Previewing the Showtime Southern 500
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Darlington, S.C.
Specs: 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval; Banking/Turns: 23° and 25°; Banking/Fronstretch: 3°; Banking/Backstretch: 2°
2010 Winner: Denny Hamlin
2011 Race Length: 501.3 miles/367 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 180.370 mph (Jamie McMurray, 2010)
Race Record: 140.350 mph (Kyle Busch, 2008)
From the Spotter's Stand
Denny Hamlin was in total control of the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” as he became the first driver to sweep the Cup race and Nationwide stop in the same weekend at Darlington since Mark Martin in 1993.
Hamlin edged runner-up Jamie McMurray by 1.908 seconds, but the main competition for the No. 11 Toyota was seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon (110 laps led) and two-time Palmetto State champ Jeff Burton, both of whom made costly mistakes on pit road before finishing fourth and eighth, respectively.
Regardless of his late-race miscues last year, Gordon is still the driver to beat at Darlington. The 24 car has a seven-race streak of top-5 finishes at the track.
Crew Chief’s Take
“The key to surviving Darlington is patience. A driver must race the track, not the competitors for the first 100 miles just to be assured of being around at the end. It is, mentally and physically, one of the toughest race tracks, and it’s unforgiving.
“It’s most challenging for the driver, but it’s really challenging for the team, too. There isn’t much margin for error, and you just can’t get the car really right because of that damned egg shape and narrow groove. But if you’re a competitor, it inspires you, and the drivers and teams that excel here are the ones that love the old place.”
Looking at Checkers: Only the best win at Darlington. Go top shelf with your pick(s).
Pretty Solid Pick: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle. In that order.
Good Sleeper Pick: Read the next line, then come back. OK, Brad Keselowski is the exception.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: If they don’t have at least three years under their belt, pass on ’em.
Insider Tip: Interestingly, Tony Stewart has never won at Darlington. You have to figure this is one of those bucket list races for him at this point in his career.
Classic Moments at Darlington
Tim Richmond enjoys his most successful NASCAR season in 1986. And on Labor Day weekend, he scores his most prestigious Cup win in the Southern 500.
Nine different drivers lead at least one lap throughout the afternoon, but Richmond (168) and Geoff Bodine (162) are the drivers to beat. After Bodine slips late with darkness falling and in damp conditions, Richmond dirt-tracks his No. 25 Folger’s Chevy by Bill Elliott with five laps to go and streaks away to score his fifth win of the year.
Richmond wins two more races in 1986, but his battle with AIDS wrecks what’s left of his career. He competes in only eight races in 1987, winning the first two he enters, at Pocono and Riverside. Richmond passes away on Aug. 13, 1989.