Nascar At Darlington: Who’ll Tame The Track That’s Too Tough To Tame?

Rusty NormanThere’s reason why they call it “the track that’s too tough to tame”, but if anyone has come close to taming it in recent history, the name Jeff Gordon would probably be at the top of the list. He has often performed well at this track and is one of the favorites to win this weekend. That’s not to say he isn’t up against some stiff competition this weekend, but if practice and qualifying say anything at all about the possibilities for who could win the Showtime Southern 500, the #24 team has a good chance to get back into the win column.

Now that I’ve said that, you already know what I think of trying to use qualifying times as a judge of performance for any particular race and this one is no different. Since track position is going to be important for the race tonight, having a good spot in the pits is a necessity and qualifying at, or near, the front of the field offers that benefit to the teams that do. Other than that, I think qualifying times offer very little insight into how the race will go simply because the lap times change so much over a run.

It is a well known fact that Darlington is a very narrow race track even though it appears wider because of the width of the apron and disappointment is usually the result for anyone trying to run on the apron to pass. There simply is no grip below the white line and, more often than not, the one that thinks it looks like a good idea to use the lower line quickly finds himself with a bent up race car and possibly an ended night, (and usually there is more than one caught up along with them.)

In this fan’s opinion, the race at Darlington tonight could prove to be a very interesting one. The “Lady in Black” has been known to take more than one driver’s good night and  turn it into a bad one in less time than it takes to take a glance in the rear view mirror. Disaster can strike anyone at any time and it isn’t always the fault of the one that is affected the most severely. Quite often, a driver can be running along patiently advancing through the field and get caught up in something totally unexpected and completely out of his control.

Taking a look at the competition for tonight’s race makes me think it could go one of two ways. Darlington is a track position track more than anything else. Yes, tires help and fuel mileage could be a factor if there are extended green flag runs, but it is hard to pass there. The driver that gets out front and can stay there around the top groove will probably walk away with the trophy.

The Hendrick teams, led by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, could be factors in the race tonight. Judging from recent performances, the Joe Gibbs teams, in particular Denny Hamlin, will be pressing toward the front from the drop of the green flag. Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya could also be factors because they have been running strong but have been unable to avoid problems recently, (although, tonight could be the night that changes all that.)

It is this fan’s opinion that tonight’s race will be more a single file race, especially at the front, for extended periods. I do think the end of the race will be much more interesting than the beginning or the middle. In the beginning I expect a few cars to get out front and try to get as far away from the rest as they can until pit stops or cautions bring the field back together for those infamous “double-file” restarts.

As for who will win tonight, I am really torn between several different scenarios. One is someone totally unexpected like David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose or even Bryan Vickers pulling out their first victory on the year. Second, would be one of the regular teams like Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer or Matt Kenseth. Any one of them has been performing well enough to mention as possible victors tonight even though their qualifying times don’t necessarily say they will. Although I know Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle could win, I just don’t think tonight is going to be the night they shine.

Unfortunately, that leaves me with thinking the front runners are going to come from the usual teams and the winner will be an expected name even though not necessarily one I’ve mention so far. It could be Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Kyle Bush or even Kurt Bush. Heck, it could be even be Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr or even Dale Earnhardt Jr (and that one would be a real shock to me.)

When it comes down to the final laps, we all know a late race caution can change the whole thing anyway and track position is going to be the most important thing when they all re-start double file (although tires can make a difference, too.) Once again, the possibility of three green-white-checkers can completely change the expected outcome with only a few laps to go and I am expecting at least one before this one is over. Because Darlington’s best groove is the one nearest to the wall, the last re-start will be an interesting one indeed. It will depend on who gets out front first and who is willing to lean on whom and how hard.

I think Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin are going to be having a real shootout at the last laps… but then… that’s just me…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© May 8, 2010 – all rights reserved

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