Maybe the final flag at Darlington Raceway should be called the tattered flag, not the checkered flag, owing to the winning walls that surround the 1.366-mile oval with 25-degree banking. NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers find many ways to scrape and bang the walls of “The Lady in Black” track.
Teams expect to do a lot of body work any time they roll in and out of the track “Too Tough to Tame,” and rarely are they disappointed.
Matt Kenseth was able to get around Kyle Busch to win the Bojangles’ Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina. Teammate Denny Hamlin brought his NSCS Toyota to a second-place result after missing four races while his back healed. Competitor Jeff Gordon wasn’t far behind in third to lift him into the Chase Top 12.
Select comments after the night race tell much about that race and races going forward.
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Toyota)
Honestly, I’ve only dreamed about winning the Southern 500. This to me probably feels bigger than any win in my career. I really feel bad that Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) isn’t here. This is obviously his team and his effort, but Wally (Brown, interim crew chief) did great job filling in. We had a fifth or sixth-place car fighting loose -- those last two adjustments were just awesome. We have a good combination right now.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
We were kind of mired in the fifth to eighth for most of the day. Track position was so key. You had two to three laps on restarts to get your positions and after that you were in defense mode. For me, we kept grinding away. Pit crew picked us up some stops obviously throughout the night. It was one of those days where we got our car better, pit crew picked us up positions, took us to the most optimum spot we could get to and that was second.
Jeff Gordon (No.24 Chevrolet)
Well we all wanted this 700th start to be a memorable one and not one like we had last year. So, it was a great effort by this Cromax Pro Chevrolet team. Alan (Gustafson) called great calls and the pit stops were fantastic; especially when it counted the most there at the end. We were just bouncing between tight and loose and right there at the end, it was about the best that it had been all night. That’s what you want, you know? To be able to have good track position and have the car pretty well working for you; so, it was a really solid night. I’m very proud of this.
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
It was just a great 500 miles here at Darlington. There is nothing easy about this race track. It keeps you on your toes all night long. We had a great car. We lost a little tack position at the end. But we still got back into the Top 5; but I kind of ran second and third all night long; wish I was a little bit better, but this Emerald Green Lowe’s Chevrolet was doing a good job. We had fun. I love this place. I wish we could race here three or four times a year.
Carl Edwards (No. 99 Ford)
We struggled a lot tonight and we ended up coming back to seventh, so I’m proud of our effort. But it’s like Jimmy and I talked about, we’re just missing something. We have been really good at this size of race track and I thought our Geek Squad Ford was gonna be really good. Qualifying was great, other than my mess up, but it was just a struggle all night. That’s a long race when you’re just hanging on to the lead lap and trying to make something happen.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.