Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Southern 500

Thursday, May 09, 2013

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 daughters 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.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Jimmie Johnson 5/12/12, Regan Smith 05/07/11, Denny Hamlin 05/08/10, Mark Martin 05/09/09 and Kyle Busch 05/10/08.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Terry Labonte 9/4/78 and T.J. Bell 5/7/11.
First Cup pole: Bill Elliott 4/12/81, Ken Schrader 3/29/87, John Andretti 9/03/95, Kurt Busch 9/2/01, Elliott Sadler 3/16/03 and Clint Bowyer 05/13/07.
First Cup win: Terry Labonte 9/1/80 and Regan Smith 5/7/11.

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 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: Race-winner Smith 11 laps; No. 1 Jamie McMurray 13 laps, finished ninth; No. 39 Ryan Newman 28 laps, finished fifth; No. 29 Kevin Harvick 47 laps, finished 17th; No. 99 Carl Edwards 57 laps, finished second; No. 18 Kyle Busch 78 laps, finished 11th and Pole-sitter No. 4 Kasey Kahne led the most laps (124) and finished fourth.

May 12, 2012:  Jimmie Johnson won the Bojangles' Southern 500, his 56th victory in 374 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. This was the No. 48 Chevrolet driver's first victory and eighth top-10 finish in 2012. It was his third victory and 10th top-10 finish in 14 races at Darlington Raceway.  Drivers leading at least 10 of the 368 laps: No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 25 laps, finished fifth; No. 5 Kasey Kahne 33 laps, finished eighth; No. 18 Kyle Busch 44 laps, finished fourth; No. 11 Denny Hamlin 56 laps, finished second; Pole-sitter No. 16 Greg Biffle 74 laps, finished 12th and Race-winner Johnson led the most laps (134).

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 20 finish as track favorites Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.  There were 44 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
Jeff Burton has visited Darlington's Victory Lane six times in Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series competition between 1997 thru 2002. He swept both Cup events in 1999 and both NNS events in 2002. Burton finished the 2012 edition of the Southern 500 in 18th place. With only about 12 laps to go in the 2011 race, and while running around 12th place, Burton’s engine expired (credited with a 33rd place DNF). His worst finish in the previous five starts at Darlington was a 12th place. In 30 Cup starts here, he’s averaged a 12.3 finish; in the last seven, he’s averaged a respectable 14.2. He also ran 25 NNS races at this track, averaging a 10.3 finish. Four of those races resulted in victories (three of them consecutively). That makes the No. 31 Chevrolet driver our kind of guy for a Darlington top-20 run.

Darlington Raceway is a Ryan Newman track. While he has yet to find victory lane at the 1.366-mile oval, he has impressive statistics at the “Track Too Tough To Tame.” Newman has scored top-five finishes in half of his 14 starts at Darlington, and also has nine top-10s. Over the last 10 Cup races here, he has earned the fourth-most championship points of all drivers entered in Saturday night's race. He has one Cup pole at Darlington, which came in August 2003. In addition to the pole, Newman has qualified in the top-10 in all but three races at the South Carolina oval. Find a spot on your roster for the No. 39 Chevrolet SS this week.

Regan Smith’s last three Sprint Cup starts at Darlington Raceway resulted in a 2010 17th place, a 2011 victory and a 14th place in 2012. The Nationwide Series regular posted two top-10s and a pair of 22nd place finishes in four Sprint Cup races this season. It is his turn behind the wheel of the No. 51 Chevrolet SS again this week. Smith, the current leader in the NNS point standings, will be getting in about 200 extra “practice” laps in Friday night’s NNS race before taking on the Cup guys on Saturday night. Consider the No. 51 as a fourth or fifth pick this week. 

For our final pick, we’re going with the wily veteran, Mark Martin. In 46 Cup dances with the ‘Lady in Black’, he carried a 12.4 average finish. This includes two wins, two poles, 17 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes. Over his last 10 starts, Martin’s average finish was a 10.7 which included a win (2009) and a worst finish of 20th (2012). So far in 2013, he is holding up his end of the ride-share deal at MWR by scoring top-15s in five of seven starts in the No. 55 Toyota Camry. He was on his way to another one at Richmond before being taken out by the No. 5 while running in the top-10. We think Martin is a good choice for a top-20 or better on Saturday night.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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