We’re coming off a busy week in the NASCAR world. A marathon race at Talladega, thanks to Mother Nature, ended with an underdog in victory lane and our first overturned Gen 6 race car, and both Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing received some welcome news in the form of lessened penalties. Now, the series heads to one of the most treacherous tracks on the circuit for an annual Mother’s Day weekend brawl.
Previously on NASCAR 2013
Last week, heavy rains delayed the Cup series race for over three hours. When we finally got going on, dusk was falling and the event concluded in near darkness on Talladega’s 2.66-mile light-less track. A stellar last lap move by David Ragan, thanks to a push from his Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, put him in victory lane and marked another example of how superspeedways like Talladega truly are the great equalizer, giving the little guys a shot at glory. Elsewhere in the race, Kurt Busch became the first driver to get upside down in the new Gen 6 race cars, landing right in the face of Ryan Newman, who became another in a long line of drivers to complain about the racing at tracks like ‘Dega.
In case you missed it, check out the crash and the finish below.
This week also saw the final decisions in both the Penske Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing penalty cases. In the Penske case, which stemmed from the cars of both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano failing multiple rear-end inspections prior to the race at Texas, the 25-point penalties assessed to the drivers, as well as the fines, were upheld, but both drivers’ crew chiefs and crew members saw their suspensions reduced from six races to two, meaning they’ll be back after the Coca-Cola 600 later this month in Charlotte.
As for Gibbs, who were hit with significant penalties after a connecting rod in the engine of Matt Kenseth’s Kansas-winning race car failed weight inspection, they got a big win in their case. Kenseth, originally docked 50 points and stripped of his win in terms of Chase eligibility, saw his point penalty reduced to only 12, and his win and pole will count for both Chase bonus points and the Sprint Unlimited next year, which is set based on pole winners from the previous year. Joe Gibbs was also initially docked 50 points in the car owner’s championship and had his owner’s license rescinded, but the points were reduced to 12 as well and the license decision overturned. Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief, will still serve his $200,000 fine, but his suspension was reduced from six races to merely one. And in the only increase in penalties, Toyota saw its five manufacturer’s point penalties increased to seven.
We move from the wide-open, rarely touching the brakes strategy of Talladega to one of the circuit’s most brutal tracks, Darlington Raceway, for the most appropriately named NASCAR race of all time, the Bojangles’ Southern 500. Dubbed “The Lady in Black” and the “Track Too Tough To Tame,” Darlington is a 1.3-mile egg-shaped oval with differing degrees of banking all the way around. It’s insanely fast, and the racing line is narrow, meaning if you’re in the bottom lane, you’re still pretty close to the wall. It’s nearly a guarantee that if you drive at Darlington, you’ll come home with a “Darlington stripe,” a right side, car-length scrape earned by contact with the wall. It’s another track known for ruffling feathers and causing conflict, and with the way 2013 has gone so far, it’s safe to assume we’ll see more fireworks this weekend.
In 2012, Jimmie Johnson tamed Darlington to earn owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career Sprint Cup series victory. A late caution and a green-white-checkered finish put the victory in question, but Johnson held on for the historic win.
- Somebody’s going to be mad by the time this race is over. We don’t know who, we don’t know why, but you can guarantee it’ll happen. Early frontrunners to keep your eye on: Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Danica Patrick.
- The plan for Denny Hamlin is for Darlington to be his first full race back in the #11 Toyota. Last week, everything went according to plan, as he started the race, got an early first caution, and handed the reins to Brian Vickers. Unfortunately, only a few laps later, Vickers was caught up in the first big crash of the day, relegating Hamlin to a 34th place finish and not as many points as he’d have liked.
- It’s rarer, but Darlington has been known to produce underdog winners as well, namely Regan Smith in 2011. There’s always a chance somebody could sneak up on the victory.
Who to Watch
- If he completes the whole race, Hamlin will be desperately trying to grab a win and get some semblance of a chance toward making the Chase. The aggressiveness that comes with desperation will serve him well.
- I keep putting him on here and he keeps doing terribly, but Kyle Busch is bound to break out of his slump soon. After a hot start, he suffered another setback last week when he triggered the race’s first major crash. He’ll be dying to turn his luck around.
- Kenseth has been on an absolute tear in 2013, and had one of the best cars all day last week as well. And this week, with the epic reduction in the penalties assessed to them at Kansas, the #20 team is on another high that should have the field shaking in their boots.
Who Will Win
He did it last year, he continues to run strong, and he’ll be driving a pretty sweet Emerald Green Chevy SS. Jimmie Johnson makes it back-to-back victories and takes the checkered flag.
How I’ve Done
In a move that surprised absolutely no one, I got it wrong again last week. Let’s just move on. Nothing to see here. In better news, my fictional driver is still rocking a top 10 spot in the standings, sitting sixth.
Current Record: 0-10
My pick: Jeff Gordon (finished 20th)
Winner: Jimmie Johnson
Subway Fresh Fit 500 (Phoenix)
My pick: Jimmie Johnson (finished 2nd)
Winner: Carl Edwards
Kobalt Tools 400 (Las Vegas)
My pick: Marcos Ambrose (finished 22nd)
Winner: Matt Kenseth
Food City 500 (Bristol)
My pick: Kyle Busch (finished 2nd)
Winner: Kasey Kahne
Auto Club 400 (Fontana)
My pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 2nd)
Winner: Kyle Busch
STP Gas Booster 500 (Martinsville)
My pick: Jeff Gordon (finished 3rd)
Winner: Jimmie Johnson
NRA 500 (Texas)
My pick: Brad Keselowski (finished 9th)
Winner: Kyle Busch
STP 400 (Kansas)
My pick: Kyle Busch (finished 38th)
Winner: Matt Kenseth
Toyota Owners 400 (Richmond)
My pick: Clint Bowyer (finished 2nd)
Winner: Kevin Harvick
Aaron’s 499 (Talladega)
My pick: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 17th)
Winner: David Ragan
2013 Sprint Cup Standings (after 10 of 36 races)
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards -41
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -49
4. Clint Bowyer -67
5. Brad Keselowski -69
6. Kasey Kahne -85
7. Aric Almirola -90
8. Paul Menard -93
9. Kyle Busch -98
10. Greg Biffle -103