NASCAR Preview

Last Updated Wednesday, Jul 20, 2005 5:27 pm, EDT

Mountain Dew Southern 500

Status: Final Darlington Raceway

Race Capsule

Darlington Raceway
  • What:

    Race 35 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC

  • When:

    November 14, 2004 1:50 pm EST

  • Laps:

    367

  • Track Length:

    1.366 miles

  • Race Length:

    501.00 miles

  • Purse:

    $5,219,075

Drivers to Watch

Kurt Busch Overcame numerous obstacles, including a starting position of 28th and a spin out coming off turn 4, to finish 10th in Checker Auto Parts 500 last week; owns 41-point lead over Jeff Gordon entering penultimate race of the season; only driver to finish in the top 10 seven times in first eight "Chase" races; a 42nd in Atlanta was only finish outside the top 10; has three wins this year among his 11 career checkered flags; opened "Chase" with a victory in Sylvania 300, completing a season sweep at Loudon; has nine top-five finishes and 19 top-10s, including 11 in the last 14 races; won first career pole here in 2001; in search of his first pole this year.
Jimmie Johnson On the heels of three consecutive checkered flags, ran sixth in Checker Auto Parts 500 last week; is 48 points off the pace in fourth but just seven points behind teammate Gordon for second; prior to becoming first driver to record three straight wins since Gordon won four in a row in 1998, finished 10th or worse in each of the first four "Chase" races; leads circuit with 18 top-five finishes; won Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 here in March and is looking to become first driver since Jeff Burton in 1999 to post a season sweep in Darlington; ran third in this race last year and has an average finish of 9.20 here - best among drivers with at least five starts; employing familiar strategy entering last two races: "The best thing the Lowe's team can do is to act and feel like we did three weeks ago, which is to say 'We don't have a shot at it and we just need to go out there and win races.'"
Jeff Gordon Will make 400th career start this weekend; returned to second in the standings - 41 points behind Busch - following a third in Phoenix last week; had fallen to third after transmission failure led to a 34th in Atlanta two weeks ago; has recorded five top-10 finishes during the "Chase" as he seeks his fifth NASCAR championship; has been in the top three in the standings since winning the Pepsi 400 on July 3; third with five victories this season, with most recent coming in Brickyard 400 on August 8; six-time winner on this track, including season sweep in 1996; no other "Chase" driver has more than one win here; won this race five times, including four straight triumphs from 1995 to 1998; accidents were to blame for a 34th in this race last year and a 41st in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 here in March.
Mark Martin Fell a spot to fifth in the standings - 102 points off the pace - following a 15th in Phoenix last week; a second in Atlanta two weeks ago was his only finish inside the top-10 in last six races; lone checkered flag this season came in the MBNA 400 "A Salute to Heroes" on June 6; only triumph in 37 career starts on this track came in a race shortened by rain in 1993; has 22 top-10s here and his 12.73 average finish on this track ranks third among "Chase" drivers; ran seventh in Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 here in March among his 14 top-10s this season; the 45-year-old has announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2005 season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bounced back from consecutive 33rd-place finishes to lead 118 laps and take the green-white checkered flag in last week's Checker Auto Parts 500; was his second win during the "Chase for the Championship"; regained the two spots in the standings he had lost following a crash in Atlanta two weeks ago and is third, 47 points off the pace; after victory in the EA Sports 500 on October 3, was docked 25 points for use of profanity during post-race interview; second in the circuit with six wins despite not winning a pole this year; only front-row start this season came on this track in March; went on to finish 10th in Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 here as one of his 21 top-10s this year; his legendary father was a nine-time winner at Darlington.
Tony Stewart The 2002 series champion ran eighth last week in Phoenix, marking his fifth top-10 in eight "Chase" races; has finished no lower than 15th since a crash instigated by Robby Gordon in the championship-opening Sylvania 300 resulted in a 39th; is sixth in the standings, 142 points behind Busch; best finish in this race was a fourth in 2001; also ran fourth here in Mall.com 400 in March of 2000; ran 12th in this event last year when it was held on Labor Day weekend; holds this race in the same esteem despite being run two months later than normal: "Five hundred miles at Darlington is still 500 miles at Darlington, no matter when you're racing there. It's a tough race track and a tough race. The date of the Southern 500 might've changed, but the race sure hasn't."
Ryan Newman Edged Gordon to take second in the Checker Auto Parts 500 last week; remained seventh in the standings but gained 36 points on Busch to move to 150 points off the pace; has won each of the last four poles and leads the circuit with nine poles and an average start of 7.68 this season; most recent pole clinched his third consecutive Bud Pole Award, becoming the first driver since Darrell Waltrip in 1981-83 to achieve that feat; won the pole for this race last year but finished 23rd; has three top-five finishes in six career starts on this track, including a second in his first start in this race in 2002; ran third here in Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in March; excited for Sunday's race: "Darlington is hands down my favorite track to drive on. ... Mix it and Rockingham together and you have the perfect track. Both are really racy."
Jamie McMurray A 24th in Phoenix last week was his worst since the Pennsylvania 500 in July and ended a run of 10 top-10 finishes in an 11-race span; has 215-point lead over Dale Jarrett in race for 11th place, which will command a prize of approximately $1 million; the 11th-place finisher will also be able to join the "Chase" drivers in the Nextel Cup awards ceremony in New York in December; ran fourth as a rookie in this race last year but struggled to a 21st in Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 here in March; runner-up twice this season with most recent second coming three weeks ago in Subway 500; in search of first win since UAW-GM Quality 500 on October 13, 2002.