The annual Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN) is finally upon us. With that being said, the Darlington Raceway is no easier now than it was in its heyday. Normally, this is a race that rewards the veterans of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Furthermore, we’ve had 11 straight different winners at the “Lady In Black.” Will we see a 12th on Sunday night?
Since the June Michigan race, 10 races ago, Hamlin has seven top four finishes including a win at New Hampshire. Plus, in his last seven Darlington starts, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has six top six finishes. He has nine top 10’s overall at Darlington and an average finishing position of 6.27.
His Darlington results: 10th, 2nd, 7th, 13th, 1st, 6th, 2nd, 2nd, 19th, 3rd and fourth respectively.
In practice on Friday, Hamlin was second and fifth respectively. He will roll his No. 11 Toyota off ninth on Sunday.
Over the last four races at Darlington, Harvick has finished inside the top five in each one. In 2013, his last season with Richard Childress Racing, he started 10th and finished fifth. He wouldn’t lead any laps that night. But, since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he’s been a lap leading machine.
He started on the pole in 2014, leading 237 of the 374 laps en route to the dominating victory that year. In 2015, Harvick started third, led 44 laps and finished fifth. Last year, he started on the pole again, this time leading 214 of the 367 laps and finished second.
Over the last three years, he’s led 495 out of the 1,108 laps, reached victory lane once, finished runner-up and fifth in the other two races to go along with two poles.
See why he’s a favorite on Sunday night?
He’s also had five top 10 finishes in his No. 4 Ford over the last seven races on the season, so I’d say he’s certainly going to be a contender again this weekend.
In practice on Friday, Harvick was fifth and second respectively on the speed charts. In qualifying, he earned the pole.
It’s been a rough 2017 year for Johnson despite his three trips to victory lane. In fact, those are his only three top fives all season long. But, Johnson didn’t sound too concerned in the media center on Friday and says this is the time they usually start picking up pace. But, entering this weekend, his last seven finishes are 40th, 10th, 27th, 35th, 29th, 19th and now 11th.
But, can he get going good again this weekend at Darlington.
The Southern 500 has always been good to the No. 48 Chevrolet team. Johnson, has 10 top 10 finishes, nine of which resulting in the top four over his last 13 starts at Darlington.
He will start 18th.
So, which one occurs on Sunday evening?
Team Penske has been in a rut lately, but Brad Keselowski was looking strong on Friday. He was third and sixth quickest in practice and his hoping to take his No. 2 Ford to victory lane on Sunday night. He hasn’t been too great at Darlington either, but if trends hold true, he could be the 12th straight different winner.
Keselowski, will start sixth on Sunday.
He won this race in 2008 and is looking for a trip back to victory lane. He’s been on a roll lately and was even quickest in final practice. With this weekend likely being another Toyota show, I look for Busch to be in the running for a win. Busch, qualified third.