Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:57 AM
Bojangles' Southern 500
No more week's off NASCAR...Okay?!?!
As payment for ruining my past weekend without it, I've been rewarded with paybacks of a Sunday night race at a historic track that produces amazing races and the cars will all be dolled up with throwback paint schemes. Yes, it was a fair deal.
Sunday's Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway's 1.366-mile high-banked egg-shaped oval is going to be intense. I love everything about the track with four differing turns and banking different on each side of the track. I love "The Lady in Black" and all her amazing history that has been frustrating drivers since 1950. It is "The Track Too Tough to Tame" and part of the proof is the souvenir the Lady gives out called the Darlington Stripe.
“A Darlington Stripe is pretty easy to receive," Kyle Busch said. "Running at Darlington is so tough and we are carrying so much speed there nowadays that you have to run right up there against the wall in order to get your car pointed correctly for the next corner, the next apex you have to make. So, running next to the wall in (turn) one and (turn) two and turning down coming off of two and carrying big momentum and big speed down the backstretch in order to set yourself up for turn three is important.
"Running high in three and four all the way through the corner, trying to keep the momentum going, because it’s such a tighter corner that the radius difference between each end of the track, you try to spread that radius as wide as you can and that’s right up against the wall. So, at any moment that car can slip and, during a run when the tires fall off, you have to be aware of one to two seconds of tire fall-off and your car is slowing down and at any moment you might slip a little bit and tag that wall. It can be very easy to do.”
Kyle Busch's only win at Darlington came in 2008, but he's had the best car there at least three times. He's led laps in nine of his last 11 starts there and has finished no worse than 11th in his last nine starts. The Lady hasn't roughed him too much, but Busch doesn't exactly come in on a roll, or at least like he was in the first half of the season when he won four races. He hasn't won in his last 11 races, the last coming at Pocono on June 2.
Martin Truex Jr. has also been stuck on four wins for quite a while. His last win came at Sonoma on June 23. But his last four Darlington races have seen him finish 11th or better which includes his only Darlington win in 2016. Only one of his wins this season (Charlotte) have come with the race package using aero ducts and engines with 550 horsepower. The package using 750 horsepower on the shorter tracks have seen him be dominant.
The other Joe Gibbs Racing driver with four wins is Denny Hamlin. Three drivers from one team have won half of the 24 races this season. That is crazy. But while Busch and Truex are in a mini-slump lately in the win column, Hamlin is gaining momentum and it doesn't matter what race package he uses. He's won two fo the past four races and is on a roll of finishing fifth or better in his last six starts. He leads the series with 13 top-fives and is averaging a career-best ninth-place finish overall.
“This FedEx team is on such a roll right now," Hamlin said. "We show up fast to the racetrack each and every weekend, and I’m proud of what our entire team has been able to accomplish these past few weeks. We are happy with what we have been doing, but know there is a lot of work ahead of us, especially with the playoffs just around the corner.”
Things just keep getting better for Hamlin and now he goes to a track that he's been at his best at over his entire career. Five wins in the Xfinity Series and two wins in the Cup Series, the last coming in 2017 when he swept both races. He's averaged a 6.1 finish in his 13 Cup races. He gets what the Lady is all about. He manages his tires well for the long runs better than most. It's fair to say that the Lady loves him more than any other driver since Jeff Gordon retired.
Last season at Darlington it was Brad Keselowski winning followed by his Penske teammate Joey Logano. Third-place went to Kyle Larson, the second time in his career he's finished third at Darlington. Keselowski kind of swooped in and stole the race away from Larson who led a race-high 284 of the 367 laps, which included winning the first two stages.
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook thinks so highly of Larson this week that they made him the 5/1 betting favorite ahead of Hamlin, Truex, Busch, Keselowski, and Logano who are all co-second choices at 6/1 odds.
Only two races remain until the playoffs start in Las Vegas so it's going to be a race within the race for a few drivers sitting on the edge of being one of the 16 drivers trying to become eligible.
“We know how important these next two races are,” Bowyer said. “Everyone in the sport knows and everyone will be watching. We know if we run like we are capable of running, we will be fine. Now, we just have to go out and do it this weekend at Darlington and next weekend at Indy.”
Bowyer sits in 17th-place only two points behind Daniel Suarez for the last position. This match-up should be fun because The Lady has slapped Suarez around in his two Cup starts and she's also held a grudge against Bowyer for some reason. He doesn't have a top-five in 13 Darlington starts and is averaging a 22nd-place finish.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
3) #20 Erik Jones (16/1)
4) #19 Martin Truex (6/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)