One of NASCAR’s grandest races is this Saturday night, May 11, under the lights at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for the Southern 500.
Sprint Cup events have been staged in Darlington going back to 1950 when great racers like Johnny Mantz, Herb Thomas, Buck Baker and Fireball Roberts used to ply their wares near the Carolina Sand Hills at ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’.
The race and track are legendary and the status that comes from winning the Southern 500 brings with it a certain reputation that drivers are always craving. Jimmie Johnson won last year but who will win this prestigious race in 2013? Here are the top five most likely to be victorious. There’s also a longshot choice at the end.
5. Tony Stewart – This may appear to be an odd choice what with the poor year Stewart and his entire Stewart Haas team have had up to this point. And although ‘Smoke’ has never beaten ‘The Lady In Black’, he has a knack for being up front, especially over the last four years with two thirds and a seventh. Expect him to be near the front again.
4. Kasey Kahne – Like Tony Stewart, Kasey has never won this race but has been in the Top 10 the past two years. Kahne is fast around this track, proven by his four poles in just 10 starts. Kasey looks racy this year so don’t be surprised if he makes his way to the front at some time during the race.
3. Denny Hamlin – He would likely be the choice to win this race but Darlington will be his first full race since he broke his back in March at Fontana (source: Twitter). Hamlin won the Southern 500 three years ago and has six Top 10s in seven appearances at ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’. Denny was runner-up last year and it would be surprising if he wasn’t up front again.
2. Kyle Busch – He’s won here before and when he doesn’t have problems, he’s a front-runner. This year, Kyle has been the car to beat and it would be startling to not see him near or at the front when it matters. He’s usually his own worst enemy but if he stays out of trouble, Busch might be the likely winner.
1. Jimmie Johnson – This looks like another championship type year for ‘Five-Time’. Johnson has won Darlington three times and has a total of 10 Top 10s in 14 starts. Jimmie should be driving his #48 Chevrolet into Victory Lane yet again this Saturday night.
The longshot choice goes to a driver who is trying to reestablish himself as one of the top wheelmen in the sport. Kurt Busch and the Furniture Row Racing #78 have looked competitive this season and along with having a couple poles at Darlington, Kurt has shown he can be near the front. One other thing in favor of this longshot pick: Furniture Row has only one win in the team’s history, two years ago when Regan Smith won at – where else, but Darlington.
Sources: NASCAR, Racing Reference