Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Showtime Southern 500

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Track history: Track history

Harold Brasington had a dream in 1949 that he could turn an old cotton field in Darlington, SC into a super speedway for stock car racing. His friends and family thought he was crazy, but, he and his crew spent a year shaping the 1.366 mile speedway. Brasington often drove the bulldozers and grading equipment himself. The original planned track layout was a normal oval, but the owner of the land didn't want his minnow pond disturbed. The track was narrowed at the west end to allow for the pond, giving Darlington its egg-shaped design. Brasington expected about 10,000 fans for the first race in 1950 and was shocked when 25,000 fans packed the speedway.

On September 4, 1950, the first Cup race, the Southern 500, was run at Darlington Raceway. It became an annual Labor Day weekend race up until 2004 when it was moved to November in a swap for a California Speedway event.
In 1960, a second Darlington race, the Spring event, was added to the schedule and the track hosted two races up until 2005. In that year, the fall race was dropped from the schedule. A new Darlington tradition was started for the Spring event that same year and continues today. Since the race is on the eve of Mother's Day, several mothers of the participating drivers serve as grand marshals and give the command: "Sons and gentlemen, start your engines!".

Darlington Raceway is known as the track "Too Tough to Tame", which is why drivers never forget a Darlington victory. It's a track where, without warning, one could get his "Darlington Stripe" after getting too close to the wall. It is definitely a driver's track.

After the 2007 Cup race at Darlington, the entire track underwent a complete resurfacing. Paving began in mid-January, took nearly 15,000 tons of asphalt to complete and replaced a surface that was laid in 1994. All of the bumps were removed and, during a test of the new smooth surface in March 2008, speeds had increased to 200 mph at the end of the backstretch.

First Darlington Cup race: Curtis Turner ran an 82.034 mph lap in the Eanes Motor Co. No. 41 Oldsmobile to start on the pole of the 3-wide 75 car field in the September 4, 1950 Southern 500. He led 22 laps of the 400 lap event but crashed on lap 275. Johnny Mantz started 43rd in the No. 98 Westmoreland 1950 Plymouth, dominated the event by leading 351 laps and finished 9 laps ahead of runner-up, Fireball Roberts.

May 9, 2009: Matt Kenseth put up a track record qualifying lap of 179.514 mph in the No. 17 DeWalt Ford to start on the pole for the 2009 Southern 500. He spent the first 330 (of 367) laps running in the top 5. He led 16 laps and faded to 10th at the end. Kenseth's teammate, Greg Biffle, led the most laps (117) in the No. 16 3M Ford and took the checkered flag in 8th position. Around lap 319, the yellow flag waved for debris on the track and Mark Martin was one of several drivers who took a gamble by not pitting for fuel and tires. It paid off for Martin. He stretched the fuel in the No. 5 Cheez-it Chevrolet, led the 46 remaining laps and scored his second of five 2009 victories.

May 8, 2010: Jamie McMurray earned the 2nd of his four 2010 poles to lead the field to the green for the 2010 Showtime Southern 500 in the No. 1 Chevrolet. Drivers leading at least 10 of the 367 laps: McMurray (71 laps, finished 2nd), 18-Kyle Busch (29 laps, finished 7th), 31-Jeff Burton (31 laps, finished 8th), 24-Jeff Gordon (most laps 110, finished 4th). Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 Toyota, started 8th, led 104 circuits at the 1.366 mile oval and picked up his third (of 8) victory of 2010. Hamlin swept the weekend by winning the Nationwide Series the day before this race. That win was his third consecutive NNS victory at Darlington, all three from the pole.

Your fantasy game won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. There were 47 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Mid-Pack picks

Jamie McMurray has a total of 10 Sprint Cup starts at Darlington and is the defending pole sitter of the Southern 500. He has been consistent with an average start of 14.5, an average finish of 15.0 and had only one DNF (blown engine). That 15.0 average is his personal-best on any track that he raced on for at least 10 races. He also has scored three top-fives and one win (2004) in nine career Nationwide Series starts at the track "Too Tough to Tame". McMurray should be considered for another consistent top 15 (or better) this Saturday night.

NASCAR Statistics ranks Martin Truex Jr. 4th in their Quality Passes (passing while running in the top 15) category over the last five Cup races at Darlington. He made 150 QP's during those races and has an average finish of 12.8. His worst finish was a 19th last Mother's Day weekend but that was due to a transmission problem causing him to end the race one lap down to the leaders. Before moving up to Cup, he had three starts in the Nationwide Series. Truex started those races 10th, pole, 10th and finished 4th, 4th and 3rd. Last week, he "fired" his pit crew for costing him another good finish. His team owner agreed and replaced four of the crew for Darlington. Truex said this week: "Darlington is one of my favorite tracks." Most drivers don't feel that way.

Two weeks before his 19th birthday in 2009, Joey Logano didn't know he should fear Darlington since he drove like a pro. His first trip to the Lady in Black was a Nationwide Series start that ended in a 12th place finish. The next night, in the Sprint Cup race, he started 5th and finished 9th with a yellow rookie stripe on his back bumper. The Lady finally showed him she wanted respect in 2010. He started 13th but got his Darlington stripe around lap 53. Logano wasn't a factor for the rest of the race and finished 4 laps down in 27th. We're looking at him to continue his current run of top 15 finishes (3 out of the last 4 races). The No. 20 driver may not repeat his rookie year performance but we think he has a good shot at another top 15 this week.

Brad Keselowski made four Nationwide Series starts at Darlington with finishes of 36th (wrecked mid-race), 15th, 11th and 7th. In the Sprint Cup Series, his two starts ended in a 7th in 2009 and a 12th in 2010. That's a pretty good indicator he's capable of a top 15 finish at the South Carolina track. He's our deepest pick this week because of his 2011 season so far. Keselowski's only top 15 was a 15th at Phoenix in February. If you have a 'deep' league and need a reasonably priced pick to round out your roster, give the No. 2 a look this weekend.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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