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NASCAR Darlington Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, May 07, 2010

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Last year's Cup race winner Mark Martin
The lady in black. The track too tough to tame. The grand daddy of them all. The Darlington stripe. Those are just a few of the buzz phrases you'll be hearing a lot of Saturday night when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes their annual stop at the historic Darlington Raceway for the running of the Showtime Southern 500.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The fastest way around this speedway is the high line and that means a driver has to earn and collect his Darlington stripe. This occurs when the right fender of the car lightly grazes the wall while negotiating a turn. The result is a light scrap mark usually found right through the middle of the sponsor's logo.

If the procedure is performed correctly by the driver then he gains a massive amount of momentum coming off the turn. In past Darlington events this procedure has actually become the difference between winning and losing a race.

However if a driver's aim is slightly off then the Darlington stripe can quickly turn a strong run into a lost cause. If the historical lady In black is going to reach out and slap a driver she will likely aim for either one of the right side tires during the Darlington stripe process. If the lady is in a particularly bad mood she will pancake the entire right side of a race car on a whim.

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There's plenty of good news for Joe Gibbs Racing this week. First off there was a statement made by the sports marketing executives from FedEx that they fully intend to sign a new contract to continue sponsoring JGR's #11 Toyota and driver Denny Hamlin. Although no formal agreement has been officially signed yet, it appears that FedEx intends to continue this agreement for quite some time to come. That's more than can be said for the company's arrangement with the annual college football Orange Bowl game. That contract ends this year and the indication is that it won't be renewed.

Joe Gibbs Racing is also basking in the glow because their drivers, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, top the hard chargers list in NASCAR's championship standings. In the last five races Hamlin has earned a chart topping 753 points and has moved up 12 positions in the standings where he's currently seventh. Busch is right behind his team mate with 752 points and has moved up seven positions. He's now third in the championship standings.

By the way, Kyle Busch fans may notice a drastic new look on his Toyota Saturday night. Double Mint Gum makes their season debut as his primary sponsor at Darlington.

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When it comes to points standings, you will probably hear a lot about the alleged slow start by driver Tony Stewart and the alleged down slide he's in. It's true that Stewart slipped to 15th in the championship standings following last weekend's race at Richmond. It's true that he's now 32 points away from the Chase making top 12. It's true that Darlington is not one of his better tracks and he's 0 for 17 in wins there.

But it's also true that's it's way too early to be expressing these sentiments of concern. It's also well known that Stewart has an annual habit of really coming on strong during the hot summer months. While the weather is getting warmer, a forecast 84 degrees in South Carolina this weekend, it hasn't quite hit that repressive heat that Stewart seems to thrive on.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Showtime Southern 500 is 367 laps/501.322 miles around Darlington Raceway's 1.366 mile egg shaped oval.

The race has 46 entries. 11 of those entries are on the go or go home list. That means they do not have a guaranteed start in this race because they are outside of the top 35 in NASCAR's owner's points.

The defending race winner is Mark Martin who started the race from 12th. NASCAR legend David Pearson leads the all time list with 10 trips to the Darlington victory lane. Among the modern day active list of drivers Jeff Gordon tops the win list with seven. Gordon's employer, Hendrick Motorsports, has the most team win at 13 while Chevrolet leads the manufacturers list with Darlington wins at 38.

There has been 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Darlington Raceway since 1950. 43 different winners have visited victory lane there. 25 of those drivers has more than one win there and 19 of them has won the Southern 500 after starting from the pole position.

Weather should not be a factor during the NASCAR weekend in Darlington. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a forecast high of 92 degrees on Friday and a slightly cooler 84 degrees on Saturday night. The track temperature will of course cool down during the course of Saturday night's race but it won't get any cooler than the forecast overnight low of 62 degrees.

The Showtime Southern 500 will be broadcast live by Fox Sports beginning at 7pm eastern time. The SPEED Channel will re broadcast the event on Wednesday at 12 pm et.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The World Sports Exchange-WSE has a trio of drivers at the top of their list this week of potential Darlington winners and is backing that prediction with 6 to 1 odds. The trio includes 2 time winner Jimmie Johnson, seven time winner Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch who has a single win at the track.

At 9 to 1 odds is Denny Hamlin and that might turn out to be one of the better bets of the week. Also alone, at 10 to 1, is Mark Martin who is a two time Darlington winner as well as the defending race champion. This also has the makings of a good wager.

At 12 to 1 this week is a trio of drivers that begins with the Penske Dodge of Kurt Busch along with Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton who is a two time Darlington winner. Right behind them, at 16 to 1, is the tandem of Tony Stewart and two time race winner Greg Biffle. RCR driver Clint Bowyer stands alone this week at 18 to 1 odds.

At 20 to 1 is the trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. The trio of Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya is ranked at 25 to 1. Concluding the WSE listing are drivers Ryan Newman, Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray at 35 to 1.

Let's not forget the disclaimer and the fact that NASCAR considers these numbers as entertainment and they neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events. They would much prefer that you spend the money of Hall Of Fame souvenirs which are available right now.

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