Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Darlington Raceway

Thursday, May 10, 2012


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.

September 4, 1950: 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 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 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), No. 18 Kyle Busch (29 laps, finished 7th), No. 31 Jeff Burton (31 laps, finished 8th), No. 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.  

May 7, 2011:
 Regan Smith won the SHOWTIME Southern 500, his first victory in 105 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet driver started 23rd in the lineup and scored his second top-10 finish in 2011.  Drivers leading at least 10 of the 370 laps: Winner Smith (11 laps), No. 1 Jamie McMurray (13 laps, finished 9th), No. 39 Ryan Newman (28 laps, 5th), No. 29 Kevin Harvick (47 laps, 17th), No. 99 Carl Edwards (57 laps, 2nd), No. 18 Kyle Busch (78 laps, 11th) and No. 4 Kasey Kahne (pole-sitter) led the most laps (124) and finished 4th.

Fantasy games 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, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.  There were 46 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Mid-Pack picks
Jamie McMurray has a total of 11 Sprint Cup starts at Darlington, earning three top-five and five top-10 finishes.  He has been pretty consistent with an average start of 14.3, an average finish of 14.5 and had only one DNF (blown engine).  His best outing was in 2010 when he started on the pole and finished in second. In last season’s Southern 500, he led 13 laps and finished ninth. He has also scored four top-fives and one win (2004) in ten career Nationwide Series starts at the track “Too Tough to Tame”.  The No. 1 Chevrolet driver should be considered for another consistent top-15 (or better) this Saturday night.

Since April 1st (Martinsville), Kasey Kahne has gone from 31st in the standings to 19th heading into Darlington. We probably won’t be able to consider him after the next race or two. So, with an average finish of 14.6 in nine starts at Darlington, we like his chances this week.  Kahne, the defending Darlington pole winner, has four poles here (the most of all fulltime drivers). His most recent pole set a new track record of 181.254 mph. He led the most laps and finished 4th in that event. The No. 5 Chevrolet driver’s recent improvement in the point standings is due to four consecutive top-10 finishes. There’s no reason not to expect that streak to continue this weekend.

With only about 12 laps to go in the 2011 Southern 500, and while running around 12th place, Jeff Burton’s engine quit on the No. 31 Chevrolet (credited with a 33rd place DNF). His worst finish in the previous five starts at Darlington was a 12th place. In 21 Cup starts here, he’s averaged a 12.1 finish, including two wins. Burton also ran 25 Nationwide Series races at this track, averaging a 10.3 finish. Four of those races resulted in victories (three of them consecutively). That makes him our kind of guy for a Darlington top-15 run.

Our deepest pick this week is Bobby Labonte. In his Cup Series championship winning season (2000), he captured a Darlington victory, in a backup car, from a 37th place start in the lineup. In 31 starts at "The Lady in Black", Labonte has one pole, five top-five and 11 top-ten finishes. His overall average finish is a 15.9 at the track. On the final lap in the 2011 Southern 500, he came close to another top ten. “We ran good and almost had a top-10 finish last year, but got caught up in an accident on the final lap,” said Labonte, who made hard contact with the retaining wall from another car running into him while in 11th place. Give the veteran No. 47 Toyota driver a look for another possible shot at a top-ten.



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


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