Welcome race fans to the eleventh race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. This week we go to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500. Yes, the Southern 500 is back! Even if it isn’t on Labor Day weekend like it should be. Darlington lived up to her name as “The Track Too Tough To Tame”. And most everyone earned their “Darlington stripe”.
17 Matt Kenseth starts from the pole with a speed of 179.514. A new track record. 24 Jeff Gordon starts second. 78 Regan Smith has qualified for every race he has entered. 71 David Gilliland was fast enough to get in, as was 87 Joe Nemechek. 25 is Brad Keselowski from the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He won at Talladega a couple of weeks ago in the 09 car of James Finch. 09 this week is veteran driver Sterling Marlin. 34 is Tony Raines this week. Regular driver, John Andretti, is in Indianapolis trying to make the Indy 500. Jeremy Mayfield in the 41 and rookie Scott Speed in the 82 failed to qualify. However, Nemecheck and Toyota made a deal so that Speed would drive the 87 car from the rear. 48 Jimmy Johnson crashed into the wall while qualifying and will be in a back-up car starting 42nd, with no practice in the car. 43 Reed Sorenson changed the engine and will start from the rear. Twenty-five cars hit the wall before the race starts!
17 Kenseth leads from the pole and pulls away. 20 rookie Joey Logano gets loose and 39 Ryan Newman gets by. The first caution comes out on lap 4. 87 Speed gets into 13 Max Papis and they spin. 48 Johnson, in his back-up car, makes a pit stop. The Green Flag comes out on lap 8. 7 Robby Gordon gets into the wall. 2 Kurt Busch gets by 31 Jeff Burton for sixth. 18 Kyle Busch gets by 31. 9 Kasey Kahne and 16 Greg Biffle get by 31. 77 Sam Hornish, Jr. and 39 battle for third. 24 takes the lead.
The second caution comes out during the commercial. 55 Michael Waltrip hits the wall and spins. 48 stays out to lead, since he pitted in the first caution. 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had to back up in his pit stall before they could service the car. 39, with two fresh tires takes the lead. 47 rookie Marcos Ambrose gets into the wall but has a nice save. Brothers 2 and 18 battle. 18 takes the spot. 9 and 48 battle for third.
The third caution comes out when 07 Casey Mears and 83 Brian Vickers get together and into the wall. 31 gets by, but 11 Denny Hamlin gets collected. 2 and 11 pit. 55 Michael Waltrip gets the free pass and is back on the lead lap. 24 gets by 17 for fifth. 24 gets by 16. 1 Martin Truex, Jr. and 17 battle with 1 finally getting by. 9 and 48 battle for second. 9 gets by. 1 gets by 24. 83 is off the pace. 16 and 24 battle. 77 is tight and falls back. 9 and 39 battle for the lead. 9 takes the lead. 5 Mark Martin and 48 get by 16. 48 has to make a pit stop.
The fourth caution comes out when 55 explodes into flames! 98 Paul Menard is the Lucky Dog and gets his lap back. 11 pits before pit road is open. Since 48 pitted just before the caution, he is ahead of the leader, 9 on the tail end of the lead lap. 83 is also ahead of the leader. 25 gets by 99 Carl Edwards for eighteenth. 9 laps 48. 1 is catching leader 9. 26 Jamie McMurray and 39 battle for sixth. 26 gets by. 5 gets by 39. 18 gets into the wall. 24 thinks he has a vibration and pits. 99 drives by 2. 1 catches 9 again in traffic. 1 and 9 battle for the lead. 1 takes the lead.
The fifth caution comes out for spinning 77. 83 stayed ahead of the leader and gets one lap back. 48 Jimmy Johnson is the Lucky Dog. 96 Bobby Labonte stays out to lead a lap, then pits. 16 comes out of the pits first to lead. 00 David Reutimann, 39 and 17 battle for position. 18 makes it three wide with 17 and 00. 88 and 99 battle for fourteenth. 16 has a 5.6 second lead! 17 says he’s plowing. 9 gets by 14 Tony Stewart for second. 00 drives by 5.
The sixth caution comes out during the commercial. 6 David Ragan spins 11. Earlier, 11 got into 6. 5 had a lug nut issue in the pits. 19 Elliott Sadler is the Lucky Dog. They restart on lap 166. 98 Paul Menard saves it. 39 gets by 26. 29 Kevin Harvick and 20 battle for tenth. 9 gets by 14 for second.
The seventh caution comes out for spinning 6. 6 bumped 48 and 42 Juan Pablo Montoya got into 6. 83 Brian Vickers is the Lucky Dog. 6 and 42 stay on the lead lap. 20 and 24 get by 5. The eighth caution comes out when 6 hits the wall. 12 David Stremme is the Lucky Dog, but he pitted and got too close to track workers and went too fast, so they take it back. 47 goes to the garage. 9 gets into the slower car 12, and saves it, then has to pit for a flat tire. 33 Clint Bowyer gets by 25 for eighth.
The ninth caution comes out during the commercial. 2 gets into the wall and spins. 24 Jeff Gordon gets his lost lap back. 1 takes two tires to come out of the pits first. 29 gets into 48 in the pits and 48 can’t get into his stall. 17 makes two pit stops. 33 gets into the wall. The tenth caution comes out when 33 cuts a tire after hitting the wall, and gets into 44 AJ Allmendinger, turning him sideways. 44 gets back into 33 and 33 spins and crashes. A tire from 88 got away. He is penalized. At the restart 00 causes a bottleneck. 83 lets 16 by. 99 gets by 48. 24 and 48 battle for thirteenth. 24 gets by. 31 had an extended pit stop for a broken shock and lost a lap.
The eleventh caution is for debris. 77 Sam Hornish, Jr. is the Lucky Dog. 16 is back in the lead. 18 and 1 battle for seventh. 18 gets by. 18 gets into the wall. 00 is very slow on top. He finally makes it to the pits and there is no caution. 17 gets by 5 for fourth. 00 gets back out, but cannot get up to speed. 1 gets by 18 for 8th. 18 gets into the wall after cutting a tire. There is no caution and he heads for the garage, much to the delight of the crowd.
The twelfth caution comes out with 92 to go when 16 blows a tire. The caution is for debris. 20 takes two tires to come out of the pits in the lead. 26 was too fast and goes to the rear. No rookie has ever won at Darlington. 31 gets loose. 99 gets into the wall.
The thirteenth caution comes out because 99 can’t get to the pits after contact with 16 and the wall. He turns right instead of left onto pit road. NASCAR holds him for that. 31 gets by 96 to be the first driver a lap down. 77 goes for a wild spin, but there is no caution. The caution comes out for 16 spinning off turn 4, with 72 to go. 31 Jeff Burton is the Lucky Dog. 44 pits sideways in his stall. 1 and 17 stay on the track. A modified 6 is back on the track. They go Green with 67 to go. 14 drives by 17 for second. 6 heads back to the garage. 20 gets by 5 for sixth. 83 and 48 battle for eighth. 20 and 29 battle for fifth. 5 gets by 29. 77 gets loose and into the wall.
The fifteenth caution is for debris from 77. 96 Bobby Labonte is the Lucky Dog. 5, 48, 38, 25, 11, 19 and 88 stay out. 14 is first out of the pits. The Green Flag flies with 42 to go. 39 and 48 battle for second. The leader, 5 takes off. 88 gets into the wall. 48 catches 5 for the lead in a back-up car with no practice. 83 gets into the wall.
The sixteenth (new record) caution comes out when 83 and 26 get into each other and the wall. 44 AJ Allmendinger is the Lucky Dog. 99 returns to the race. 77 and 18 are back out. They restart with 29 to go. The seventeenth caution comes out with 25 to go. 88 gets into 43 and spins. 9 Kasey Kahne is the Lucky Dog. They restart with 21 to go. 48 and 5 battle for the lead. 5 is on top and 48 can’t get by on the bottom. 16 gets by 20 for eighth. 88 with a tire rub is smoking. 12 also has a tire rub with smoke. 12 pits.
And 5 Mark Martin wins the first Southern 500 since the date went to California after the 2004 season. Darlington is again “The Lady In Black”, with black marks all around her. This moves Mark into eleventh place in the points. 18 Kyle Busch falls two spots and 99 Carl Edwards falls three spots. They are first and second in points in the Nationwide Series. Hmm…
Brought to you by Sheila Hawley