Kyles attack Lady in Black known as Darlington
August 29, 2018 3:03 AM
by Micah Roberts
Only two NASCAR Cup Series races remain until the green flag of the Playoffs drops for the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The only way for drivers sitting outside the top-16 in points is by winning Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway or next week’s Brickyard 400.
Otherwise, the field is already set with Alex Bowman sitting in 16th place, 79-points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse.
Does a driver sitting outside of the top-16 have a shot of winning the next two weeks? With the way this season has gone I’m inclined to say no with the lone exception being Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Suarez who sits 19th in points, but has run extremely well of late. He’s the teammate of Kyle Busch and last month at Pocono Raceway he had his best career Cup race starting from the pole and finishing second.
The reason that’s notable is Pocono is the best comparison to Indianapolis due to long straights and flat tight turns (Pocono turn 3). Lots of horsepower is needed and he had plenty of it and should again next week. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has Suarez listed at 200-to-1 to win the championship, but there’s probably better value by just betting Suarez to win at Indy at 60-1.
This week NASCAR goes back to its roots at Darlington Raceway’s 1.366-mile layout, a place they’ve been racing at on almost every Labor Day weekend since 1950. All four turns around the track are different and the banking ranges from 23 to 25 degrees.
They call it The Track Too Tough to Tame and also The Lady in Black, who gives all drivers at some point in their career a Darlington Stripe, which is the rub on the side of their car after smacking into the wall. No driver can avoid it. It happens to them all at some point no matter how hard they try. I wish this track still had two races a season because it’s so different.
We’ll see all the drivers that have done well on the 1.5-mile tracks do well at Darlington, but the Lady in Black adds a bit of a wild card that should create more drama than we’ve seen on any other 1.5-mile track. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have each won three times on 1.5s and Martin Truex Jr. has one win. There they are, the Big-3. Truex won at Darlington in 2016, Harvick won there in 2014 and Kyle Busch won there in 2008. Of the three, Truex has the best average finish at 11.3 over 12 starts.
The best active driver at Darlington has been Denny Hamlin with a 5.83 average finish that includes two wins, the last coming last season. He’s led a lap in the past four races there and The Lady in Black appears to have some serious affection for him, or at least she’s been the nicest to him. Hamlin could use some of that love as he’s searching for his first win of the season. He’s had at least one in every season of his Cup career since his rookie season in 2006. This could be his spot.
Another driver that has won every year of his career except this season is Jimmie Johnson who has three Darlington wins. Chevrolet is gaining speed and it is perfect timing with the Playoffs starting soon. Johnson is a seven-time Cup Champion and the Westgate has him 40-1 to win his eighth title this season.
The Lady treated Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott rudely in his first start there in 2015 with a 41st-place finish. But then he finished 10th in 2016 and 11th last year. He’s a definite wild card possibility this week.
Kyle Larson has shown some speed in his Chevrolet as well and is searching for his first win of the season. He’s fared well at Darlington with an 8.7 average finish in four starts. His best finish was third in 2016, but it was last season that saw him lead 124 laps before finishing 14th. He’s led laps in his last three starts there.