DARLINGTON, S.C. – The odds against Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 producing another first-time winner are relatively heavy.
When all track activity was washed out on Friday, the starting field for the race was set according to owner points, and the top 10 starters in the field, from pole sitter Kevin Harvick through 10th-place Matt Kenseth, all have at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory this season.
Why is that significant? Because in the last 14 races at Darlington, 10 of the winners have come from the top 10 spots on the starting grid. So the odds say a driver who already has won this year will take the checkered flag on Sunday night.
Brad Keselowski will line up next to Harvick, with Carl Edwards in third and fourth, respectively, behind the front-row starters. Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth complete the top 10.
The last time Harvick started from the pole in Darlington, in April 2014, he picked up his only victory at the track.
But that doesn’t mean 11th-place starter Chase Elliott should abandon hope of notching his first career win.
Back in 2004, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, started 11th and ultimately took the checkered flag. In the 14-race stretch dating to Terry Labonte’s 2003 victory, the deepest in the field a winner has started is 23rd (Regan Smith in 2011).
Jimmie Johnson paced opening practice at Darlington with a lap at 176.025 mph, followed by Denny Hamlin (175.060 mph) and Sunoco rookie Ryan Blaney (174.711 mph). Ryan Newman, who currently is 15 points behind Jamie McMurray for the final Chase spot on points, was fifth fastest at 174.519 mph. McMurray was 26th on the speed chart. … Newman, however, slipped to 25th fastest in final practice, while McMurray was two spots ahead of him in 23rd. Brad Keselowski was fastest in the session at 174.649 mph, followed by Kurt Busch (174.031 mph) and Johnson (174.019 mph). Kasey Kahne, whose only realistic path into the Chase is a victory in one of the next two races, was fourth on the list at 173.656 mph.