We may not see a 100-to-1 payout this week at Darlington Raceway like we saw Sunday at Talladega when the low budget car driven by David Ragan beat all the heavyweights. However, precedent has been set before that gives some semblance of hope that there could be.
Two seasons ago Regan Smith shocked the NASCAR world with a Darlington win that paid out 500-1 at the LVH Super Book. If looking at whose win was more shocking, it’s easily Smith’s simply because restrictor-plate racing at places like Talladega allow for up to 35 drivers to have a legitimate shot.
At Darlington, the track “Too Tough to Tame” called “The Lady in Black,” we go back to racing where the elite teams are supposed to have a considerable edge. In Smith’s case, he ran the perfect race and “The Lady” was in a forgiving mood.
Darlington is the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, running races annually since 1950. It’s the toughest track on tour for the drivers to navigate because of the 1.366 mile configuration with four drastically different turns. There is no other track to compare it to, which makes it not only hard for the drivers to adapt to each time out, but also for the crew chiefs to set up their cars properly.
Whoever makes the proper adjustment during the Friday practice sessions and during Saturday night’s race, will have an edge. Coming into this race with the new Gen-6 car, there are up to 16 drivers that have a legitimate shot at winning.
Regan Smith proved a longshot can triumph, and we have seen drivers like Ricky Craven (40-1) and Ward Burton (25-1) win there among giants, but Darlington victories are usually reserved for the elite.
From a horsepower and handling standpoint, you could look at the top performers from the races already run on 1.5-mile tracks at Las Vegas, Kansas and Texas to get a head start on handicapping the race, which takes us to the Joe Gibbs drivers.
The first driver to begin with is Denny Hamlin, who returned to the track last week at Talladega, but only raced the first 23 laps before turning the car over to Brian Vickers. Hamlin made the start to get driver points, and it’s not known if he’ll try to go the distance this week as he’s dealing with an injured back.
Over his career at Darlington, Hamlin has the top average finish among active drivers (5.9), including a 2010 win. This would appear to be a track that he would think he could capture a win and start his quest to getting back in the top-20 in points.
Hamlin’s goal for the next 16 races before the Chase starts will be to try and get the most wins possible. It would be hard to see him giving way to Vickers again, but Darlington is a lot tougher on a back than Talladega is.
Next up on the Gibbs list is Kyle Busch, who won at Darlington during his magical 2008 season. He finished fourth last year and has two wins already through 10 races this season. Matt Kenseth, on the other hand, has had a tough go of it.
Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner with a 9.1 average finish and will be considered the favorite with Busch this week. Jeff Gordon has seven wins, the last coming in 2007.
Gordon had won four straight Southern 500’s, something no one before had ever done – not Richard Petty or South Carolina native sons David Pearson or Cale Yarborough.
Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. have all shown a special ability on the track.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].