Complete Preview of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Darlington

Chad Robb@@MrFantasyNASCARCorrespondent IMay 8, 2013

DARLINGTON, SC - MAY 12:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, celebrates with crew chief Chad Knaus and the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, 2012 in Darlington, South Carolina. This is the 200th win for Hendrick Motorsports.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Darlington for the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Drivers will dance with “The Lady in Black” in a Saturday night special.

Darlington is one of the toughest racetracks on the NASCAR schedule. Drivers must maintain their focus on every lap, or the racetrack will reach out and smack some sense into them.

Usually first-time drivers do not perform well at Darlington. Almost every driver who has competed at the racetrack has taken their hits. Experience usually pays off at the 1.366-mile racetrack.

This is the last chance for drivers to qualify for the Sprint All-Star Race, so some teams who need a win to qualify may take some chances.

Sprint Cup teams will qualify for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 Friday at 5:10 p.m. ET.

Coverage of the race can be seen Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET on Fox.

Best Chance to Win

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson is off to a hot start this season, and now he will try for his third win of the season at a racetrack he has had a lot of success at.

Johnson has three wins, seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes at Darlington. Johnson has the fifth-best average running position of 10.7, the second-fastest green flag speed of 159.483 mph and the second-most fastest laps run. 

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon has the best career stats of anyone in the field Saturday night.

Gordon has seven wins, 18 top-five finishes, 21 top-10 finishes and three poles at Darlington. Gordon has the series-best average running position of 8.3, series-best average green flag speed of 160.041 mph and the series-best driver rating of 111.8.

This will be Gordon’s best chance to score his first victory of the 2013 season.

Denny Hamlin 

Denny Hamlin will race full-time for the first time since his crash at Auto Club Speedway. Hamlin picked an excellent racetrack to make his return.

Hamlin has one win, three top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes at Darlington. Hamlin has the second-best average running position of 8.8, the third-best average green flag speed of 159.896 mph and the third-best driver rating of 109.5.

Hamlin must win races to make the Chase, so he will hold nothing back to get to Victory Lane Saturday night.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch started the 2013 season hot but has cooled off recently. Darlington is a good racetrack for Busch to win his third race of the season.

Busch has one win, two top-five finishes and four top-10 finishes at Darlington. Busch has the fourth-best average running position of 9.8, the second-most laps run in the top 15 and a series-high 323 quality passes.

If Busch makes it to the lead Saturday night, he will make it very difficult for other drivers to pass him.

Sleepers to Watch

Regan Smith

Regan Smith won the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington. He is a long shot to win another race at the racetrack, but David Ragan’s victory last week proved that anything can happen in NASCAR. Smith has an average finishing position of 16.4 at Darlington. It is by far his best racetrack.

Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola is a nice sleeper pick this week. He has a streak of four top-five finishes going, and his car owner dominated the racetrack. He has only competed in one race at Darlington, but he started No. 19 and finished No. 13.

Ryan Newman

Stewart Haas Racing is off to a horrible start this season. Ryan Newman has been their best driver.

Newman has been very good at Darlington. He has seven top-five finishes, nine top-10 finishes and one pole. Newman’s driver rating of 97.6 is seventh best and he has the third-most laps run in the top 15.

It would be a stretch to think Newman will dominate the race Saturday night, but he does have a good chance to win the pole and finish in the top five. 


Top 12 Driver Ratings at Darlington 

Jeff Gordon 111.8

Greg Biffle 110.5

Denny Hamlin 109.5

Jimmie Johnson 105.7

Kyle Busch 102.3

Kasey Kahne 98.3

Ryan Newman 97.6

Martin Truex Jr. 95.2

Carl Edwards 93.9

Dale Earnhardt Jr.  90.4

Tony Stewart 90.0

Matt Kenseth 86.5

Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2012 races (eight total) among active drivers at Darlington Raceway.

Best Finish at Darlington

The best finish at Darlington may be the best finish in NASCAR history.

On the final lap of the race, Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch beat each other’s fenders in to get to the finish first. The race ended in the closest finish in NASCAR history. Craven beat Busch to the line by .002 seconds.

Darlington Facts 

Most Wins by Active Driver: Jeff Gordon (18)

Most Poles by Active Driver: Kasey Kahne (4)

Worst Starting Spot to Win: Johnny Mantz 1950, started No. 43

Best Average Starting Position by Active Driver: Jeff Gordon (6.4)

Best Average Finishing Position Active Driver: Denny Hamlin (5.8)

Most Laps Led by Active Driver: Jeff Gordon with 1,720

Most Wins by NASCAR Team: Hendrick Motorsports (14)

Most Wins by Manufacturer: Chevrolet (40)

If you need any further advice with your team, look for me on Twitter@MrFantasyNASCAR.

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