Darlington Raceway needs no introduction this week. Its the 64th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 and there’s a reason why the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has continued to come back to the track Too Tough To Tame year after year. It’s NASCAR’s oldest paved superspeedway, and over the years has become one of my favorite stops on the series. There’s something about the history, the heritage, and the excitement about the racing at Darlington that keeps me glued to the broadcast and puts Darlington on my bucket list.
Last weekend’s chaos at Talladega left me in rough shape, but the good news for me is that nobody saw David Ragan soaring to Victory Lane either. Scoring an unlikely win on the last lap of last week’s Aaron’s 499 with help from his teammate David Gilliland, was a shot in the arm for both David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports, and all the under-funded teams in the sport. It was a major confidence booster in the garage for teams not normally in the spotlight, being that the entire race was dominated by the big guns like Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. It was a “David takes down Goliath” last week at Talladega, but don’t expect the same this week at Darlington.
As for my picks last week, I went with defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, Brad Kesolowski to win last week. Bad Brad made it through the mayhem of each of the big wrecks, but unfortunately had no help for a charge to the front following the rain delay and wound up finishing 15th.
As for my Dark Horse, Danica Patrick, a late race accident on lap 182 ended her long day of drafting. She missed a big accident early and waited out the three-hour rain only to be caught up in a late race crash on the backstretch when several cars began crashing in front of her. The incident put her out of the race, finishing in 33rd.
On Wednesday while previewing tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 with Greg Depalma on the Prime Sports Network, I picked Kasey Kahne to win, before the cars even hit the track in South Carolina. It’s a pick I still like after Kahne showed decent speed in practice and qualified the No.5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet in the fourth starting spot. He enters Saturday Night’s race coming off consecutive top 10’s at Darlington Raceway, leading laps in 3 of the last 4 at The Lady In Black. Flashback to 2011, Kahne dominated the Southern 500 in his No.4 Red Bull Toyota, leading a race-high 124 laps, but a late race incident involving oil dropped on the track, collected a slue of solid race cars including Kahne. NASCAR failed to throw a caution, despite many drivers reporting oil on the track, a call that was looked at as controversial in many drivers eyes. Kahne has completed all but one lap in his 10 races at Darlington, and he’s put himself in position to pick up his first win at the historic track through a solid qualifying run on Friday.
Dark Horse Pick
On Wednesday, I liked Ryan Newman’s chances at The Lady In Black, but throughout the weekend we haven’t seen much speed out of the No.39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet. I thought he was the guy to look at who has flown under the radar with solid finishes at Darlington, including 6 top 10’s in the last 8 races at Darlington. He traditionally has qualified very well in South Carolina, notching one pole and starting outside the top 12 just twice in 14 starts. He’s got some work to do if he’s to end up in Victory Lane, but needs a solid finish for not only his Chase hopes, but to keep Stewart-Haas racing on the radar as a major player in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
That’s all for this week, so until we head to Charlotte and All-Star Weekend, You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!