NASCAR Preview

Last Updated Sunday, May 16, 2010 1:31 am, EDT

Showtime Southern 500

Status: Final Darlington Raceway

Race Capsule

Darlington Raceway
  • What:

    Race 11 of 36 on Sprint Cup circuit

  • Where:

    Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC

  • When:

    May 8, 2010 7:45 pm EDT

  • Laps:

    367

  • Track Length:

    1.366 miles

  • Race Length:

    501.00 miles

  • Purse:

    $5,547,815

Drivers to Watch

Jamie McMurray McMurray has only three top-10 finishes in nine starts at Darlington but does have one Nationwide Series win at the track. He will be racing a new car this weekend. "We know we need a good run this weekend, and we are confident this car can get it done for us," said McMurray, who is 109 points out of the top 12.
Jeff Gordon Gordon climbed a whopping four positions in the points and is sixth, 162 out of the top spot. Darlington is one of Gordon's two best tracks -- he has an incredible seven victories there, same as Martinsville. His latest Darlington win came in 2007. He also has 17 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 29 Darlington starts and has been in the top five the last six races there, including a fifth-place finish last year. "It's funny -- when I look at my favorite tracks, Darlington is not one of those tracks that necessarily goes to the top of my list, but it is certainly in my top five and it is primarily just because of the performances that we've had there and the results that we've had there," Gordon said. "It's been one of my best tracks from a stats standpoint, and it's one of those challenging racetracks. I don't know a driver that doesn't love a good challenge. Our race team has been really awesome there as well putting good race cars on the track. ... Right now I'm looking forward to going to every race. I am. Our cars are really good, especially on the mile-and-a-half [tracks]. We showed it at Vegas; we showed it at Texas. I felt like we were good at the Charlotte test. I felt like we were pretty good at California before we had engine trouble. We have a lot of great things going on, and when things are going well for us, Darlington is one of those tracks that I really get excited about."
David Reutimann Reutimann has never finished better than 19th in his three Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. He is quick to point out, "Darlington definitely earns its nickname -- that place is just tough! I mean, that name (Too Tough To Tame) is just spot on. That place is way too tough to tame."
Mark Martin Martin, who plummeted four spots in the standings to 10th place and is 225 out of the lead, is a two-time Darlington winner with victories in 1993 and last year. He has 17 top-five finishes and 26 top-10s in 43 starts there. He had finished 14th and 16th in the previous two Darlington races before winning, but he still has six top-10 finishes in his last nine Darlington starts. "It (winning at Darlington last year) didn't mean much to me in particular about Darlington -- I just like winning," Martin said. "I don't care if it is one of the toughest race tracks or races or whatever. Man, you don't get to choose these things, you just go take the ones you can get and be happy. That's kind of how I felt about it. I don't feel particularly more proud of winning Darlington than I did Michigan or Phoenix or Chicago or any of the others. I mean, if it was the only race I won in my career and I only got to win one, Darlington might be kind of up on top of the list, but I would still feel the same way. I don't care where it is as long as I get to win one. That is how I feel about it. It was cool to win there. It had been so long since we'd won the Southern 500 that most people didn't know I had won one. It is kind of cool. That was our second win in a short span, so it was really, really nice."
Ryan Newman Newman finished fourth in last year's race at Darlington for his seventh top-10 finish in 11 starts at the track, including a second in the 2002 Southern 500. "Darlington and the Southern 500 ranks right up there with the Daytona 500, the Brickyard (Indianapolis) and the Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte) as a race that I want to win before I retire," said Newman. "It's definitely a goal of mine to get a win at Darlington."
Denny Hamlin Hamlin climbed two positions in points and is 199 out of first place. He has one top-five and three top-10 finishes in four Darlington starts and was 13th last year.
Brad Keselowski Keselowski finished seventh in his Sprint Cup debut at Darlington in 2009. "Darlington is one of my favorite tracks," said Keselowski. "I wish we had more like it on the schedule. It's just a tough, old race track that is nothing like anywhere else we go."
Kasey Kahne Kahne has only two top-10 finishes in seven starts at Darlington but has won three poles at the track. "We've always qualified well there, except for 2008 (when he started 42nd)," said Kahne. "I'd say we can qualify pretty well again this weekend and get a good top-five starting spot."
AJ Allmendinger Allmendinger finished 17th in the 2009 race at Darlington for his best finish in three starts at the oldest super speedway on the circuit. His car will have a new Ford FR9 engine. "I'm really excited about that engine," he said. "I think we're all pleased with what we've seen with it so far."
Joey Logano Logano qualified fifth, led 19 laps and ended up ninth in his first Sprint Cup start at Darlington in 2009. "Last year, I really struggled through practice -- we were somewhere between 25th and 30th," said Logano. "Then in qualifying I went in with a different attitude and all of a sudden it just clicked, like a light switch went on. I qualified fifth, led laps and was running up frontat Darlington. I'm really looking forward to going back."
Kurt Busch Busch, who lost one spot in the standings and is 212 points out, has one top-five finish and four top-10s in 13 starts at Darlington. He was 16th last year, continuing a miserable streak of five straight finishes of 12th or worst. "It's one of the crown jewels of our sport and certainly is special," Busch said of the Southern 500. "It's a tough track that will chew you up and spit you out. You make a mistake on any lap and that track will let you know about it. If you can conquer Darlington on any day, then you've done something really special. The fact that the track brought back the historical name for this race definitely rekindled the significance for a big win there. All the tracks in the Southeast definitely have their place in history. They have been on the circuit the longest. They all have their own unique identity because they were the first tracks built and that's where our sport started. Darlington was one of the first speedways to be built, and it was built way too early to handle the speeds that grew with the cars and all the years that NASCAR has been racing there. It's been a testament of challenge through history to deal with the speed and the close confines there, keeping your car's speed up yet keeping it off the wall lap after lap."
Juan Pablo Montoya Montoya finished 20th last year at Darlington for his best finish in three Cup starts at the track. "It's very easy to hit the wall (at Darlington)," said Montoya. "I always hit the wall in qualifying. Honestly, I've been there three times and hit it three times. Hopefully this time I can avoid that. We need another run like we had at Richmond."
Greg Biffle Biffle, who dropped two positions in the standings and is 133 out of the lead, won at Darlington in 2005 and 2006. But those are his only two top-five finishes and half of his four top-10 finishes in nine starts. He was eighth last year -- his first top-10 in three races at Darlington. "Darlington is the hardest place we race," Biffle said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt has seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts at Darlington, including four in the last five races. "The line you have to run around that track is really unorthodox," said Earnhardt, who is only four points out of the top 12. "It's a real narrow race track. You get in the fence a lot during the race, and it is real slick and tough to drive."
Paul Menard Menard finished 15th last year at Darlington for his best finish in three Sprint Cup starts at the track. "There really is not another track like Darlington Raceway," said Menard. "It's a tight track, for the most part, so the biggest thing will be making sure you're able to pass when you are able. Turns three and four are the best for that."
David Ragan Ragan finished fifth in 2008 for his lone top-10 finish in three starts at Darlington. "Darlington certainly has the high speeds of a track like Charlotte, but it's a smaller track," said Ragan. "It's a very challenging race, but it's also very rewarding if you can run well and win there. It's definitely one of my top five places to go."
Jimmie Johnson Johnson is a two-time Darlington winner, sweeping both races in 2004 -- the final year that two races were held at the track. He has six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts there and was second last year. That's one of his seven top-10 finishes in his last eight Darlington races. During that stretch he has six top-five finishes. "Darlington is a tough track because of how narrow it is," Johnson said. "Since they repaved it, you have a lot more grip than you did in the past. We're running 190 mph around a track that was designed to run 130 mph. And the fact that it's so narrow makes it really, really tough but at the same time a lot of fun when you have it right. It's one of the coolest race tracks we run on. It was more that direction (racing the race track) with the old asphalt down because you could be hero for two or three laps and then you were terrible after that because you burned the tires off the car. So the mindset of just driving the car on how it could without being abrasive to it and focusing on the track, it used to be really important. It still is, because you're going so fast the walls come up and bite you and you get a Darlington stripe. It's just a place where you need to ignore the other 42 cars and focus on your race car and driving the race. In the past, it's been (that) a good-handling race car was key to winning at Darlington. It is still important, but I think track position is really important. A good qualifying effort and good pit stops and anything that you can have that keeps you toward the front is going to make a big difference."
Tony Stewart Stewart finished a career-best third a year ago at Darlington for his ninth top-10 finish in 17 starts at the track. But with five straight finishes of 16th or worse this season, Stewart admits he and crew chief Darian Grubb are "both confused" about "what's going on and why it's going on. We haven't been able to be good the last half of races, the last two-thirds of the races."
Clint Bowyer Bowyer has finished in the top 10 only once in four Cup starts at Darlington. Bowyer knows time is running out if he wants to win a race and qualify for the All-Star event on May 22. "We head to Darlington confident we can get the job done, but it is a difficult place to win at," said Bowyer. "We had a chance to be part of the Goodyear tire test, and I think that will give us a slight advantage."
Matt Kenseth Kenseth remains fourth in points, 119 out. Kenseth is looking for his first Darlington win and has just one top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 16 starts. He was 10th last year but has a streak of four straight top-10s there. "Darlington is a great race track, known for its history and unique layout," Kenseth said. "It's very fast and narrow, and the biggest challenge is getting around there as fast as possible without hitting the wall. Since they paved it a few years ago, it's a pretty difficult place to race. You need a really fast car and you have to have the track position at the end of the race."
Martin Truex Jr. Truex finished sixth last year at Darlington for his first top-10 finish in four Cup starts at the track. He led 61 laps. "I haven't won there, but I feel like some of my best performances as a driver have come at that track," said Truex. "It really challenges you as a driver. You really have to be up on the wheel and concentrate all day and all night long."
Kevin Harvick Harvick has ended Jimmie Johnson's reign as the points leader after moving up one position in the standings. He has a 10-point lead heading to Darlington. "All right! Only 25 to go," Harvick said after taking over the Cup lead. "I think, for us, it's 10 races. The Chase is 10 races as well. You look at that and say that we can lead the points after 10 races. But I think in order for us to get better, we have to be a little better on pit road and be more consistent there. We can't afford to make big mistakes. We just can't do that. We have got to keep pushing ahead when it comes to our cars. You can't just sit on your hands, and I don't think we are doing that. I know we aren't. Our R&D department is doing what they need to do to make things better." Harvick has never won at Darlington, the South's first superspeedway, but has two top-five and four top-10 finishes in 13 starts. He was 11th last year and hasn't finished in the top 10 at Darlington since 2004 -- a streak of six races. "It's got that same Darlington feel, but it's just at a high speed now and the tires don't fall off at all," Harvick explained. "You can carry a lot more momentum lap after lap, so it's just like it was before in that just one mistake bites you. There is just so much grip now at Darlington. Clint (Bowyer) did the tire test and the speeds in race trim are quite a bit faster than we ran last year, now that we have the spoiler. You just have to be on top of everything that you are doing lap after lap, because in order to run fast you have to be right up against the wall on both ends."
Kyle Busch Busch climbed two positions in the standings and is 109 points out of the lead. Busch won at Darlington in 2008, but that is his only top-five finish there and is one of his two top-10s in five starts. He was 34th last year.
Carl Edwards Edwards has four top-10 finishes in six starts at Darlington, including a second in 2008. "I love Darlington," said Edwards. "It's a place with a lot of history and a place where the driver can really make a big difference. I think that's why everyone loves going there. For me a win there would be very special."