Seven races, seven different winners – so goes the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The drivers who have made it to victory lane aren’t surprises – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle and Kurt Busch and Joey Logano – but some of the drivers who have yet to make it to victory lane are surprising.
This Saturday night, April 12, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for the historic Bojangles’ Southern 500. The 1.366-mile track, dubbed “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” was the host to the first-ever 500-mile NASCAR race back in September 1950. Among this year’s winners, only Kyle Busch has a victory at Darlington, so with any luck, the Southern 500 will produce winner No. 8 of the 2014 season.
Jeff Gordon – Gordon is the winningest active driver at Darlington with seven wins, and the active driver with the most top 10 finishes with 22. Gordon’s last win at the track came in 2007, but he’s been consistent over the last 10 races there, with eight top five finishes over the span. He’s been very consistent in 2014 as well, taking over the points lead for the first time since May 2009 after his second-place run at Texas on Monday. Gordon has five top 10 finishes in the first seven races, and his worst finish is only 13th – he’ll be in victory lane soon, and Darlington is as good a track as any to break through.
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson is having a tough go of it this season so far, balancing four top 10 finishes with three finishes of 19th or worst, including his most recent problems at Texas. When it comes to Darlington, Johnson has nearly tamed the track, with three wins and 11 top 10 finishes in 15 starts, for an average finish of 8.8 – one of only two drivers with an average finish in the top 10. Johnson’s last Southern 500 win came in 2012, and last season he finished fourth.
Greg Biffle – Biffle, who has two wins at Darlington, is really having a rough time in 2014: after an eighth-place finish at Daytona, he only earned his second top 10 of the season at Texas Motor Speedway. At Darlington, Biffle has just five top 10 finishes in 13 starts, but expanding that out a bit farther gives him 10 top 15 finishes – very respectable at a track with a reputation.
Denny Hamlin – Who has a better average finish at Darlington than Johnson? Hamlin, with an average finish of 5.4. In eight Darlington starts, he has seven top 10 finishes – that other finish was only 13th. He won the race in 2010, and has been runner-up the last two seasons. After dominating at Daytona during Speedweeks, Hamlin has come back to earth, picking up just a sixth-place finish at Bristol before missing the race at Auto Club Speedway with a piece of metal in his eye – a win at Darlington would put Hamlin back on track.
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth, who sits second in points, is the defending Southern 500 race winner, earning his first win in his 20th start at the track. Kenseth has nine top 10 finishes and one pole at Darlington. This season, Kenseth has been his usual consistent self, with five top 10 finishes and, like Gordon, a worst finish of 13th – another driver destined for victory lane before too long.
Qualifying for the Southern 500 takes place Friday, April 11 at 6:05 p.m. ET, with the race going green Saturday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Source: “Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Bojangles’ Southern 500,” NASCAR Media, April 8, 2014