Can BK Make It Two Wins In A Row?
This week the Sprint Cup series is at Darlington Raceway for the first and last time in the 2012 season. There are two things I can guarantee for Saturday night: we’ll see plenty of drivers making contact with the wall and we will see a whole bunch of coverage on Danica Patrick. This track is rough on drivers in their first start, so I guess we’ll see how she fares tomorrow. In case you missed the practice breakdown/average speeds from the practice session on Friday, click here to view it. Greg Biffle won the pole for the Bojangles Southern 500–his second at Darlington–and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here.
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Projected Start and Parkers: Joe Nemechek, Mike Skinner, Scott Speed, David Stremme, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise, and J.J. Yeley.
My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte
Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Bojangles Southern 500:
11. Jeff Gordon – Starts 12th – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
You can probably guess why Jeff Gordon is in the “High Risk” category this weekend. I’m sure we’re all thinking the same thing: what kind of trouble will the #24 run into this weekend? Jeff has seven victories here, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can run well here on Saturday night, but why take the risk in picking him this weekend? I’m going to let this team get a few great runs down before even thinking about it. Gordon has seven top 5s in the last eight Darlington races, but I think it’ll be an uphill battle for him to get there this year. There are just too many other cars that look better this weekend. Jeff ran just 56 laps in practice and was kind of low on the average speed chart, which was surprising because usually the less laps you run the higher you are. He ranked 7th in Happy Hour when it came to ten-lap average, and I think this team could get a top 10 on Saturday if nothing goes wrong…but that’s a big if.
12. Martin Truex, Jr. – Starts 6th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
This ranking may insinuate that Truex isn’t a great pick this weekend, but think of it this way: I just like a few drivers better than him. His record here at Darlington is real nice (12.3 average finish in six starts) and this is by far his best qualifying effort here thus far in his career. You also can’t look past the fact at how good this team has been in 2012 (although the last two weekends have been disappointing). I expect Truex to turns things around this weekend, though, and “get back to normal” for this season. He didn’t make a ten-lap run in either practice session on Friday, but I’m not as concerned about that here as I would be on a short track. The #56 was high on the average speed chart once again this weekend, but that should be expected.
13. Jamie McMurray – Starts 11th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: High Risk**
Note: the only reason Jamie Mac is “high risk” is because of the problems this team had with the car in Happy Hour. The #1 Chevrolet had a “bad vibration” and the team changed the transmission. During qualifying, Jamie said something about it just being two bad sets of tires in a row causing it. I haven’t heard anything else on the issue, and if McMurray has to start in the back I don’t like him nearly as much. However, Jamie Mac was my dark horse of the week on Wednesday and that still hasn’t changed. He hasn’t finished worse than 14th in the last month of Sprint Cup Series action, and what was most surprising (t0 me) was that McMurray qualified so well for this year’s Southern 500. Usually the Earnhardt-Ganassi teams work solely on race trim in practice. Jamie has finished 16th or better in four of the last five races at Darlington and owns a career average finish of 14.5 here.
14. Jeff Burton – Starts 10th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Low Risk**
Surprised? If you read my articles on a consistent basis, you should know by now that Jeff Burton very rarely gets a ranking from me. In case you missed what I said about him earlier this week, let me refresh your memory: “I’m expecting a top 15 out of the #31 this weekend (although his performance on the intermediates this year has been sad). He just knows how to race at Darlington. In the last six events here, Jeff has posted finishes of 12th or better in all or one of them, with the lone exception being last season. However, he was running top 15 that race (Yahoo! chart here) before having engine problems.” He was better in average speed than normal this weekend, so that’s a good thing. He may surprise and get a second top 10 in a row this weekend.
15. Regan Smith – Starts 9th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**
I really didn’t give Smith a chance earlier this week, but I’m starting to change my mind. I seriously think this team could get a top 15 on Saturday night as long as Regan can stay out of trouble. He’ll start in the top 10, which isn’t surprising with how well he has been at qualifying in the last two seasons, but that is his best effort at this track. The #78 was in the top 5 in Happy Hour in terms of ten-lap average and wasn’t too shabby when it came to average speed. Before his “win”–I use that term loosely–here last season, Regan finished 21st and 17th in his second and third career starts here, respectively.
Those To Avoid For The Bojangles Southern 500:
Marcos Ambrose – What was pretty surprising this weekend was Ambrose’s qualifying effort for Saturday night’s race. His average starting position in three career starts here is 7.7 but the #9 Ford will roll off the grid in 28th tomorrow night. He didn’t impress me in average speed at all and Marcos only showed up on one of the ten-lap average charts in the practices (10th out of 11 in first practice). Ambrose finished 13th here last season but his other two finishes here are well outside of the top 20. If this race goes green for a long time, I think it’ll be hard for the #9 to get a top 20 in the Southern 500.
A.J. Allmendinger – I took a gamble on The Dinger in hopes of getting some qualifying bonus points, but that didn’t happen (he will start 16th). This team has had a major problem with keeping up with the track this season and I think that gives Allmendinger a major disadvantage this weekend because of practice being in the afternoon and the race being at night. Dave Blaney has a better average finish at Darlington than A.J. Allmendinger if that tells you anything.
Joey Logano – I’m still not sure how Sliced Bread is so bad every weekend, but it’s even more surprising at Darlington because the Gibbs gang is generally pretty good here. I’m really starting to think that Joey will be out of a ride at the end of this season. The #20 Toyota wasn’t anything exciting in terms of average speed and Logano was 16th in ten-lap average during Happy Hour (out of 18 total drivers). The last two Darlington races have ended with Joey in 35th and 27th.
Danica Patrick – Unless you’re in a league that awards points for the first driver to crash out…