Darlington Qualifying Full of Stars, Stripes and Surprises

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMay 8, 2009

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 08:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #17 DeWalt Ford, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Southern 500 on May 8, 2009 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The "Lady in Black," as the storied racetrack in Darlington, South Carolina is nicknamed was on the prowl again. And this time, there were stars and stripes, Darlington stripes that is, aplenty. 

But most of all qualifying for the Southern 500 presented by GoDaddy.com at this historic track was chock full of surprises, some good and some not so good.

One of the biggest surprises was Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Dewalt Ford, who secured the pole position. Kenseth is a notoriously bad qualifier and this driver only has three poles to his credit.

Kenseth, however, had it going for his qualifying run, setting a new track record.

Not surprising was the driver on the outside pole, Jeff Gordon. The driver of the National Guard ESGR/Dupont Chevrolet practiced well, winning final practice.

But even Gordon had a handful with his car on his qualifying run. "That was exciting," he quipped, "It was loose, loose, loose."

Usually solid Jimmie Johnson did more that secure a Darlington stripe on his qualifying lap. He backed the car hard into the wall, tearing away the entire back end of the car.

Johnson then spun into the inside wall, basically trashing the number 48 Lowes Chevy.  As Johnson took the obligatory ambulance ride, his crew raced to the hauler to pull out the back up car.

Another huge qualifying surprise was Sam Hornish, Jr. in the Mobil 1 Dodge.  He had a great qualifying effort and will start the race in the fourth spot.

Marcos Ambrose was another surprise, with a great lap that secured him the tenth starting position.

The two drivers battling for rookie honors went in opposite directions.  Joey Logano qualified in the fifth position while Scott Speed, who crashed in practice and had to go to a back up car, failed to qualify for the race.

Max Papis surprised himself as he was in his words "sideways and everywhere".  After sharing that this was the "hardest thing I have done so far," he sent his love to his family after securing the 22nd qualifying position.

Brad Keselowski in the GoDaddy.com car fought his way into the race, qualifying 30th.  All he could say was "Thank God, Thank God," after his lap was completed.

Another disappointing surprise was the qualifying attempt by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  Junior Nation will not be happy with their driver's 26th starting spot.

The "Lady in Black" claimed one other casualty in addition to Scott Speed.  Jeremy Mayfield also failed to make the race.


The top ten in qualifying are as follows:

1.   Matt Kenseth

2.   Jeff Gordon

3.   Ryan Newman

4.   Sam Hornish, Jr.

5.   Joey Logano

6.   Jeff Burton

7.   Kasey Kahne

8.   Kurt Busch

9.   Carl Edwards

10.  Marcos Ambrose


There is no doubt that all the stars, at least of the NASCAR variety, will be out in Darlington for Saturday night racing. There will also be many stripes on that famed red and white wall and on the cars that brushed it.

But most of all there will undoubtedly be some big surprises along the way as the stars of the Cup Series race to the checkered flag at the track that is too tough to tame.