Saturday, May 12, 2012

The importance of winning the Southern 500

The Bojangles Southern 500 is the last race a driver can win in order to qualify for the All-Star Race. Regan Smith joined the All-Star team by winning his first Cup race here last year.

“That win meant the world to me,” said Smith to the media on Friday. “It was certainly a pretty special place to get a first win, here at Darlington.”  

Could AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Landon Cassill or even Danica Patrick be the next driver to win their very first Cup trophy this Saturday night?

Patrick had two chances to win this weekend, for she piloted the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports on Friday night and will drive the No. 10 Stewart-Haas/Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet on Saturday. "This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true. This Lady in Black is very intimidating," Patrick said Friday. "I'm just a trying to get comfortable with what the car needs me to do."

Patrick continued, "It's my honor to finally be here at a place like Darlington with so much history and tradition. I think I heard it was the first paved track. Is it true? And that's why it's called the Lady in Black, because it finally got paved. I'm learning my history and it's good to be here. I had a lot of respect for this place coming in," she said, "but having finally hit the track in both the cars, I've got even more respect now."

Patrick hit the wall during practice Friday. "I clipped it with the right rear on the exit of Turn Two," she said. "Then in the Cup car, I hit it entering three and then the next time I hit it flat in three and four in the middle of the corner," She went on to joke, "and oh yeah, right before that I hit the entry to three wall again. I've hit it four times. Getting pretty cozy with it."

Patrick did finish the Nationwide race in one piece, and in the 12th position.

Although a chance to compete in the May 19 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of the highlights of winning the Southern 500, there are more reasons why winning here is important.

Darlington Raceway is a place where history was made. Some drivers have won here several times; let’s look at who they are.

Buck Baker won at Darlington in 1953, 1960, and in 1964. Baker's son, Buddy, won in 1970 and in ’71.

David Pearson won here several times: '68, ’70, 72, ’73, ’74, ’76, again at the second race in 1976, and in ’77, ’79, and in 1980.

Bobby Allison won in 1971, ’72, twice in 1975, and once in 1983.

Darrell Waltrip has won here in 1977, ’79, ’81, ’84, and in 1992.

"The Intimidator," Dale Earnhardt, also has a plethora of wins: 1982, ’86, twice in ’87, once in ’89, twice in 1990; once in ’93 & ’94.

Harry Grant has won in 1983, ’84, ’89, ’91.

Bill Elliott, 16-time Most Popular Driver, won at Darlington twice in 1985, and once in ’88, ’92, and ’94.

Among today’s drivers, Jeff Gordon leads them all with the most wins. He "beat" the Lady in Black in 1995, twice in ’96 and once in ’97, ’98, 2002, and in ’07. Teammate and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson swept the 2004 races. Kasey Kahne won twice in the Truck Series, and is looking for his first Darlington Cup win, as is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne raced in the Nationwide Series on Friday in the No. 38 Great Clips car for Turner Motorsports, but a wreck in the end ruined his chance to sweep the weekend.

On Saturday, Johnson starts second and Kahne starts third, as both drivers had the same qualifying lap time of of 27.386 seconds and 179.566 mph. Earnhardt starts in 24th and Gordon in 12th.

Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Joey Logano, two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Cup Champion Matt Kenseth, three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are on the list of drivers who are looking to win their first Southern 500 trophy.

Keselowski finished the VFW Sports Clip Help a Hero 200 in the third position and will start the Bojangles Southern 500 in 15th.

Jeff Burton won twice in 1999, and his brother Ward won it in 2000 and 2001.

Who is next? Cup points leader Greg Biffle has two wins here in 2005 and ’06. A win here would be his second this season, and would let him hold on to the points lead. He won the pole for Saturday night - he's got the speed, and to win it from the pole will be a challenge.

Kyle Busch has a reputation of winning more than once at a track. Is the Lady in Black one track that may be too tough for him to tame twice?

Denny Hamlin will honor Cale Yarborough this weekend, sporting his (1979) paint scheme on the No. 11 Sports Clip Toyota. Yarborough won this race five times in his career: 1968, ’73, ’74, ’78, 82. Hamlin has already won in 2010, can he win it again this weekend? If he does, it’ll be the No. 11's 200th victory, and with Yarborough’s paint scheme, and name on the car, it would be quit a special victory for Hamlin and the team. He starts in the eighth position.

Hamlin dominated the Nationwide race on Friday, but finished in second. He admitted that's to be expected when you have a lead car.

In the end, every driver wants to win, and every driver expects to wreck - it started as early as the first few laps in Friday's practice. Johnson hit the wall, as did many of the big drivers. Knowing there will be many wrecks, checks and cautions on Saturday, who will cross the finish line first? It's a mystery for now but we'll have our answers soon enough.

Genevieve, this picture was taken by my 3 year old niece

Genevieve is a freelance writer with a day job living on Lake Norman in the Charlotte, N.C., area. When not writing, she's hanging out with family, friends, or exercising. All pictures in this post are her own, for photography is her new hobby. You can follow her on Twitter at @C_Genevieve.


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