Youngest Pole Winner: Kurt Busch at 23 years, 0 months and 29 days in September of 2001

Oldest Pole Winner:  David Pearson  at 47 years, 8 months and 15 days in September of 1982

Inaugural Pole Winner: Curtis Turner with a speed 82.034mph in 1950

– 47 drivers have won poles at Darlington led by David Pearson with 12

– 36 of the 109 NSCS races at Darlington have been won from the front row: 19 from the pole and 17 from second-place (33.0%)

-94 of the 109 NSCS races at Darlington have been won from a top-10 starting position (86.2%)

– 6 of the 109 NSCS race sat Darlington have been won from a starting position outside the top 20 (5.6%)

– The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 43rd by Johnny Mantz in 1950

 

Top 10 Best Driver Ratings at Darlington

1.) Jeff Gordon………………………… 111.8

2.) Greg Biffle………………………….. 110.5

3.) Denny Hamlin………………………. 109.5

4.) Jimmie Johnson…………………… 105.7

5.) Kyle Busch…………………………. 102.3

6.) Kasey Kahne………………………… 98.3

7.) Ryan Newman……………………….. 97.6

8.) Martin Truex Jr………………………. 95.2

9.) Carl Edwards………………………… 93.9

10.) Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 90.4

 

Best Average Finish Among Active Drivers

1.) Denny Hamlin——5.9

2.) Jimmie Johnson—9.1

3.) Brad Keselowski—-9.2

4.) Martin Truex Jr.—-11.3

5.) Jeff Gordon———11.8

 

 

Most Wins Among Active Drivers

1.) Jeff Gordon———7

2.) Jimmie Johnson—3

3.) Mark Martin——–2

4.) Greg Biffle———–2

5.) Jeff Burton———-2

 

Most Top 5’s Among Active Drivers

 

1.) Jeff Gordon———-18

2.) Mark Martin——–17

3.) Jeff Burton———-8

4.) Jimmie Johnson—-7

5.) Ryan Newman——-7

 

Most Top 10’s Among Active Drivers

1.) Mark Martin——26

2.) Jeff Gordon——-21

3.) Jeff Burton——–16

4.) Bobby Labonte—11

5.) Tony Stewart——11

 

Most Laps Led Among Active Drivers

1.) Jeff Gordon———–1,720

2.) Jeff Burton———–817

3.) Mark Martin———801

4.) Greg Biffle————713

5.) Jimmie Johnson—-543

 

Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin have a ton of experience at Darlington and all three have also won at this track multiple times. Darlington is a place where you must race the track, not your competitors and veterans like those three are aces at doing that. Conserving your equipment for the end is key to staying in contention as the laps wind down. Jimmie Johnson has also had a lot of success at this legendary speedway winning three times with the most recent victory coming last year. In a 500 mile grueling race like the Southern 500, veterans have the advantage but that doesn’t mean the young guns have never made some noise. Kyle Busch won this race back in 2008 at just 23 years of age and in 2011, then 27 year old Regan Smith pulled off the upset taking Furniture Row Racing to victory lane for the first time.

The Lady in Black has never been very kind to 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup runner-up Clint Bowyer who has just one top 10 in 7 starts (9th) and four finishes of 23rd or worse. His former teammate Kevin Harvick has also struggled to find success at Darlington never winning and posting a top 10 result just once since 2004 and that was his 6th place finish in 2010. He rarely leads laps and an average finish of 18.8 shows just how difficult of a time he has had here. This track eats up tires and pushes drivers to the limit and sometimes over the edge. There have been post-race altercations in both events the past two years and a Busch brother was involved in each incident. Speeds are nearing the 200mph mark in the Gen-6 which is unprecedented at this 1.3 mile oval. It was purpose built for speeds around 100mph back in the 50’s and the high banked part of the track we race now was actually used as a runoff area. If there wasn’t enough incentive to win the Southern 500, this is the final opportunity for someone to win their way into the All-Star Race with the exception of the Sprint Showdown. It’s sure to be exciting as the best stock car racing has to offer takes on the track too tough to tame this Saturday night!


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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