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Hey, everybody…as you already know, the track that’s “Too Tough To Tame” is the stop this week for Nascar and it should prove to be a test for all involved. From the fabricators to the drivers, no one will be lacking for pressure to fix or perform for this Saturday night’s Southern 500.
The passage of time hasn’t changed many of the things that caused Darlington to become the track called the “Lady in Black” and “Too Tough To Tame”. They still lay in wait for the driver who pushes the envelope just a little too far or misses the groove by just a wheel width or less. Even though the wall now is somewhat less of a jolt because of the installation of the ‘SAFER barrier’ and some of the features built into the COT, it can still be a race changing encounter. Just ask the ten drivers and teams that had a close encounter with the “soft wall” in the practice sessions.
One thing that has definitely not changed about Darlington is where the race for the win will really be. The track is the challenge this weekend. Drivers and teams will be racing the track much more than the other drivers. Failure to keep up with the changes of the track throughout the race will make for many a disappointed competitor and completely ruin any possibility of taking the checkered flag for any that don’t.
As a fan, I like to see the way Marcos Ambrose continues to surprise those that thought he would only perform well at the road courses. He is proving himself to be very adaptable to the cup cars on just about any of tracks Nascar frequents. I have really taken a liking to him myself and find myself wondering just how well he performs every week.
Tony Stewart is off to a great start this season and I think his success is probably the biggest surprise to everyone so far. That’s not to say that no one expected him to be successful as an owner driver, it’s just they didn’t think it would happen so fast. One thing is certain, Stewart-Haas racing is performing above expectations so far and I believe they are poised to end up in ‘Victory Lane’ sooner than later. I just don’t know if it’s going to be Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman that makes it there first.
This week I am going to totally ignore the qualifying order and most of the practice times. I just don’t think they’re going to have a lot to do with the final outcome this week. As always, we all know the pits are going to be the place that has the most to do with where the race can be won or lost. It just depends on how the yellows fly near the end and how much time has passed since the last one.
One thing to watch as the race progresses is how much fresh tires affect the lap times and for how long that difference lasts. From ‘Just A Fan’s View’, that will tell more about the strategies the crew chiefs are going to be considering for the yellow flags near the end of the race. That can make a big difference on who will be the sitting duck for the yellow flag near the end.
So…who IS going to take the trophy home this week? I know I’ve said this several other times this year, but, this time it REALLY IS going to be hard to pick the possible winner. I guess I’ll just have to give it my best guess…
If past races make any difference, this one could come down to the Jeff and Jeff show, (uh…that would be Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon.) Between them they have proved they both know how to win at this place.
Matt Kenseth turned a new track record in qualifying for the pole position and beat out Jeff Gordon’s outside pole position by only tenth of a second, (just another reason it makes this week’s winner hard to pick — the lap times are very close for many of the drivers.)
As difficult as it may be, here are my picks for the top five. I really do think it is going to be an interesting finish. In no particular order for the moment I think the top five will be Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Some of my honorable mentions are Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.
Any one of these nine guys could win but which one is the problem. I think the one that walks away with the victory is going to be…Jeff Gordon…or…uh…ah, never mind.
See ya next time…
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© May 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman