It’s considered to be one of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” races at one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks. The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina had lost its way for several years. After losing its traditional Labor Day weekend date and one of its two races in 2005, the track “Too Tough Too Tame” seemed on life support. By after an extensive upgrade that included adding lights, the track began to shine. The Labor Day weekend date was brought back in 2015, and NASCAR celebrated with a “Throwback Weekend” that honored its past stars. This weekend marks a second Throwback and a chance for drivers to add a coveted Darlington win to their resume.
Here are my favorites for Sunday’s 25th race of the year for your betting or fantasy racing leagues. Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2016 races (11 total) among active drivers at Darlington Raceway. The Driver Rating is a number based on a formula developed by NASCAR which combines “loop data” elements such as average running position, average speed under green, number of fastest laps, and other stats. There is a maximum of 150 points that a driver can earn for each race. The odds are current as of Wednesday.
Denny Hamlin (7-1) has the second highest driver rating in the field, 107.8 and won here in 2010. He was third in this race last year and lead 57 laps. With the way the Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been running this season Hamlin could shine Sunday night.
Brad Keselowski (7-1) was the dominate car last at Darlington last year. He led a race high 196 laps only to lose the race after a final round of pit stops. Keselowski has the ninth best driver rating in the field, 92.2, and after his disappointing second place finish last season will be looking for redemption.
Carl Edwards (7-1) was the driver who beat Keselowski last season. Edwards only led eight laps but they were the final ones. Edwards has the 10th best driver rating in the field 92.4, but overcame a two lap deficit last season to win. It takes a tough driver to tame a tough track and Edwards proved last year he has what it takes.
Kyle Busch (7-1) has the third best driver rating in the field, 105.2. He won here in 2008 and was seventh last year. Busch has been outshined by his fellow JGR drivers lately, and after a terrible race at Michigan last week, will be looking for a rebound; a motivated Kyle Busch is a dangerous Kyle Busch, at least for the rest of the field.
Jeff Gordon (6-1) is back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet this week. Gordon leads all active drivers with 7 wins at Darlington and has the highest driver rating in the field 111.2. He thought his last race at Darlington was last, but because of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s recovery from concussion like symptoms, Gordon has one more shot for a Southern 500 win and will take full advantage of the opportunity.
OTHERS: Kevin Harvick (6-1), won this race in 2014, and has the seventh best driver rating in the field 95.9. He was fifth here last year and led 44 laps. Jimmie Johnson (12-1) has the fifth best driver rating in the field, 104.4, and has the second most wins among active drivers, 3, and is coming off a strong fifth place finish last week at Michigan. That momentum could carry over to Sunday night.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will be run on Sunday September 4. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 5:30 p.m. ET with the green flag coming just after 6:00 p.m. ET.
Best average finish among active drivers at Darlington (3 or more starts):
- Denny Hamlin (6.5)
- Jeff Gordon (7)
- Jimmie Johnson (9.1)
- Jeff Gordon (11.5)
- Carl Edwards (11.6)
- Tony Stewart (12.0)
- Ryan Newman (12.2)
- Brad Keselowski (12.6)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (12.7)
- Kyle Busch (13.0)
- Greg Biffle (13.6)